Are Story Ballets the Only Way To Build New Audiences?

Everyone in the ballet world knows that the classic, full-length stories are typically the easiest sells at the box office.

But does that mean the only way to build your audience is by grabbing people through more Nutcrackers and Swan Lakes, and hoping they'll stick around for less conventional rep later in the season?

Photo by Tony Spielberg, Courtesy Ballet Austin

Not necessarily, according to new market research that Ballet Austin's conducted.

With a grant from the Wallace Foundation, the company ran focus groups, collected 1500 surveys and analyzed its ticket database. They found that audiences were more open to abstract works than the company assumed—as long as people could understand what they would be seeing.

Marketing needed to be clear. For example, the phrase "mixed repertory" doesn't mean anything to people outside the dance world. And an ad featuring dancers floating among the clouds was too easily mistaken for a mattress ad.

Two main factors brought most people to the ballet:

  1. The social experience with friends and family.
  2. The emotional and intellectual payoff of the work.

Now, Ballet Austin is trying to capitalize on those draws. New offerings include pre-show interactive exhibits so audience members can better understand the work. And cocktails, for those who really just want a fun night out.

Check out more about the company's on-going research in this video:

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July 2021