As theatre makers we are always looking to expand our audiences and get young people out to see shows. But when I ask my "non-theatre" friends to explore the vibrant Chicago theatre scene with me, they usually pass on the offer. Most of these friends would rather pay $40 to see a concert, or stay home and watch Netflix alone, than go see a play on a Friday night. As an undergraduate student studying Theatre and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, I am interested in how to use consumer insights to rebrand theatre as a viable entertainment option for Millennial audiences. My research has led me to two articles that highlight important concepts on the issue.
The Society Page's, "Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality" by Nathan Jurgenson argues that an "augmented reality" more accurately describes our experience of the world in the digital age. People "enmesh their physical and digital selves to the point where the distinction is becoming increasingly irrelevant." Rather than separating the digital world from the physical world as "virtual" versus "real," people experience the "offline" world as a result of the logic and content that pervades their "online" world. This is especially true for Millennials who have grown up with the Internet, which provides theatre makers with the interesting challenge of accounting for this augmented sense of reality when creating and marketing their work to this group.
The Theatre Communications Group published an article earlier this year entitled, "Making Eye Contact with Millennials: the Ephemeral and the Visceral" by Justin Maxwell. It notes that theatre makers forget to highlight "the unique thing our artistic genre is capable of." It suggests that Millennials would see theatre if they knew the unique experience it offered them: human connection. Rather than trying to compete with film, television, and other high-quality content often available to Millennials for free from the comfort of their bed, we shouldn't waste our time focusing on the story "as our primary artistic element," but rather the live, visceral, ephemeral experience.
After reading these two articles and from my studies in the Northwestern Medill IMC program, here are three action items that will help you during both the creative and marketing process to engage Millennials on their terms:
- Integrate Digital -- Integrate digital storytelling into the theatre you make. Millennials live fully in both the physical and virtual world, and your work should account for their augmented sense of reality.
- Extend the Relationship -- Don't just blast social media with advertisements. Create unique content for your audience to engage with you across media platforms before and after the event.
- Think Live -- Think beyond the story as our primary artistic element, and rather focus on what makes theatre unique: the live performance event.
As subscriber-based audiences get older, it is imperative that theatre makers consider Millennial sensibilities when creating their work and marketing it out. If theatre is the "social art form," then it must communicate in a language that is relevant to its audience. It's time we show young people that theatre can be thrilling!
For more updates on millennial theatre, multimedia performance events, and cutting edge art collaborations follow me on Twitter: @iMehiel