Marketing Spotlight: Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C.

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Beth Emelson 2014Earlier this year we read an article about the controversy surrounding the Metropolitan Opera’s rush ticket policy. We wondered how other venues handled rush tickets and the broader question of attracting audiences. We spoke with Beth Emelson, Assistant Artistic Producer with the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C.

YPP: What is the history of the Folger’s rush ticket policy?
Emelson: We formalized our policy two seasons ago, selling $30 rush tickets – the best available seat – an hour before curtain time. Regular ticket prices range from $15 for standing room up to $75, depending on location and day of the week.

YPP: What other ticket promotions are common?
Emelson: Along with student and senior discounts, I’m seeing a new trend of under-30 tickets, aimed at attracting audience members under 30 years old. They can purchase an advance ticket at a flat rate – the best available seat for any show – rather than risking rejection at the rush line. These under-30 tickets are purchased online with a promo code; buyers must verify their age when claiming the tickets. We’ll launch this program this coming season, selling tickets for $25.

We also hold a “pay-what-you-can night” for our first preview performance, which is a very popular practice in our area. The positive word-of-mouth advertising is worth it – personal recommendations are so important.

YPP: Any advice about Facebook?
Emelson: We have an active Facebook page where we post ticket promotions and links to current reviews. Like any social media, Facebook isn’t just something you assign to an intern and forget about. Social media will work for you if you work for it.

YPP: What if you had a marketing “magic wand”?
Emelson: I would target specific groups like singles or young couples and try to make theatre-going part of their larger entertainment experience. We would work to create an attractive destination and encourage visitors to hang out at the Folger, even if they don’t see a play every night.

Ticket promotions like rush seats and under-30 tickets are aimed at encouraging spontaneous entertainment, particularly for a younger generation accustomed to on-demand options. We need to help remove obstacles, so people can come and experience theatre.

YPP: Any final thoughts?
Emelson: We’ll do everything possible to meet people where they are and make their experience as good as possible. If you’ve never seen a Shakespeare play, we’ll provide detailed program notes and online resources. And if this is your eighth time seeing Hamlet, we’ll give you a really excellent Hamlet.

We’re trying to help people become “lifetime enjoyers” of the arts. This will also benefit all the theaters around us. There are a million entertainment options; I just want to make the Folger one of the choices. In the end, it’s about giving people experiences that encourage them to return because they had a wonderful time.

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