By Jim McCarthy May 9, 2012 0 comments

Give Me a New Reason to Say Yes

Via Thomas, here’s an article that explains the English National Opera’s artistic director’s frustration with the broadcast of some of their work into movie theatres.  Here is the key tidbit:

“’It is of no interest to me,’ he said. ‘It is not a priority. It doesn’t create new audiences either…My time is consumed with making sure the performance is absolutely as good as it can be, and getting that right on the stage, that is hard enough, and that is my focus, on live work.’”

It’s hard for me to criticize the focus on putting on a great piece of live work.  That’s a minimum requirement, obviously.  I do wonder, and would love to know, if the statement about “not bringing in a live audience” is more of an opinion or impression or if  it has a basis in statistical fact.  And if so, I’d love to know how they determined that it had failed in that regard.  In other words, as those who’ve worked with me frequently hear me say, compared to what did it fail?  Almost by definition, if someone in a New York or even Manchester sees a broadcast of a performance in London, that person is not likely to have appeared in the theatre that night under any circumstances.  That’s why I’d be fascinated to hear by what yardstick the English National Opera is evaluating success in this area.  I’d love to hear from somebody there who would like to share that with this audience because I think it would be helpful for others to learn from.

But let’s take that as a given for the moment.  I know something about creating new audiences for live performances after sending millions of people to events over the last decade or so, almost 85% of the time to people who weren’t in the market for that even when they came to Goldstar.  And here’s what I know:

If you want to get new people to try something, you’ve got to give them a new reason.

In other words, if a person made a decision a long time ago and perhaps subconsciously, that they do not like opera and don’t want to attend it, you can’t just make them aware of an opera and make it more convenient by putting it in a theatre.  That’s more likely to serve the latent opera fan who can’t get to where the opera houses are, and in a sense, that’s a new audience too.

But if you want really NEW new audiences, you’ve got to give me something I haven’t yet heard that explains why I should see something.  I have no idea how the English National Opera did on that score in this instance.  Perhaps they did a tremendous job; I’m not judging because I don’t have any information.

But merely delivering the same product in a new form is usually not enough to tap a new set of people.

A few years ago, Baz Luhrmann did a production of La Boheme, and it was incredibly popular.  Everywhere it went, 30 years old packed opera houses, with tickets totally sold out in most cases.  I’m not saying that this is the answer or that this was the “right” way for opera to market itself.  I’m saying that Luhrmann gave people a new reason to go, and it was this:

If you liked the way Moulin Rouge looked and felt, you can come to this opera and see something like that live and in person instead of on the screen.

In other words, he asked a question to which a ‘new audience’ would likely answer ‘yes,’ instead of ‘no.’  If you ask that same audience a question like “would you like to go see an opera, but in a movie theatre where it’s more convenient for you?” the answer is still likely to be ‘no’ if they don’t have an inherent interest in seeing the opera.

Ask me a question I will say ‘yes’ to.  Give me a new reason to go.

That’s the cornerstone of building new audiences for live entertainment.


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