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That World Premiere Thing

Last Monday I attended a fascinating presentation by Theatre Development Fund and Theatre Bay Area on their new play study, Triple Play. Click here to watch the livestream of the discussion. The study centered on the motivations and reactions of single-ticket buyers with regard to their new play ticket purchases, and there was a lot of great data. But one conclusion stuck out hugely to the playwrights in the room: the study concluded that single-ticket buyers do not care whether a play is a world premiere or not.

Actually, it doesn’t seem like single-ticket buyers care whether it’s a regional premiere, or a country premiere, or a world premiere, or a second or third production. All they care about is that it’s a “good play” (which, of course, all folks define differently). On the flip side, the single-ticket buyers generally did want to walk in with information about the play that would help them decide whether to go–such as genre and three-sentence synopsis. So they want to know about the play itself–they just don’t care so much about its “premiere” status.

Tory Bailey and Brad Erickson, the presenters, shared that single-ticket buyers were extremely interested in an Amazon-like or Netflix-like recommendation system, where folks could get recommendations for new plays based on their theatre-going history. For example, if someone had previously seen and loved productions of, say, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice and Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, they might like a production of Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, which like Ruhl’s Eurydice poetically reimagines a Greek myth–and like Diaz’s Deity asks questions about masculinity and toughness. (I just made that example up, so don’t quote me. But actually do quote me, because I think that equation would completely work.)

So–as a playwright, I’m considering what this research has to do with how I present my plays to the larger world. Obviously most of my current convincing has to do with getting institutions to do my plays rather than interacting directly with single-ticket buyers. And institutions are more concerned with the “world premiere” label than ticket buyers are, simply because of grants that are available for their theatre company if they produce world premieres. But when I get a shot at writing a blurb or any say in what’s on the poster, I’ll remind theatres that I interact with that telling folks a bit of the story will get us a lot further in increasing audience than will that little “world premiere” label. Thank you, TDF, Theatre Bay Area, and HowlRound, for hard data to back that up!

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