What local theatre can learn from local football

By January 29, 2017

Theatre & Dance.


Small town football clubs enjoy an existence at the heart of the communities they represent, with local business sponsors, loyal supporters and impressive social media followings, despite the on-pitch displays sometimes leaving their fans dejected. Contrast their predicament to that of local theatres, who are less likely to have sponsorship funding the upkeep of their auditorium and have to work relentlessly to attract artists and audiences alike. For them, a dejected audience could quickly spiral into worrying box-office figures.

Football clubs aren’t just lucky. Many give a huge amount back to the community they represent outside of their matches in the form of youth training, kit donations, and championing local charity causes. They also really know their crowd. A lifetime supporter is celebrating a big birthday—a shout out occurs at half time. A child in the community is going through a tough time—free mascot experience at the next home game. Therefore, when the local butchers sponsor a stand, they are not just supporting the club, but the community (and their potential customers).

In a climate of mass funding cuts, local theatres could learn a lot from this example. Local business links can be used beyond sponsoring a page in the programme—the same creativity that goes into the artistic vision of a venue has to go into sourcing funding. I’m not suggesting soap-opera style product placement in productions, with unnecessary attention drawn to the labels of local produce, but marrying the image the company wants to portray with the services the theatre provides. Perhaps the opticians sponsors the season of shows centred on alternative perspectives, the local family-friendly bank supports the youth engagement programme, or the local tutoring business supports the education workshops.

Furthermore, most mailboxes are inundated with mass-sent mailing list updates and for national venues, or mobile theatre companies, this makes a lot of sense. Local theatre venues, however, have the advantage of a permanent, specific, and narrow base from which to draw their audience allowing them to know the face behind the contact details on the database. Getting to know their audience is actually feasible. Who’s to say the Artistic Director can’t introduce herself at various community meetings, facilitate exciting assemblies at local schools, and open the doors for a fortnightly coffee morning where regular theatregoers are invited to read plays or discuss the arts news pages?

None of this is particularly difficult, but all of it is time-consuming and challenging when increasing workloads are often shared by fewer staff. Nevertheless, alternative funding is vital to ensure art that enriches and unites communities is accessible and sows the seeds for the next generation of exciting ideas. After all, if there are people in the community willing to watch a crushing 4-0 defeat in the cold winter rain, there’ll be people in the community willing to be challenged and entertained from the padded seats of a toasty theatre.

Filed under: Theatre & Dance