While many theaters struggle to fill the seats of their shows, a few years ago Actors Theatre of Louisville began enacting a simple strategy: give tickets away.
Last year, Actors gave away 1,400 tickets through a program called the Community Tickets Grant. Nonprofits and community groups can apply for free tickets to any show. There is a pretty painless application process, but requests are due before Friday Aug. 3.
Insider spoke with Carrie Syberg, Actors’ director of community partnerships, about the importance of the new program. It’s three years old and started just after Syberg joined the Actors staff.
Syberg’s credentials don’t come from the arts world, rather she went to Purdue and received a human relations degree. Before Actors, she was mostly working in higher education fundraising, but she also grew up performing, training as a vocalist.
“This is my first foray into arts fundraising, but I’ve been doing art my whole life. So (this job) was a beautiful pairing of two things,” said Syberg.
The community tickets are for 501(c)(3) nonproft and community groups. A group applies for up to three productions, and tickets are granted in blocks as small as 10 and as large as 75.
The idea for the community tickets comes in part from a fact about Actors of which many people are unaware.
“Actors Theatre is the state theater of Kentucky, and we take that very seriously, so we want to make sure there are as little amount of barriers as possible to see the theater that we produce on our stages,” Syberg said.
There’s a great secondary goal for the program as well. These days, many nonprofits are always looking to create more partners in the community.
“It’s this idea of getting to include these nonprofit people and partners in our region, mostly on our opening nights. There’s such a magical buzz. And it’s so exciting to be there,” she added.
As you could probably guess from her title, Syberg spends a lot of time working on cultivating and continuing community partnerships.
“My job is, if I’m doing it well, I’m mostly out of the office,” she explained. “I talk to partners and make sure they understand the opportunities they have to see theater.”
Spreading the word about the community tickets can be a one-on-one conversation with a community influencer, or it can be asking an organization to spread the word on their communications network. Syberg gave the Community Foundation of Louisville as an example of a group Actors talks to hoping to get the info about the community tickets out into the world.
Actors started the program as an unfunded initiative, but pretty soon after it got going, sponsors Brown-Forman and Hogan Lovells decided to fund the program, making it easier for Actors to continue to give away tickets without going bankrupt.
The application is a questionnaire, which Syberg said is designed with simplicity in mind — they don’t want people leaving tickets on the table because of an imposing online form.
“But it’s really cool to see the amount of people applying for the Humana Festival,” said Syberg. “All of that is new productions, new work, so I think it’s cool for us to see our community be excited to get that first look at new work that’s being done.”
Actors’ first show of the 2018/19 season is just around the corner, so the work of processing grants and providing tickets gets accomplished in a pretty short time span.
“We have applications due on Aug. 3, and we’ll work through the next two to three weeks to really solidify the amount of tickets we have for the shows, and then let the community members know what tickets they received, and which night it’s for,” said Syberg.
Rather than a highly competitive process, she says it’s mostly just a matter of Actors squeezing in everyone they can.
“We look at the inventory for the (audience) to make sure we have room for everybody. Really it’s just a matter of space, if we’ve got the space we’re going to offer out as many tickets as we can. We don’t judge based on who the nonprofit is, what they do — any and all are welcome,” said Syberg.
Last year, more than 60 charities applied, and those charities received the aforementioned 1,400 tickets.
“We’re serious about this. We want everyone to see it,” she said.
A savvy nonprofit can serve their audiences and themselves, and the community tickets help Actors do a number of things, including bringing in new people who might not be willing to gamble money on tickets to the theater.
“A lot of times, this can be someone’s first point of contact for live theater, and we want those people, we want to share in those experiences with them and make Actors Theatre a part of their lives when they might not have seen it that way before,” Syberg said.
Whether the tickets go to people who haven’t seen theater before or people who want to go but struggle to afford tickets, the message Actors is trying to get out is the same.
“We know the theater is for everybody, and we want to reiterate that to our community,” said Syberg.