Episode #1 – The New Victory’s success story

Located a few blocks away from the iconic Time Square, The New Victory is New-York City’s only not-for-profit theatre devoted to children and families. With a program spanning all art forms, the venue strives to present the cream of international performances…but that’s not all.

They also have a mission to broaden and deepen audiences’ experience and understanding of the art forms they see on stage, by creating and offering bespoke and hands-on cultural engagement activities alongside their programming. In 2014, their efforts were rewarded when they won the National Arts and Humanities award, given by Michelle Obama, for outstanding programs in creative youth development.

Earlier this year, we had the privilege to hear from Lindsey Buller Maliekel, The New Victory’s Director of Education and Public Engagement at the WA Showcase. Invited by CircuitWest to present at the event, Lindsey shared her experience and unveiled her secrets for a successful audience engagement strategy, including some hot tips on how to activate your foyer (or should I say ‘lobby’? ;).

Alright, now grab yourself a cuppa tea (or one of those large brewed coffee options from Starbucks), and make yourself comfortable…we are about to tell you the dos and don’ts when planning your next audience development strategy.

Facts about The New Victory

But first, here are a few facts about The New Victory:

  • Refurbished in 1995, the 500-seats venue is the oldest theatre in New-York City, now dedicated to its youngest theatregoers;
  • With a lot of rehearsal space available, The New Victory not only serves as an incubation space for artists to develop their own production, it’s also where most of the Broadway shows rehearse;
  • Each season, approximately 15 companies from around the world are chosen to perform an average run of two to three weeks (and they love Australian shows so much that we decided to include a few pictures of those who made it to The New Victory over the last 10years. Have you watched any?);
  • Every year, The New Victory welcomes more than 40,000 school kids and 60,000 families through their door;
  • In total, The New Victory employs more than 100 staff members and over 60 local artists (also called teaching artists);
  • In 2018, the 80’s shabby-looking foyer received a much-needed $9 million facelift (…and stay with us for some amazing tips on how to spruce up your foyer!);
  • And in less than 6 years, their audience engagement reach increased by 40%.

You: Hang on a minute…did you really say 40%?
Me: Yeahhh dude!

Wanna know their secrets?
First let’s talk about The New Victory’s ticket price strategy!

Saltbush by Compagnia T.P.O & Insite Arts

A Simple Space by Gravity and Other Myths

We want to make sure there is a ticket price cheaper than a movie.

 

Still Awake Still! by Jump Leads and Jessica Wilson

Dynamic pricing and affordable tickets

Ticket prices are often a thorny topic, one that has many presenters and audience members divided. As a presenter, your intention is to bring the best quality shows to your audiences at the best possible rate while making sure you are on track with your budget, and not left totally out-of-pocket. As a family, we understand that sometimes taking the whole family out to the theatre can be a luxury, and one that can gouge into your budget significantly.

So what is the compromise? As a presenter, how do you serve the widest audience, and still meet your target? As a patron, how can you score the best seats in the house for a fraction of the price?

At the New Victory, single tickets range from $16-$38, with holiday shows reaching up to $55. And for each show, dynamic pricing applies, which means that once they hit a certain number of sales, ticket prices go up (except for the two lowest prices). They also encourage their patrons to purchase tickets for multiple shows at once to automatically become a member and get a 40% discount, which means that patrons can score tickets as low as $10 (US), without having to pay any extra $$ to become members.

Don’t charge for your engagement

However, their strategy is NOT to charge for their engagement. According to Lindsey “adding tickets to engagement can actually create a barrier, event if it’s free tickets.”

In their program, The New Victory offers free pre and post-show engagement activities for every single show, and quickly noticed that people who came to the pre-show show activities came back to the post-show activities, where they could also meet with the cast. While in an ideal scenario, pre and post-show activities are different, Lindsey confides that in the reality they share a lot of similarities. So don’t feel the pressure to build two separate awesome engagement programs, concentrate your effort on one good activity!

The engagement program is a recent addition to The New Victory. For many years, they only offered paid workshops (which they still do), however, five years ago they decided to diversify their program to offer families a greater experience as a whole. They also wanted to attract new families, especially those living outside the inner city, as well as those reluctant to come to the theatre, either because they thought they did not ‘fit in’ or simply had practical barriers (distance, transportation, time constraint, language, etc.).


Me and My Shadow by Patch Theatre Company


 Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo

Grug and the Rainbow by Windmill Theatre Co

Beat the rush!

The New Victory also wanted to address another hurdle: how do we get people to our venue before the rush in the foyer? And how can we offer them a better experience and more personalised attention?

By inviting patrons to take part in some arts-based activities an hour before they were able to reduce the pre-show congestion in their foyer as well as broadening audience’s experience of coming to the theatre.

“Arrival time has changed, and people now arrive super early and flow in slowly, as opposed to everyone arriving 5min prior.” shares Lindsey

Why engagement?

But that’s not the only reason why The New Victory decided to invest in more engagement programs. For Lindsey, the purpose of creating cultural engagement around a piece of performing arts is primarily to deepen the impact of the show and build up the audience’s anticipation.

“Engagement is like priming a wall before you paint it.” says Lindsey

“The more children know about something, the more their curiosity grows”.

For her, programming and presenting high-quality shows is great but not enough.

“I am not saying that the artists haven’t created a show that stands on its own.” says Lindsey, “but our mission is to acquaint audiences with the art form they are about to see on stage, and to give me audiences that are better at getting arts.”

But not everybody who comes to theatre wants to engage she says.

“Because you don’t go to the engagement activities doesn’t mean you can’t go to the arts.” explains Lindsey, and to add “It has to be fine with you when people are not into engagement”.

Engagement is like priming a wall before you paint it.

 

 

360 Allstars by Onyx Production

The engagement starts when people enter the building, not when they are inside the theatre.

 


Paper Planet by Polyglot Theatre

That’s a team effort

Another key element that contributes to a successful engagement, is to make sure that the whole organisation is aligned with your mission, and that every staff member, including FOH staff, embraces the strategy and is involved.

“The engagement starts when people enter the building, not when they are inside the theatre. “says Lindsey.

At The New Victory, interpersonal skills for employees are very well sought-after, and ‘engaging with audiences’ is now part of every FOH staff’s job description. Every usher is trained to be an activity assistant and is involved in the making and delivery of the pre-show and post-show activities in the foyer.

So now that we’ve talked about why cultural engagement is so important, would you like to hear some of Lindsey’s hot tips on how to create content for a successful cultural engagement program?

Stay tuned for our next episode “Creating Cultural Engagement 101″ to be released next Tuesday, same time, same place!

Performing Lines acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work – the Gadigal in Sydney, the Whadjuk in Perth, and the Muwinina in Hobart – and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

We extend those respects to all First Nations peoples on whose lands we travel and perform.