Radical Hospitality: Good for Nothing

Today’s Guest Blogger is Amanda White Thietje, Managing Director of Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. I’ve asked her to offer a description of their new ticketing and audience building program.


Radical Hospitality from Mixed Blood Theatre
Revolutionizing access to theatre is central to Mixed Blood’s vision. In pursuit of this, the company launched Radical Hospitality in 2011, a program that offers no-cost admission for any audience member to all mainstage productions—every season. An extension of Mixed Blood’s egalitarian mission, Radical Hospitality is designed to erase economic barriers in pursuit of access to live theatre for a global audience.

It works like this: half of the theatre’s seats can be purchased as “advance reservations” prior to the performance date; the other half are used for no-cost admission on the day of the show, or for complimentary release to targeted audiences beforehand But the key is that audiences must provide their contact information in exchange for admission, and in addition roughly 30% of audience members are surveyed on their experiences and for demographic analysis.

We have found this “aggressive” surveying the key to successful data capture. Mixed Blood staff walks through the house before the show to discuss the survey, answer questions and collect from guests directly. During the run of “Neighbors”, the season’s first production, a survey was disseminated for every performance with an 80% return rate! The information collected gives staff a roadmap for how the audience wants to engage with the company and our material.

Instead of just serving as a free ticket program, Radical Hospitality has changed the way Mixed Blood does business. A Community Outreach team has replaced both the development and marketing positions, and that team substitutes traditional advertising with a grassroots “door to door” approach to finding the audience and conversation for each play. They research and connect with community centers, schools, churches, advocacy groups and neighborhood organizations to find people to whom a specific production might speak, and request time to speak to these groups or individuals and invite them to Mixed Blood.

In addition, audience members are invited to engage with and challenge the work Mixed Blood produces through post-show discussions – Free For(u)ms—where they can shape the conversation and discuss their responses to the work, and via Salons, where panels of scholars lead discussions on show-related topics. Audiences are invited to attend Tweet Seat nights for every show, live-tweet with staff during post-show discussions, and serve as MBT theatre critics on Facebook. An active Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and WordPress presence loops in other communities, and for Mixed Blood, this is an access issue: some patrons have disabilities that don’t allow them to attend events in person.

Mixed Blood opens its 37th season (and Radical Hospitality’s second) on October 5th, 2012. Baseline data from last season indicates that Mixed Blood’s audience demographics appear to be shifting as a result of no-cost admission: of last season’s Radical Hospitality users, 47% were under the age of 30, 30% were people of color, and 33% had annual household incomes of $25,000 or less. . Of those surveyed last season, over 170 people (or approximately 4%) had never attended live theatre before—at Mixed Blood or anywhere else! While the average individual gift was down, individual donors tripled over the 2010-2011 season; this indicates community buy-in and meaningfully connects marketing efforts to fundraising.

Mixed Blood has a long way to go in reaching an audience that resembles the world outside the theatre, but a targeted, grassroots effort seems to be the solution for finding those people for whom each play resonates.

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