Anyone who has put on a school show knows how much work is involved getting from auditions to opening night. Even more difficult can be the challenge of making sure that your production is not your department's last, a problem only heightened by budget cuts and other challenging circumstances facing theatres worldwide in the wake of the current health crisis.
But to create and maintain sustainable school theatre, it's vitally important to think beyond just funding. The key to protecting theatre—both in schools and out—is fostering a supportive, active, and collaborative connection with the community your theatre serves.
Playbill has been making one part of the production process—creating a professional, Broadway-quality program—easier for schools and community theatres since 2013 with PLAYBILLder, our online program-creation platform that allows you to create and share both printed and digital programs for theatrical productions and special events. More importantly, PLAYBILLder is an invaluable tool for building and showcasing community support, and by extension creating sustainable theatre.
The main way to work on community engagement with PLAYBILLder is through thoughtful and strategic use of our ad templates. PLAYBILLder makes it easy to include ads in a variety of sizes in your program, with templates for full-, 1/2-, 1/3-, and 1/4-page ads, as well as a back page ad. These five tips will show you how to effectively use these templates to put your school theatre program on the road to success and sustainability.
1. Think about price
If you haven’t sold ads before, you may feel lost when it comes to setting prices. Start by going to friends or family members with local businesses and ask what they think would be a fair price for ad space in your production’s Playbill program—get multiple opinions if possible. Make sure they know how many audience members you expect to attend the production so they’ll have a better idea of how many people will see their ad. This will help you set a general baseline for your prices.
Next, set a fundraising goal that incorporates both production costs you need to recover and general funds for the department as well. Don’t forget about the cost of your program itself. If you’re using PLAYBILLder’s professional printing services, you can consult our pricing guide to see how increasing the page count affects printing costs. (PLAYBILLder also offers a purchasable PDF license that allows you to print your program using the printing service of your choice, including home and office printers.)
Once you’ve got a good handle on what local businesses are comfortable paying and what your fundraising needs are, think about how many ads you can reasonably expect to sell and do the math. Remember that you should consider different ad sizes as “value” buys. A 1/2-page ad should be slightly less than the cost of two 1/4-page ads, while a full-page ad should be slightly less than two 1/2-page ads. Conversely, the back page of your program is a bigger value to an advertiser than a full interior page, so that should cost more than a regular full-page ad.
2. Be strategic
Though asking for money can seem like a chore, thinking strategically about which businesses you reach out to can make that process a lot easier. Think about your show’s themes. Are there local businesses or organizations for which those themes could be synergistic? If you’re doing Into the Woods, think about approaching local libraries or independent book sellers. Perhaps a local wedding cake maker or florist would be interested in advertising in your Mamma Mia! program.
3. Think outside the box
Creating packages that include program ad space along with some more creative opportunities often have a greater appeal to potential advertisers. An auto body shop might be interested in sponsoring your Greased Lightnin’ prop in Grease. A flower shop could sponsor your Audrey II puppets in Little Shop of Horrors. Include ad space that advertises both the business and the fact that they’ve sponsored part of what the audience is seeing on stage. If you're presenting productions online, proposing a sponsorship opportunity with a local electronics store or video company could also be a fantastic way to recover some of the costs of the technology and equipment necessary to stream your production, not to mention the many ways establishing that relationship could be beneficial to your company well after a return to some kind of normalcy.
And you don't have to sell ads just to local businesses. Remember to offer ad space to your cast and crew’s family and friends to contribute notes of encouragement. Just as theatre fans hold on to Playbills as a memento of seeing a Broadway show, your production’s cast and crew will likely hold on to their programs as a memento of their experience. These personal notes make that even more special.
4. Remember that businesses are not just ad buyers
Raising money is great, but local businesses can be just as if not more useful to you as a community connection as well. Make sure any flyers or posters you make for your production get distributed to businesses that have purchased ad space. Find out if they do any email marketing, and if a call-out for tickets might fit into an upcoming campaign. Include tickets to see a performance with any ads sold and make sure they attend, something that becomes even easier if you are able to offer performances via online streaming! After the production has closed, let the businesses you worked with know the impact of their support by filming a thank you video with personal messages from your cast and crew.
5. Get school administration involved
District and building administrators often have jam-packed schedules, but there’s no better way for them to learn the importance of a theatre program than to witness it firsthand. Check in with your administration periodically and give them updates on the production, complete with any special moments or achievements that your students make during the process. Make sure every administrator knows when performances are being held and how they can attend. If they’re not able to see a performance, get them a copy of your PLAYBILLder-created program, either as a physical copy or as a digital link or file. A slick and Broadway-quality program with page after page of ads from local businesses and community members shows that you know what you’re doing, and that your theatre program is something the community wants and truly cares about.
Getting students from your production's cast and crew to speak at a school board meeting about their experiences working on the productions can go a long way as well. Encourage your students to think about what they learned during the process, and what it meant to them getting to be involved, which is liable to be only more poignant and vital during this health crisis. And of course, provide school board members with physical or digital copies of your PLAYBILLder-created program as well.
To get started building your own custom Playbill program, visit PLAYBILLder.com.