Minneapolis-based Scot Covey has started a terrific blog-series on grassroots marketing and how to make it work for theatre companies.
His first salvo is spot on:
[T]he word "patron"...[e]vokes all the wrong attitudes. We should be looking for "fans." And it's not a mere issue of semantics: "patrons" pay you money to do your art, either to their specifications (a la medieval panel painters) or at your whim. There's nothing in that word which indicates they like what you're doing, let alone love it. I spent much of the late 80s and early 90s in the music business, working with indie bands, and we never talked about "patrons." Rock bands have fans—adoring, passionate folks who eagerly await your next piece of work, put up posters in their dorm rooms, will travel to other cities to see you perform, want to be your friend. As much as you might protest, that doesn't happen in theater.I would even venture there's a kind of unintended inverse reaction that happens: the more aggressively theatre companies focus on patrons (or are seen to focus on them), the true fan-base shrinks. There's nothing more dispiriting for a true theatre fan than to walk into a space--or receive a mailing or email--that announces This place does not exist for me. This is all for the patrons.
When the overwhelming contacts I get from you, for instance, are addressing me as if I have no problem coughing up hundreds of dollars to be your "friend", that's not making me any more of a fan of your actual art. Meanwhile, those of us who are genuinely psyched about the work you do, and reliably pay $20/$30 a ticket or show up on standby lines...what's our reward?
Anyway, you can follow Covey's original diagnoses and prescriptions at Minnesota Playlist.