April 5, 2021
Originally published as a LinkedIn article by Gena Buhler.
Spring is here in North America and, thanks to an accelerated vaccine rollout, at Theatre Projects we’re feeling hopeful that returning to our venues and programming is finally in sight. While the desire for people to congregate together again is strong, it’ll take some time to build confidence for many people to feel safe in a crowded public space again. Many audiences have embraced watching streamed content from the comfort of their homes, so we’re now faced with the challenge of reconnecting them to our organizations and venues. In anticipation of when venues can reopen for programming and large capacity events, we’ve been looking how operators can welcome community members back into venues and how those opportunities might be advantageous for the long term.
Giving access to your facility, particularly outside of scheduled events and programming, will be key to this process. For many, doors are only opened when there is an event. Other spaces may be accessible, but use is discouraged, or they seem empty and uninviting. To overcome that, we need to find ways to make our spaces an integral part of the daily life of the community. Think about many of the major headlines that dominated our newsfeeds this past year—our industry was almost always present, offering help and support to their communities:
Throughout the year, these venues have been our safe spaces, our shelters, and our community resources. Can these lessons learned help to develop a more meaningful, accessible, and long-lasting connection between the community and your facility?
And, after a year of physical separation, can we really afford not to play a central role in the rebuilding effort to create a new sense of togetherness? We’re presented with an opportunity to not just build back our venues as places of entertainment and culture, but also to rebrand our spaces as accessible and open environments that serve everyone in the community, not just patrons who purchase a ticket for a specific event. Opening our doors to create a place where people can gather, play, talk, learn, and make connections through the day as well as during the programmed evenings would help break down social barriers and lead the way in promoting accessibility, inclusion, and stronger cohesion within our diverse communities. (Pictured above: "Everyone is welcome" sign outside Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington D.C.)
While this would involve some budget, operations and staff training adjustments, the benefits make it worth some serious consideration.
There’s a balance to be found in all of this. You still need to sell tickets, preserve the integrity of your brand, balance staffing schedules and budget, and ultimately serve your community needs. Each community has different needs and expectations, but in taking a step back to evaluate your organization’s mission and goals, you may just find that increased access to parts of your facility may serve your mission, and ultimately create a longer lasting relationship with your community that will serve you for years to come. How do you build this access into your day-to-day operations, and do you retrain your staff on this expectation of accessibility and access outside of the event schedule?
At Theatre Projects, our team has done this work in facility and operations planning many times—both as venue operators and as consultants—so we understand what’s involved to make accessibility a good experience for your staff and community. Talk to us—we’re genuinely committed to helping our venues reconnect successfully, and we want you to succeed in achieving your mission. So, even if it’s just a simple phone conversation to help steer you in the right direction, we’re here to help. If you want to chat, you can reach me directly at [email protected] or 303 920 7890.