Two great shows we all know are Anything Goes by Rogers and Hammerstein and Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a great play because the music is great everybody knows the play and the costuming is pretty easy- it’s basically turn-of-the-century types of peasant garb. There isn’t a lot of fancy stuff that goes into the costuming on this one. And the story is basic and I think that most audiences pretty much relate to what goes on during the show and the music is amazing not only that, but the audience will deftly know the music before the play begins. Take for instance Oh What a Beautiful Morning, everybody will at least hum along.
If you’re a community theater person you might think that some shows are overdone. You can also agree that they are also just great shows in the fact that everybody knows these types of shows and that is a great thing, especially for the community theater type of audience and the type of crowd your are trying to fill the house with. Even if you are aren’t really big fan of The Sound of Music, you can agree that for community theater that music is a great way to bring people in. Many people local theaters attest to the fact that because they haven’t seen it for so long and then look at the movie again and actually watched it recently they get it in their heads to bring it to their local community theater. They just have that feeling of we know we gotta do this again. And then take for instance South Pacific, talking about racial issues in the 1940s and have a great way to bring something familiar back and you know that your audience will enjoy it and recognize it.
In terms of the top five, if were talking strictly in terms of classic iconic peices that are perfect for community theater audiences will probably go in this order:
Sound of Music
The King and I
For other people there might be other types of shows on the list such as Crazy for You, Hello Dolly, Oliver, West Side Story, Annie, Chicago, Fantastics and other shows like that. Anything Goes in the musical genre as another essential.
Beauty and the Beast is a great show but unfortunately it’s difficult for community theaters to pull off just because the production size is difficult. Such a large production, that it’s hard for smaller theaters, community theaters, to really do justice to the entire show.
Another important consideration is finding something that rides the line between what’s familiar for the audience and wanting to do something new. You don’t alienate your audience, but you also want to bring something new to the table so that they see something fresh. The first step is really finding a place during the course of the season where you can actually push the envelope a little bit and do something a little bit different or little bit new. With good strategy the lead up throughout the year with more comfortable shows the audience knows already and then lead into something that they may not have seen before. This helps pad the risk you are taking.
Coming up with an unknown musical and presenting to community theater audience presents probably the most challenging scenario for programming for the season. It is difficult to get a large audience to come to see the musical of the don’t already know. Taking this kind of risk is hard to calculate, but it also results in the expansion of your audience. Even if it doesn’t sell that well the box office, you might pick up some new subscribers that will continue to frequent theater in the years to come, so this is really the best way to expand your audience and capture more people in your subscription base. It’s also a great way to provide the actors with some new challenges and most actors will really appreciate having to come up with a new performance that other people might not already be familiar with.
Little shop of horrors is a great example. It’s amazing, funny show that’ll definitely widen your audience. But it’s not without its technical problems. Especially with regard to the man eating plant. But once you get the show together and it works, it’s a great show that’s sure to bring laughs and will bring it theater patrons. It has an off-the-wall type of sense humor but it still applies to most Americans and brings in a wide audience, most of them younger than usual for live theatre events.