by Heather A. Beasley, Associate Producer and Ensemble Member
At BETC, I’m the resident policy wonk, who reads up on the new, exciting things theatre companies are doing across the country. Our summer production break means I have time to catch up on my arts research reading. Not your typical beach reading fare, perhaps, but it’s still fascinating stuff. I love finding out who’s attending the arts, who’s not, and learning more about why.
My summer reading pile contained not only the research-paper version of this NEA study, but recent research from the Wallace Foundation on attracting young adult audiences to live performances. The Wallace Foundation found nationwide decline among 18-to-34-year-olds in live arts attendance, compared to past decades. So in 2016, they interviewed young patrons of 25 major arts organizations (like Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Denver Center) to learn what arts groups can do to better reach young adult audiences. And they came up with some amazing ideas.
BETC’s definitely interested in bringing in new audiences to see the new plays we put on stage. And given Boulder’s demographics, we absolutely have to find ways to reach the young people that make up 30% of the population here.
So partially as a result of my summer reading, BETC is introducing a new membership program for high school, college, and graduate students called GoLive!
GoLive! is designed to address the cost barriers commonly mentioned by young people who want to attend the theatre, but don’t go. The program also incorporates opportunities for learning and socializing, which are key motivators for young adults who do attend.
How GoLive Works
It’s free to sign up. Members get access to half-price student tickets, volunteer, job, and internship opportunities, and invitations to a variety of special events and post-show conversations.
A GoLive! member can buy 2 $10 tickets for any performance, so membership is good for hanging out with a friend or for a reasonably-priced date night.
And we’re encouraging students to sign up through their high school teachers in local school districts, as well as reaching out to students at colleges and universities throughout the metro area.
Entertainment is available at the push of a button on an iPhone. There are more options than ever before for streaming films, television shows, live-on-demand events, video games, and music. In today’s busy, over-scheduled world, attending live theatre can easily seem like too much trouble compared to other entertainment options. So we need to find a way to stand out in the crowd.
Luckily, we’ve got some things going for us in Boulder! Colorado has one of the highest rates of live arts attendance in the country. Over 50% of Colorado residents attended at least one live arts and culture event in the past year. In Boulder, that rate is even higher. 80% of surveyed residents attended at least one live theatre or concert performance in 2014. So we want to build on this local enthusiasm for the arts, by drawing new audiences into BETC’s theatre.
We’re looking to make young people feel at home at BETC. That’s a big challenge in some ways, since we’re asking them to take a risk with their limited entertainment dollars. But in other ways, it’s a natural fit. They’re willing to try the unfamiliar on Netflix or Hulu, so it’s not such a big jump from watching new television shows to attending new plays. Lots of playwrights are also screenwriters. Our final show this season, Going to a Place Where You Already Are, is written by one of the screenwriters for American Gods and This is Us, Bekah Brunstetter.
Many young people are arts makers themselves, and they enjoy meeting professional artists, like they can at our post-show conversations and Skype talkbacks with working playwrights. They also value the experience of sharing a live performance with a group, and the vibe of a space like the Dairy where they can also see art exhibits or grab a drink in the lobby during intermission.
BETC’s already doing a lot of the things young people say they’re looking for, in a gorgeous venue, in a city where the arts matter. But now we need to make them aware we exist. (It’s a little like being the shy, geeky guy in a John Hughes 1980s movie: he’s got to put himself out there and take a risk before she can find out for herself what kind of wonderful he is.) Thus: GoLive!
No joke: the future of American theatre depends on drawing younger audiences to attend, enjoy, and participate in our art form. So students: please sign up! And if your student days are in the past, bring a young person to the theatre with you this season, and introduce them to something new to love.