There’s a huge industry in the U.S. that not too many people have heard of, mostly because they don’t often cross paths with it: the themed entertainment industry. These are the companies, consultants, and people who create, design, manage, and support places like theme parks, themed restaurants, and similar venues including some museums and other exhibit buildings. And there are two large trade associations supporting the industry. It’s a real thing.
About ten-fifteen years ago, the buzzword in this industry was “experience,” as in customer experience. I’m not in that line of work any more, so I haven’t kept up, but the term may still be out there. The whole gist was that a theme park (say) wants the customer to begin his/her experience before they even arrive at the park and continue it even after they leave the park, and that the experience wants to be positive, exciting, and compelling all the way. It’s what they will remember. The general consensus was that Disney is fantastic at this and that other parks are learning.
Over the years, I’ve seen a few theaters (even professional ones) delve into this concept, but most have been half-hearted attempts, as if they were afterthoughts. But how exciting would it be for an audience member to be “captured” before they even walked into the house, and then to still be involved in the experience after they leave? It’s totally do-able, even without Disney’s deep pockets.
Something like this would require a detailed plan (just like themed entertainment venues have) to define the overall customer experience and get everyone on the same page. Specific items would/could include:
- Compelling, timely advertising with exciting imagery that not only tells you about the show but gets you interested in it. It should grab you and pull you in.
- Press releases, properly formatted, to announce the show and including photos if possible.
- A QR code on all paper advertising: someone sees the poster/flyer/whatever and can immediately click on it, get more info, and buy tickets right then and there.
- A thank you email or note after the purchase.
- A well-lit parking lot with maybe a staff member or two to greet customers.
- A friendly, smiling person greet the customers the moment they walk in the front door.
- Some “stuff” in the lobby that relates to the show and gets people talking: cast photos, a model of the set if possible, set and costume renderings, construction or rehearsal photos, maybe a (duplicate) prop or piece of furniture from the show, historical material relating to the show (like maybe newspaper clippings from the incident the show is based on), and similar items. These want to be spread out so people can wander among them while waiting. Again, the idea is to get them to talk about the show.
- Maybe a host/hostess in the lobby to answer questions about the displays.
- Friendly, smiling box office staff and ushers.
- A nice voice-over welcome to the show, or someone walking out on stage to greet the customers.
I’ll stop here but you get the idea: get them interested, get them excited, and keep them that way until they leave the parking lot.
Some producers partner with local restaurants to offer a dinner/theatre package, which helps make it “an evening out” instead of “going to see a play.” Always a good idea as long as it’s a good restaurant and can serve the customers and get them out in time for the curtain. After all, they’re part of the experience.
Let me say that again: the restaurant is part of the experience.
There are lots of ways to create an “experience” that goes beyond the play itself, and most of them don’t need to cost money (or much money, anyway). I’m even going to go overboard here and suggest that a great way to research ideas would be to go visit a good theme park and see how they do it, including what they do with the queue lines.