Raising [the] Capital: Expanding the Edmonton Audience (Part II)
by Tracy Carroll
Our provincial capital boasts a healthy and diverse theatre community, but with so many established theatre companies in the city, what are they doing to attract new patrons?
I spoke with some prominent people in Edmonton’s theatre community to see if indeed theatres are thinking this way. It turns out that there is more than just creative programming going on to fill seats…
Heading across the North Saskatchewan River, we arrive at a large brick & glass building located in the hub of the Downtown Arts District. As the largest regional theatre in Western Canada, The Citadel Theatre has been producing top-notch theatre for nearly 50 years.
I wondered what has helped the Citadel endure these past five decades and what the secret is to keeping audiences attending the theatre year after year. Executive Director Penny Ritco refers back to their original mandate stating that the company’s focus was larger than just doing productions, it also included the development of artists and audiences and the running of a facility.
“Programming through the The Robbins Academy—like the Foote Theatre School, The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program, and the Young Companies—all extend the reach of the theatre beyond just audience and plays,” Ritco says. She also mentions that sharing the spaces in the facility with Rapid Fire Theatre, and events like the Cappies, School graduations, and dance school performances make it a place where the larger community comes.
The Citadel has also made a big shift in recent years from presenting plays in the 200-seat Rice Theatre to creating a cabaret-style space—The Club—which houses music, stand-up comedy, and cabaret performers.
Ritco believes that due to the widespread presence of modern technology, audiences are seeking more interactive human experiences. She sees this as a positive and hopes that The Club’s programming will draw people who would not be attending ‘regular’ theatre.
Another important shift at the Citadel is in the method of marketing to potentially new audiences. They are taking a new approach with all patrons via direct communication and an invite to return to the theatre again and again.
“It’s like dating the new theatergoers so that they can see the Citadel is a place where they belong,” Ritco says. “We used to skip the dating part and ask them to invest in a subscription much sooner… we now spend time finding the best ways to approach our patrons, and offer them other ways to enjoy us.” And are these shifts working to improve audience numbers? Ritco says that in only three years, it definitely is.
“The changes are helping to maintain audiences—we’re meeting our goals of subscription and casual ticket numbers and exceeding others!”
Tracy Carroll lives and works in Edmonton as a director and dramaturg with a particular focus on new works and Theatre for Young Audiences. She is the Artistic Associate-North for Alberta Playwrights’ Network, and recently directed/dramaturged Conni Massing’s new play The Invention of Romance for Workshop West Theatre and a staged reading of The Book of Ashes by Emil Sher at the St. Albert Children’s Festival. She was also director of the Sprouts New Play Festival for Concrete Theatre in June 2014.
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University of Lethbridge | University of Alberta | Keyano Theatre |
Alberta Drama Festival Association (ADFA) | The Citadel Theatre / Robbins Academy
School of Creative and Performing Arts