Presenting Professionalism Can Score Well With Your Audience

With professional experience as an Audience Development Director, I took great pride offering the best quality of hospitality and professionalism that demonstrated my sincerest gratitude to all audience members. As an Audience Development Director, I made conscious efforts to personally engage with each audience member to ensure that they felt welcomed and valued for investing their time with us. They were the most important people at the theatre.

Yet, this past weekend I was reminded that some independent artists and arts organisations could use a lesson in professionalism.   I booked two tickets to a production that I knew had a sold out, one-night performance hoping that people might cancel last minute. However, I was pleasantly pleased to receive an email from the company the next morning inviting me to attend the dress rehearsal the night before. I adore dress rehearsal performances! I think every company should open their final dress rehearsals to the public, at least to the press, so their word-of-mouth campaigns could start sooner and sell more tickets in their opening weekend. But I digress. I immediately responded to the email to confirm my interest in attending the dress rehearsal, and within a couple of hours, I received a confirmation email instructing that someone would find me in the theatre foyer to escort me before the start of the show.

The evening of the invited dress rehearsal, I met my friend (an avid arts supporter and certainly interested in connecting with artists through BcauseARTS) at the venue roughly 20 minutes before our scheduled “foyer escorting.” We decided to take our early arrival as an opportunity to catch up over a drink at the bar! Time flew by, as it always does when you are catching up with a dear friend, and the clock struck 6:30PM, performance time. But we could not find a staff member to escort us into the theatre. I allotted another 10 minutes, offering the team the benefit of the doubt that maybe technical difficulties were delaying the start. I even went so far as to double-check my emails again hoping that I missed a message from my contact informing me that the dress rehearsal was unfortunately canceled, or maybe I wasn’t waiting in the correct designated area. Soon enough, 7PM rolled around and still no sign of a performance. As my friend and I finished our drinks, I had to face the music that I had been stood up!

The experience broke my heart – though I felt anger for my time being wasted, more than anything I was embarrassed. I invited my friend, a potential sponsor through BcauseARTS, to come along for a great experience only to be let down. I am still trying to convince him that not all artists treat their audience members the way we were.

Luckily, my concerns for a lack in professionalism within the arts were redeemed two days later while attending a Red Stitch Theatre Ensemble production. I was highly impressed with the small St Kilda theatre space: a clean and clear layout decorated with signs throughout the lobby designating the difference between the box office and bar. At each area, signs informed patrons of ticket and bar item prices. Toilet facilities were clearly marked though they were tucked away in the far corner. And finally, past productions and cast pictures, a video collage displayed on a television screen and informational brochures were strategically placed on walls and ledges to invite patrons into the personal development of Red Stitch Theatre Ensemble. The space is a truly warm and inviting professional atmosphere. My hope for professionalism in an art company had been restored.

Side Note – I encourage you to check out Red Stitch’s latest production DEAD CENTRE/SEA WALL running through 15 August.  Outstanding performance from Ben Prendergast; haunting direction from Julian Meyrick and poetic writing by Simon Stephens.

The point I want to drive is that if the arts community, in general, wants to be taken seriously in business matters then it must act more like a business. Especially during a time when the government is questioning the value of the independent arts sector, we must go above and beyond our audience’s expectations. The best way to present more business manner is to demonstrate gratitude. Take extra care to ensure your audience is valued. Think ahead to their needs – ask yourself, what would make ME want to come back again and again to this production? Remember: without an audience, what good is art that is not shared?

Have you ever been let down by the attitude of an organisation or company? Leave your comments below, and let’s learn from others mistakes so improvements can be made.