“It’s almost like a farmers’ market,” David Colfer says.
He’s talking about the Greater Boston Theatre Expo, coming Sept. 10 to the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts.
“You go to a farmers’ market and three vendors are selling tomatoes, and you just happen to find one whose tomatoes you like,” says Colfer. “I think some of that’s going to happen here. Everyone’s selling theater here, but they’re all doing it a little bit differently. It’ll give people the chance to browse, shop, pick and choose, and if they like what they see, they’ll come back for more.”
Some 55 Boston-area theater groups have signed up for the free expo, intended to give theatergoers a chance to meet, greet, and maybe get sold by representatives of the companies. If it’s a success, it could become an annual event.
Participating groups range from big companies like the American Repertory Theater and the Huntington Theatre Company to up-and-comers like Fresh Ink Theatre and Theatre on Fire. Some will have a marketing person on hand, others will have performers and creative staff. No performances — just conversation, a lot of expo-only discount offers and giveaways, maybe a raffle or two.
“I think audiences will find great value in not only getting information but in being incentivized to try out new things,” says Colfer, general manager for the Department of Performing Arts and Emerson Stage at Emerson College.
How are they luring theatergoers to the event? All of the participating companies agreed to contact their audience base with a pitch. And media sponsors (which include the Globe) will also help boost attendance, he says.
Colfer is one of a dozen or so local arts leaders who first got together to plan for the national Theatre Communications Group conference in town in June 2012. They’ve continued to meet since, referring to themselves as the legacy committee, as they’re looking for ways to extend the sense of community that conference engendered.
“I am thrilled by the [expo] and the idea behind it, because it’s a true collaborative effort to showcase our entire theater community by being together,” says Julie Hennrikus, a member of the committee.
Hennrikus is also executive director of StageSource, the member-service organization for the theater community, one of two or three umbrella organizations that will also set up tables at the expo.
“It’s an opportunity for small and fringe groups to have some exposure” to larger theaters’ audiences, Hennrikus says. “But the small and fringe groups also have a really strong audience base that will be great for the bigger and the mid-size theaters to get to know, because they are avid theatergoers.”
The expo is, she says, another example of how theaters have to adapt to a changing market.
“The traditional — and I’m using air quotes there — theatergoers still subscribe, so I think subscriptions are going to be around for a while. But the theater companies that are also exploring other models for people who don’t subscribe for whatever reason, that’s a secondary path to success,” Hennrikus said.
Those models include selling packages for fewer shows than a traditional full-season subscription, offering more flexibility in scheduling and focusing on just getting people in the door once.
“The challenge for theaters is that means a lot of single-ticket sales are required, maybe more so than in past years, and then it’s a new marketing approach,” says Hennrikus. “It is a shift that is requiring new thinking, and things like the Greater Boston Theatre Expo, we’re hoping, will help serve the community in reframing that.”
Shawn LaCount, artistic director of Company One and a member of the committee, says his organization will be involved for a couple of reasons. One is access to traditional theatergoers who are the small company’s usual audience. But being part of the big picture is more important.
“The community of theater-makers in Boston has grown significantly as a unit since the conference last summer,” says LaCount. “This is a group of people who wanted to continue working together as a community and think about leveraging that, whether it’s working with the new mayor or the press.”
One other thing about farmers’ markets is that they give the local-food community a chance to assert their value. LaCount hopes for a similar effect for Boston-area theaters.
“I think it’s a good thing for people involved in Boston’s cultural landscape to see 60 companies in one place and kind of paint a picture of what that looks like,” says LaCount. “It’s kind of rare to think of us as one thing, and I’m anxious to see what it looks like when we’re able to do that.”
Clark off to Inge residency
Burgess Clark, executive artistic director of Boston Children’s Theatre, will spend the next three months as playwright-in-residence at the William Inge Center for the Arts in Independence, Kan.
Clark will live at the historic home of playwright Inge (“Picnic,” “Bus Stop”) while writing a new children’s play and nurturing it through readings and workshops at the William Inge Theatre. Clark will also teach playwriting at Independence Community College and a local high school.
Clark won the William Inge Theatre Festival’s Otis L. Guernsey New Voices Award in 1996. For his recent work “Reflections of a Rock Lobster,” he received an Independent Reviewers of New England Award for Best New Play and was nominated for an Elliot Norton Award.