Theater group sets new agenda that targets younger audiences

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Saturday September 18, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Performing arts venues can either embrace the new trends in social media to attract new customers or they can rely on their old established ways of doing business.

The Barrington Stage Company has chosen the embrace.

This January, the nonprofit Union Street theater company hopes to launch "Barrington Stage 2.0," a technology initiative that will rely heavily on video, blogging and an online forum to engage the younger patrons it expects will be BSC's future audience.

It's a cutting-edge approach to audience recruitment, and a national organization that supports American theater has taken notice.

Barrington Stage is one of five theaters from around the country that has been chosen to receive funding from the 2010 New Generations Program for Future Audiences, administered by the Theatre Communications Group. The New York City-based organization exists to strengthen, nurture and promote professional nonprofit American theater. The New Generations Program is funded by two well-known charitable organizations, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

BSC will receive its $51,600 grant funding over a two-year period, and will fully match the grant to launch Barrington Stage 2.0. The new initiative has been in the planning stages since the beginning of the year, said Barrington Stage Artistic Director Julianne Boyd.

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The four other theaters that received grant funding, located in California, New York, and Minnesota, have also developed new proposals aimed at attracting future audiences.

"We think that we're finding new ways to develop an audience, and that the wider organizations of theaters out there and the funding organizations agree with us," Boyd said. "Hopefully, we're on to something with the proposal that we came up with.

"It's new and innovative, and we like that," she added.

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Barrington Stage 2.0 is intended to build on BSC's existing approaches to developing young audiences, which include the theater company's three-year-old "Pay What You Can" program that provides opportunities for those under age 35 to buy tickets to its Mainstage and Stage 2 performances for one low price.

Boyd said Barrington Stage intends to use the funding to hire a year-round marketing associate who specializes in videography in order to enhance its website with blogs.

"We don't at the present time have money in the marketing budget to do that," she said.

Barrington Stage also plans to establish an interactive forum known as "iCritic." The forum will allow patrons to post online comments on computers that will be available at the Mainstage and Stage 2 performing spaces.

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"It will be in sort of a kiosk in both lobbies," Boyd said. "You can put in your comment. And at the end of the day, we'll put it online."

Boyd said the company also intends to create videos and post them online to promote their productions.

"We've done a lot of research into younger audiences," Boyd said. "I think we have to cultivate them different that other audiences. I buy The Berkshire Eagle and The New York Times, but they read it online. I don't do Facebook and Twitter. They do."

The introduction of the new initiatives doesn't mean Barrington Stage plans to ignore its traditional audience, which Boyd said ranges in age from 45 to 60.

"We need to find a way to bring the younger audience up," Boyd said. "We don't want to wait 10 or 15 years and have a big hole."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.


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