Most arts and entertainment organisations target previous attenders to persuade them to attend a new event by selecting people on their ticketing system database who had attended events of a similar character in the past. Fairly obviously this is done by either the title of the event e.g. a play, or for a concert perhaps the repertoire, or simply “comedy” or “dance”. This is a common practice, notwithstanding the fact that human happiness comes from someone being persuaded to attend something new, different, that they then enjoyed. Perhaps we should be targeting them on opposites?
‘high definition performance’
But my point is that if we are targeting people based on what they have attended before, we need to understand the ‘experience’ they had, and use it as part of our strategy to engage people. The Observer theatre critic in the 1960s Kenneth Tynan wrote about what he called ‘high definition performance’ as transcending an audience’s usual experience. Perhaps the ‘experience’ experienced needs to be at the heart of ticketing and marketing? Bear with me:
I like a wide range of music, especially live, and while I like going to symphony orchestra concerts, chamber music and recitals, I often find the presentation of classical music in concert “dull”. The ‘no announcements, no introductions, keep the house lights up, don’t clap between movements, earnest faced musicians ignore the audience except when it claps’ presentation style, I find drains the energy out of the event. I can still sometimes really appreciate the music and the performance, but something is definitely missing. I would be worried about trying to persuade an audience to attend another “dull’ concert just because they had already attended one, though for some the music to be played is their key deciding factor.
playing from memory
This was spectacularly brought home to me when the Cambridge Summer Music Festival announced the Aurora Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 in Eb major known as ‘Eroica’,to be played from memory at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on 21 July. I didn’t know that playing from memory like this is rare for orchestras, and it is not known in ‘living memory’ when last it was done in the modern era. We might expect it of chamber ensembles such as string quartets and even some choirs, but not orchestras.
West Road is a modern unassuming concert hall, part of the university though out of term time, with a bright clear acoustic, a single rake of seats and open end concert platform. As the audience gathered, the stage had a handful of music stands and small platforms, no instruments, and the musicians did not appear on stage to prepare for the appointed start.
Instead Tom Service, BBC Radio 3 presenter bounded across the stage, microphone in hand, talking rapidly about the concert to come, quickly followed by conductor Nicholas Collon and the musicians carrying their instruments, though not heading for any obvious playing positions. Instead , in a double act, Tom and Nicholas, talked about how the symphony came to be written, its’ structure and themes, with the musicians moving to form groups and playing extracts, mostly staying standing up.
This was clearly choreographed, at one stage the musicians forming a semi-circle around the platform and Nicholas “surfing” the tune around the different instruments. This was clearly also immensely entertaining to audience and musicians, with some participation as we were asked to help sing a tune, and at another point the players stamped out the rhythm. The energy and enjoyment was palpable.
the physicality of playing standing
First the Aurora Orchestra was to play Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen (which includes a quote of a theme in the Erocia), for 21 string soloists, so the musicians left the stage and two stage crew rapidly set up, including music stands, before they returned, the majority standing, to play. This in itself was an astonishing experience, the orchestra exciting the emotions from the work, delivering the vigour and the elegies of the piece, definitely gaining from being mostly standing, and the physicality of playing standing, knees bending to the rhythms, heads bobbing, arms vigorously sawing bows. The inter-action with the conductor, between the players, with us, was tangible. This got loud long applause.
After the interval, the orchestra returned, again mostly standing, no music stands, and great smiles of anticipation – that can’t be faked. They then played the Eroica, the music soaring and roaring, suddenly the themes and tunes, identified in the introduction, excitingly audible, and somehow visible in the performance of the players. The sheer energy yet control of the performance was remarkable, and the orchestra as a living breathing whole, inter-acting together, smiling and nodding at each other, and sharing with us, quite remarkable to witness. This enriched the performance and made it palpably tangible and visceral, a shared experience of the music. Actually, it is almost impossible to describe.
As the last note hung in the air, the audience now roared and stood as one for the loudest standing ovation I have witnessed (remember this is Cambridge, university town in England). After the applause died down and Nicholas Collon eventually left the stage, the musicians hugged and kissed each other!
what has it to do with ticketing?
Now dear reader, why have I explained all that and what has it to do with ticketing? Because it is not about what that audience attended, but about their experience of it, which in my own lifetime’s experience was unique and exceptional. And the ticketing database needs to be able to record for those attenders that this was an exceptional experience.
take the audiences experiences into account
Sometimes it is easy to connect what was seen with the detail of the experience – some musicals for example – but sometimes it is now and again in the run of a play or an opera, or dance, and certainly so with music. It may be exceptional to that audience in that venue, but it needs a flag and a narrative description in the attenders’ records. And when thinking about targeting, we should start taking the audiences experiences into account.
When an audience has had such an experience, it is my view that we are definitely further down the road to engaging with them, and we can quietly remind them that they shared a remarkable experience when persuading them to attend something else.
The Aurora Orchestra played the same concert for the BBC Proms on Saturday 22nd July 2017 broadcast on Radio 3, so catch it on iPlayer (but radio remember), and the Aurora make their Concertgebouw debut with this in Amsterdam on Friday 4 August 2017 at 8.00pm: http://www.auroraorchestra.com/event/eroica-from-memory/