By Gevin Reynolds, Fellow, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
At the Audience Building Roundtable workshop on June 22, 2018, Theatrical Outfit presented the results of a study that they completed thanks to a grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. The study was a partnership between Theatrical Outfit, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the J. Walter Thompson agency, and six other arts organizations along the MARTA rail line. TRG Arts provided data analysis. The purpose of the study was to research the intersection between MARTA patrons and performing arts patrons and to identify barriers for performing arts patrons taking MARTA to performances and for MARTA patrons attending arts/culture performances. More generally, Theatrical Outfit and its partners sought to gain insight into the travel decisions of theater patrons when they attend arts and culture events in Atlanta. Below is a summary of the study, followed by an interview with Lee Foster, who is the former Managing Director of Theatrical Outfit.
The first component of the study took place on August 29, 2017, with the MARTA research staff conducting two focus groups; both groups were comprised of theater-goers and a mix of regular and occasional MARTA riders. Members of the focus groups listed avoiding traffic and nothaving to worry about parking as key advantages of riding MARTA, while they listed crowds, late buses, poor signage, and safety concerns as key disadvantages of utilizing MARTA.There also seemed to be a perception among theater patrons that the advertising on MARTA does not speak to them or reflect their interests.
The second component of the study was a series of intercept interviews of patrons at two Theatrical Outfit productions in September and October 2017. 38% of respondents were season ticket holders, and 62% of respondents had attended more than five performances in the past year. Of those who were interviewed, only 11% had ridden MARTA to the theatre that night, while 80% had driven and parked. Those who had ridden MARTA cited convenience as being their primary reason for taking MARTA, while those who drove pointed to a lack of MARTA stations near their home and a longer travel time as being their reasons for not riding MARTA.
Next, Theatrical Outfit organized six other arts and culture organizations (all located in proximity to a MARTA rail line) to administer an online survey that featured “massaged” versions of the questions from the intercepts. Collectively, the organizations sent the survey to 380,000 households, with 5,790 individuals completing the survey. The results: while 65% of respondents ride MARTA, less than 10% of respondents ride MARTA to performances and/or exhibitions. Theatrical Outfit then passed along the survey responses to TRG, who analyzed the responses (using Acxiom data) to find clusters of patrons who have multiple matching characteristics.They successfully divided the responding households into five targeted segments, allowing an understanding of the demographic and psychographic characteristics of arts patrons and MARTA riders.
Toward the close of the study, Theatrical Outfit partnered with MARTA to bring an arts experience, called The Platform Performance, to MARTA riders through augmented reality and theater seats that they installed in the Peachtree Center MARTA station, which is located only a few blocks from Theatrical Outfit. Theatrical Outfit’s team created a special 360° video of the Rain Songfrom 110 in the Shade. This video was shotat the Peachtree Center station—at eye-level to simulate a person’s experience while seated—then edited so that it can be viewed on a cell phone in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are in the middle of the performance—right there in the MARTA station! More than 400 people watched more than 1,400 minutesof theater at The Platform Performance; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WXIA-11 Alive covered the experience. MARTA riders were excited about this opportunity to learn more about commuting options for the arts. Theatrical Outfit reports that there might be future opportunities for arts organizations to bring art to MARTA riders.
Lee Foster, study project leader, was interviewed by Gevin Reynolds. Excerpts of that interview are below.
GR: Can you give us a bit of background about this transportation study? What inspired this study?
LF: Theatrical Outfit has a MARTA station located a few blocks away, so we wanted to know why patrons weren’t riding MARTA to shows, especially since fighting traffic and finding places to park can be so brutal! Believing that great art and great transportation come together to make a great city, we at Theatrical Outfit decided to partner with MARTA, J. Walter Thompson, TRG, and six other arts organizations located near MARTA stations and embark on this unique study.
GR: What did Theatrical Outfit hope to learn? What did you expect?
LF: We hoped to learn the deep reasons behind theater patrons’ decision to take or not take MARTA. We wanted to figure out the barriers and ways that we could get around them. Our expectation was that the fear quotient associated with riding MARTA would be high.
GR: In one sentence, what did Theatrical Outfit learn from the study?
LF: Theatrical Outfit learned what the characteristics are of an arts patron who rides MARTA and now there is data that arts organizations can use to create audience building opportunities.
GR: What was confirmed by the study, and what was most surprising?
LF: We confirmed our hypothesis that right now is a tipping point for regional transportation. We’ve seen that some of the old potential prejudices against MARTA have significantly changed, probably because people are tired of sitting in traffic for so long. The time is right for a change of mind. However, as expected, we did find that not feeling safe on MARTA was a major barrier between arts patrons and MARTA. A surprising finding was that the diverse single parent cluster makes up 8% of Atlanta’s arts patrons.
GR: What new goals has Theatrical Outfit developed as result of the study, and what strategies do you plan on utilizing to reach those goals?
LF: Based on the results, Theatrical Outfit made the strategic decision to brand all of its promotional materials with the MARTA logo. There is an emphasis on making sure that the website and brochures mention that Theatrical Outfit is located near a MARTA station. In its future marketing, Theatrical Outfit plans to utilize the map (shown at right) that illustrates where Atlanta arts patrons live relative to a MARTA line. Specifically, Theatrical Outfit intends to pick a future production, pull the addresses of arts patrons who live near a MARTA line, and send out targeted promotions to invite those patrons to the show. Theatrical Outfit is also interested in collaborating with other arts organizations to try to increase the amount of arts advertising present on MARTA trains and in MARTA stations.
GR: What recommendations would you give to other ABR member organizations, especially those who are not necessarily located on MARTA lines?
LF:Talk to your patrons! Recognize that a large part of promoting something is understanding how people feel about it. Experiment with changes like earlier or later start times and expanding pre-event dining options. Remember that the current status quo isn’t how it has to be forever.
GR: What are some ways that other ABR member organizations might be able to bring art to people who use other modes of transportation?
LF:Some ideas might be to explore the possibility of running Uber and/or Lyft promotions, or a “Ride Your Bike to the Theater” promotion.
GR: One of the questions that you posed during the June 22ndABR workshop was related to how other ABR member organizations can, using transportation solutions, attract more people from throughout the Atlanta region to travel to their show. What steps could an organization take to truly developthat audience?
LF:Once an organization isolates the geographic areas (zip codes) that it wants to reach, create targeted postcard mailings to invite residents in that area to upcoming shows. You could even include a free MARTA ticket in the mailing to promote the use of public transportation and to take advantage of the transportation tipping point!
To review the full presentation from the June 22, 2018, ABR workshop, visit www.audiencebuildingroundtable.org– Member Resources, then Past Meetings. You’ll find the workshop material under the June 22 date.