This article and video, focused in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL), are part of a series describing the early work of some of the 25 performing arts organizations participating in The Wallace Foundation’s $64 million Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative. Launched in 2015 in response to concerns about a declining audience base for a number of major art forms, the endeavor seeks to help the organizations strengthen their audience-building efforts, see if this contributes to their financial sustainability, and develop insights from the work for the wider arts field.
This case study originally released in 2011 describes how the Steppenwolf Theatre Company has addressed the vexing problem of falling ticket subscription rates by developing deeper relationships with both subscribers and non-subscribers. To that end, it launched an experiment centered on promoting a dialogue among audience members and the artists about the process of creating theater. Audience members took part in nightly post-show discussions, attended special thematic events and were offered access to a rich selection of online content—including videos, podcasts, blogs, articles and slide shows—in which the artists talked about their work from a variety of perspectives.
The result: During a two-year period, many audience members who used to attend only one performance per season bought tickets to two, three or more shows. At the same time, the relationship-deepening initiatives had the added benefit of supporting high subscriber renewal rates.
This report is part of a set of case studies and reports looking at the efforts of arts organizations that received Wallace Excellence Awards to reach new audiences and deepen relationships with current ones.
The Wallace Foundation
The Wallace Foundation is a philanthropy based in New York City that seeks to foster improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and the vitality of the arts for everyone. The foundation aims to develop knowledge about how to solve social problems, and promote widespread solutions based on that knowledge, by funding projects to test ideas, commissioning independent research to find out what works, and communicating the results to help practitioners, policymakers and leading thinkers.