Innovation Story Update: Off-Center’s Co-Curators on Measuring Success of Season 1

We are excited to update ArtsFwd on Off-Center now that we have completed our first season of programming at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA). If you have followed our innovation story, you know that Off-Center was developed through the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts. After refining our dual mission to serve as a new entry point for artists and audiences as well as a test kitchen for the entire DCPA, we launched Off-Center in the fall of 2011.

Season 1 was successful on many fronts. We collaborated with over 160 local artists and filled The Jones at 81% average total capacity. We were recognized by Denver’s independent weekly newspaper as being the Best Cheap Entertainment in town. And, most importantly, we brought in a lot of new audiences – 66% of the ticketing accounts that purchased tickets to Off-Center were new to the DCPA!

Our goal has always been to reach people who go out in Denver but don’t come to the DCPA. Informal surveys of our audience suggest that we are reaching this group, and analysis of our Facebook fans paints a clearer picture of the growing Off-Center audience base.

We ended up using Facebook statistics to give us a clearer picture of our core audience because we were unable to pull much useful information (aside from zip codes) from our ticketing system. We have found that evaluating innovative projects requires a mix of traditional metrics and new techniques for measuring success. We still feel that evaluation is one of our organizational weaknesses and are working to develop better processes and tools to assess our programs efficiently and effectively. Capturing learning is especially important to us because Off-Center is the research and development wing of the DCPA. Every show is a prototype, and every audience is a focus group. Here’s a look at how we approach shows as experiments:

Question #1: Can we build a loyal audience that comes back regularly?

Test: A monthly show with recurring themes influenced by audiences suggestions

Results:

  • 30% of patrons bought tickets to more than one show
  • 17% crossed over, purchasing tickets to another Off-Center show
  • The consistent experience creates a more connected and loyal audience

Question #2: Does an immersive experience enhance the show?

Test: Include the bathrooms, lobby, and bar in the overall design of the show by considering the audience’s experience from the moment they walk in the door.

Results:

  • We created the Off-Outline, an outline of the show from pre-show to post-show, which unifies the vision for all elements of the show (on stage and off)
  • No “warm-up” period for the audience, so they’re ready to interact and engage with the show from the minute it begins
  • Adventurous audiences are more likely to see something new when it is packaged as a complete night out

Question #3: Can we create non-traditional events that attract and enrich corporate partnerships?

Test: Special performance for Ashford University staff that included a reception, the show, and an improv workshop

Results:

  • Positive feedback from Ashford reinforcing this concept
  • 70+ new people experienced a night out at Off-Center
  • The beginnings of a model where corporate events offset the cost of production

Highlights:

  • The Denver Broncos Cheerleaders provided January’s guest pick movie moment. The behind-the-scenes video of our visit to the stadium is one of our most popular on YouTube.

If you’re interested in learning more about our first season’s prototypes, you can download the full interactive pdf here.

So what’s next for Off-Center? Well, we are currently gearing up for our second season and were lucky to receive a Continuing Innovation grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that is supporting the next phase of our work. Now that the initial push is over, we are focusing on better integrating Off-Center into the larger organization while maintaining and strengthening Off-Center’s unique brand. We developed a strategic plan that our Board approved and are incrementally adding the human resources needed to make Off-Center sustainable. We will officially launch Season 2 at our Season Release Party on September 13th. You can follow our progress here and at our website, www.denverOFFcenter.org.

To learn more about Off-Center, watch our ArtsFwd Innovation Story.

About
Charlie Miller & Emily Tarquin are the Co-Curators of Off-Center @ The Jones, the test kitchen for the Denver Center Theatre Company. They lead the research and development of new theatrical ideas and curate unique audience experiences that expand the shows before, during, and after – inside and outside of the theatre.