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Reaching Out?

October 8, 2014

The Almeida Theatre alone has at least 9 people listed in its programme who appear to be involved in “development” of the venue. Building audiences, involvement of the community, children, artists… it’s a laudable aim…

So why did I have the following conversation with somebody, as I caught a little sun in a nearby park before seeing (ironically, as it’s about community integration) “Little Revolution” there?

We started to chat because the person (I’ll keep the gender and age to myself, as I respect privacy, but will say it doesn’t fit into any deliberately targeted category) had a wonderful dog on a lead – and I can’t resist a hound. Who can?

Anyway, turns out said canine had been a good dog at the vet’s and was being treated to a walk in an unfamiliar location before heading home. On informing the owner in return that I was heading to the Almeida, I was fascinated by the response, “I’d love to go there – they did a Judy Garland thing a while ago – but I don’t dare. It’s so intimidating. And when I do go to the West End theatre with my (adult) family, the drinks are so expensive, aren’t they.”

The Almeida are generous to the local community with ticket price discounts, and operate a fairly reasonably priced catering outlet… and of course have their legion of “development” workers…

… yet the fundamental appears to have been missed. The white paint, steel and glass simply scared a willing audience member away!

On my own visits, I’ve found staff welcoming, and the box office staff in particular went out-of-their-way to sort a booking problem I had when their website overloaded and crashed due to demand.

The only criticism I have is that from the outside, exterior signs don’t make it clear where the stalls entrance is, and you can tell “first timers” from the way they look at the well-signposted circle entrances (on the pavement) and miss that stalls users go in through the newer foyer doors.

So, how does such a simple barrier come to be ignored, and how can it be broken down? I guess on the first, it’s because it wouldn’t show up in a survey – because who counts those they don’t know about?

On the second, the way I’ve done it is simply by “hand holding.” I first encountered a similar thing years ago at university, when a group of friends – all extrovert “talk to anyone” types with confidence I envied – admitted that one weekend they’d gone to Shaftesbury Avenue, fancied seeing a comedy play… but funked going in to buy a ticket, as they weren’t sure how.

I explained it all to them, and offered to go with them next time… as indeed I’d done for fellow sixth-formers not that long before… result. New Theatregoers. I really hope Theatremonkey does the same, as that’s one of the reasons I started it and wrote the book.

Should theatres have “ambassadors” to knock on doors, stand in the streets and guide new people inside. Simply have a friendly “door person” receptionist as a first contact? A start perhaps. Sometimes, I guess you do have to make developments one person at a time….

  1. Clive permalink
    October 11, 2014 1:51 am

    Very interesting. This ties in with my comments on a previous blog about getting people used to going in the building. Personally I’ve not always found the Almeida staff the most helpful but they consistently have a quality product at a reasonable price. And they also have a cafe and bar open to anyone, one of the things that I always think is very useful for this. Also they have had various open-days and initiatives to bring in the local community as well, so I find this surprising.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      October 11, 2014 8:15 am

      I was fascinated too, for exactly the same reasons – though I’ve found the staff fine when I’ve been.

      I did in fact email them the article, as I thought it would interest them. I got an acknowledgement, but nothing further.

      It was just so sad that they do work that hard on community relations and still get that response indeed, isn’t it.

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