Summer can mean multiple things for Iowans. Among them, the pools are open, kids are out of school, summer festivals, the state fair, and teenagers doing hard labor.
But to those who enjoy theater in Iowa, there is the knowledge that numerous theater companies have several shows opening during the summer.
One might think that the lack of school being in session might entice younger audiences to attend plays, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case.
There will always be the parents taking their children under the age of 10 to family friendly plays, regardless of the season of the year. But how do you attract teenagers to the theater?
As someone who just recently graduated from high school, I happen to have first hand experience observing the fact that teenagers have difficult time finding out when some plays open. For example, many people regretted missing the Waterloo Community Playhouse’s production of “Into the Woods” last summer, but they didn’t know when it was.
This isn’t to say that WCP didn’t advertise the show. I know from the exclamations of my sister that they had billboards and it was listed on the signs at banks in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. But due to the fact that people in the city of Cedar Falls drive like lunatics, I tend to be more aware of the road, not what boarders the road. I hope that my peers tend to do the same thing.
Granted, if I’m talking up a show I’ve raved about, they tend to know about it better. Sadly, by the time I’ve seen the show and I’m back at school, it’s either closed or it’s running in Cedar Rapids, which is an hour away.
But they seem to be more aware of theater in Cedar Rapids than in the area they live in. Several people I know were aware of “Hair” running at Theatre Cedar Rapids because they heard about it on the local public radio station, KUNI. In fact, most of the people I conversed with at school listened to KUNI on a daily basis for several hours a day. Supporting that station to a). help keep it running and b). get the word out about a show is ingenious. Why don’t most theaters do this?
Well, some theaters do buy ad space on some stations, but teenagers have never heard of these stations because they don’t play rock music, contemporary music, nor is it public radio. I myself only listen to two stations in my car while driving: KUNI and, when I’m in Cedar Rapids, KCCK, a jazz station.
The future of theater in Eastern Iowa lies with getting teenagers and young adults to attend shows. It is really annoying when I’m at a play, reviewing it, and the next youngest person in the audience is in their 40s.
And it’s not that that age group isn’t interested in serious theater. After performing my scene from The Pillowman from acting class, I discovered that my classmates, not all of whom do theater, were amazed by it. Why? Because it was like nothing they had ever seen.
The main way to bring this age group to theater without their parents is to try to give them an incentive. The best way would be with ticket prices. Teenagers and college students are much more interested in a play if a ticket is going to cost them $5-$15 instead of $25.
And how will they find out about ticket prices? Many theater companies, including several in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area, have Facebook groups where you can find out about the upcoming shows. One of the theater companies in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area has a group that you must be approved to join. (I’ve tried joining it and I can’t get approved.)
So what can be learned here? To get people who need to be going to theater, you need to market it in a much more accessible way and try incentives of lower ticket prices. If you do this, they might come.