At First Stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, our mission is to transform lives through theater through our professional theater productions that enlighten, engage and entertain; our Theater Academy, a high-impact theater training program for young people teaching life skills through stage skills, and our Theater in Education programs that promote active learning through dramatic activity. Audience and community engagement is at the heart of this mission. With the goal to broaden our reach and deepen our impact to drive further growth for First Stage, audience and community engagement strategies are not the sole responsibility of one individual or department within our company, but are central to everything we do, across the board.
As we countdown to the exciting start of our 27th season, the following are a few of the many new Audience and Community Engagement strategies of which First Stage is particularly proud:
- First Stage for Five: A new initiative in which 500 tickets throughout our 2013-14 season are available at only $5 each, intended for families and community organizations serving those that are not otherwise able to attend First Stage performances due to financial limitations.
- Spotlight Partner Program: A unique cross-promotional opportunity to “spotlight” local businesses and community organizations in conjunction with each of our plays, seeking out partners with a focus that may be thematically tied to First Stage and one or more of our plays throughout our season, with potential for these partnerships to grow beyond the partner play.
- Enhancing the theater experience: Nearly 115,000 parents, grandparents, children, and educators set foot inside one of our venues to attend a First Stage play each season. Because First Stage is more than “just” a place to see a play, we have huge opportunities to make audiences aware of all branches of our mission – including our Theater Academy and Theater in Education programs – from the moment they enter our theater doors. Throughout each play during our upcoming season, First Stage is creating special activities per play to enhance the audience’s experience and engagement with us, building off both themes explored in the play and either in our Theater Academy or in classrooms through our Theater in Education programs, all at no additional cost. For example:
- Children attending a performance of SHREK THE MUSICAL (link to http://www.firststage.org/shrek) can “fly their Freak Flag high!” by drawing or writing on a flag what it is that makes he or she unique and special; flags will be flown in the lobby throughout the run of the show.
- Following select performances of Y York’s CRASH (link to http://www.firststage.org/crash) this spring, our Theater in Education team will invite audiences to stick around for a post-show Bully Ban workshop, based on current programming offered in schools as well as a major theme in the play
- First Stage IMPACT events: First Stage offers special fundraising events throughout the year, including our annual Make Believe Ball, a family-friendly formal with voice and silent auctions. However, we desired new opportunities to connect and engage more deeply with individuals who may not be familiar with all that we offer, and needed a new avenue in which to get these messages across. Thus our IMPACT events were born: a series of either weekday breakfast or weeknight cocktail receptions that provide an opportunity for current First Stage friends to invite their friends and colleagues to refreshments and an hour-long program. Our guests can hear the inspirational stories directly from those affiliated with our professional productions, Theater Academy, and Theater in Education department – including parents and students themselves! – of how First Stage has had a positive impact.
- First Stage Touring Company: One of the School Year Intensives (link to http://www.firststage.org/en/Our-Academy/School-Year-Intensives/) from our Theater Academy, the Touring Company was formed to spread our mission of transforming lives through theater throughout our community, through song and dance. These musical ambassadors will rehearse and produce an original 30 to 60-minute performance to take to community events and schools from September through June. The Touring Company is a new vehicle to take the First Stage “show on the road” and engage the public in First Stage’s mission and our core values of acceptance, understanding and community.
- Family Literacy Nights: A new item on the highly extensive menu of Theater in Education programs, First Stage is available to schools and community centers to actively engage parents and students in a participatory story drama experience. Through 45-minute workshops for children in kindergarten through third grade and their families, First Stage will engage groups of up to 100 people during an exciting storytelling experience that provides adults and children the chance to actively participate in dramatic activities together. Family Literacy Nights not only use theater to boost literacy activities in these students, but give the opportunity to share that experience with the entire family. Spreading the word and building awareness about First Stage and our mission through this active workshop through schools and their families is an added bonus.
Among the First Stage “family” are a huge network of staff, Board members, students, teachers, and more that are deeply driven by our mission and First Stage’s commitment to broadening our reach and deepening our impact. Of this huge network, audience and community engagement is at our core, which is what makes First Stage so special, allowing us to “wave our freak flag high!”