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Friday, March 18, 2011

Opinion: Crystle Reid on Audience development

Why them? Why Not Us?
If one company draws in new audiences, chances are those same individuals will start exploring other local theatre companies as well.
by Crystle Reid

Last summer at Magnetic North Theatre Festival I attended a discussion panel about the arts in Canada.  One of the younger emerging artists' questions for the panel of more experienced artists was: “What can we do to improve the audience sizes in theatre?” The immediate response from the panel: “Why are you asking us?”

I agree with that response wholeheartedly.  Why are we asking older, established theatre artists to figure out how to appeal to people in our own age bracket?  Shouldn’t we be able to determine how to entice our peers?   I really believe we can.  First of all, many of our peers are already theatergoers, they just don’t know it yet.  For example, a Lady Gaga concert or WWE match are instantly recognizable as theatrical events.  I think that by broadening our perceptions of what defines a theatrical space we can increase interest in our artistic work. This notion has led me to presenting the ArtHere! series with my company Astra Theatre.   ArtHere! events take place in found spaces: a house, a hotel, even a crypt.  At each event there is a main area in which to relax, see lots of great visual art and listen to music.  This space serves as a launch site for various interdisciplinary pieces happening in repetition all night long.  The audience members can see as many of the 15-20 minute pieces as they like, choosing their own adventures.  Each piece is in a radically different space ranging from a hotel room, to a church tower, to a parking lot or a pool deck.  It’s exciting for the audience to see how the artists will choose how to use these new unexpected spaces.  Working in a non-traditional space is both a challenge and a thrill for participating artists.’s more than likely that each person can find a performance to watch that is personally relevant and exciting...

More often than not, the people who attend ArtHere! events are often not regular theatregoers.  What draws them might be a band, a film, or even the party atmosphere  but the opportunity is there for them to discover some very exciting local theatre artists.  Once removed from the conventional four walls holding a stage and an audience, people are given the opportunity to experience different theatrical styles beyond the traditional and expected;  it’s more than likely that each person can find a performance to watch that is personally relevant and exciting.

With ArtHere! we’ve also worked to stop being competitive with other emerging artists.   If one company draws in new audiences, chances are those same individuals will start exploring other local theatre companies as well.  This means more audiences for all of us!  We should support each other to help improve everyone’s work, making theatre in Montreal as enticing as possible.   We also need to work on getting the word out about our shows.   For emerging artists, there is not always much money available for publicity. We will, therefore, have to get creative about it... Good thing we’re artists!   In this day and age there are many cheap or even free tools available through the Internet that can be harnessed and used to communicate with the public.  Sometimes it’s easy to look at a country like Iceland, where the greater majority of the population regularly attend theatre, and feel disheartened.  However instead of sitting around bemoaning the lack of audience in Canada, I think we need to sit down with ourselves and have a good think.  We work as artists.  We’re creative people.  Surely we can figure out ways to share the joy of live performance with our peers.  If each theatre artist and company really thinks about new ways to draw in audiences I’m confident we’ll see a dramatic improvement.      

Astra Theatre is currently accepting applications for their next ArtHere! event: ArtCamp.  If you’re interested in presenting please send an email

1 comment:

  1. Events like ArtHere! are fantastic ice breakers for people who are interested in theatre but have never really experienced it. Because the stage is so close to the audience and because it's typically something we are familiar with (a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc) not only are you more comfortable, but it's easier to accept what is going on literally four feet away from you. The relationship between the actors and their audience is intensified which makes for a unique and addicting experience, an experience so powerful the mere mention of ArtHere! gets me excited. It's indeed the best and most creative way to turn unknowing theatregoers into proud theatreites.

    Awesome article Crystle.

    - Christian


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