No panto group likes to see their audiences fall and can sometimes be at a loss to explain why it’s happening. If your group has experienced a recent downturn in audience numbers, don’t panic! There are some things you can do that might help to arrest the decline, and hopefully attract more audience members. It is based on our personal experience with a large panto group in Sheffield, plus hints and tips shared by others.
Audiences will always fluctuate, whether it be at sporting events, music concerts, theatre, cinema, or dare I say it, watching television programmes. And pantomime audiences are no different. It can even depend on things outside of your control, such as how well people are doing financially – even though amateur theatre is fantastic value for money. If your group is experiencing a continuous downturn in ticket sales, the first thing to do is to try and analyse what if anything, is going wrong. And more importantly, what can be done to rectify it.
Most amateur pantomime groups will have a loyal core audience, but they must never be taken for granted. They should be cherished, praised constantly and encouraged to come back time and time again. No group should ever become complacent and take their audience for granted, and expect them to put up with sub-standard scripts, or a poorly performed show with a poorly dressed cast and bad scenery.
Amateur theatre is usually very local-based, and sometimes small changes can affect crowds either adversely or positively. Many groups are flourishing, whilst others are diminishing. Our own panto group in Sheffield went from audiences of around 300 per performance and almost 2,000 overall for eight shows, including 2 matinees. To some shows barely attracting 100 and overall figures down below 1,000. At which point they dropped one of the performances altogether.
One of the reasons we heard from customers, was that they had grown tired of seeing the same cast playing the same roles in the same way year after year, and it had become a bit stale and predictable. (they obviously don’t know how hard it is to attract new members, especially male ones) However, even if you are struggling with membership, try and freshen things up a bit by rotating what cast you have between different characters. I personally have seen a man who played a baddie role for many years, unexpectedly and due to necessity, become a surprisingly good dame.
When it comes to singing roles, panto audiences are very forgiving. However, nobody likes shuffling awkwardly in their seat, because somebody who couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket has been given a song as a solo or a duet. I have personally heard an audience member telling a producer in no uncertain terms, that they would ‘not be returning if you give that girl another song’.
Are your shows family friendly?
I once heard of a large Girl Guide group in Sheffield who stopped going to a local panto, because their leaders thought it had become ‘too adult and rude’. People expect double-entendres and picture postcard humour. But as pantomime publishers and regular panto goers ourselves, you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff we’ve seen. Much of which would be more suited to a Jim Davison style adult panto, than a family audience. When writing our own scripts, we always try and make them family friendly. However, we do recognise that a one-size-fits-all attitude, isn’t always practicable. Therefore, we are happy for any group to tailor our scripts to suit their own needs.
If any large groups such as, Brownies, Scouts or Cubs have been regulars for years, and then suddenly stop coming. Find out from their leaders, if there is a reason why they have stopped coming. If it is merely financial, then perhaps they could be offered group reductions. If you already offer group reductions, then see if they can be made even better.