The Denver Center Theatre Company’s prototyping test kitchen reflects on Season 2 and prepares to apply their learning to a mainstage production.
With another successful Off-Center season completed and Season 3 underway, we felt it was a good time to update the ArtsFwd community on our progress. Reflecting on how Off-Center has evolved in the three years since we began the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts is interesting; on the one hand, what we have created very much matches the vision we set out at the beginning – to create a test kitchen for the organization that serves as a new entry point for new artists and audiences. Our Recipe still guides everything we do and continues to focus and inspire our work. On the other hand, Off-Center has gained specificity, developed its own identity, and encountered successes and challenges that we never could have imagined or anticipated.
With four new prototypes and a diverse group of collaborators, we set out in Season 2 to expand Off-Center’s offerings, reach new audiences, and experiment with all sorts of new ideas. We again succeeded in attracting many new people to Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC) – 60% of ticket buyers were new to DCTC. In fact, Off-Center brought in 7% of DCTC’s new audiences with a budget that is 1.8% of DCTC’s total expenses and with a tiny fraction of the number of performances. Our audiences remain a good mix of ages, with the large majority (74%) of the DRAG MACHINE audience surveyed between 18 and 44.
The highlight of the season was our production of DRAG MACHINE, created and directed by Co-Curator Emily Tarquin. In the show, Captain Shirley Delta Blow took the audience on a journey through the history of drag and the gay rights movement in her Drag Queen Time Machine. Because every show at Off-Center is a prototype designed to test new ideas, here’s a look at our experiment and learning from DRAG MACHINE:
INSPIRATION: How far can we expand the show to create the best and most engaged audience?
EXPERIMENT: Create our most cohesive pre-show experience yet.
- Decorate the lobby as an airport terminal – arrivals and departures screen with flights delayed for reasons like “raining men”
- “Drag Queens” and “Drag Kings” bathroom signs – inside we provided makeup and mustaches to assist with gender transformation
- Drag Name Generator to help choose your name for the evening
- Themed snacks and drinks included pink cotton candy and “Dirty Shirley” cocktails
- Flight attendants conducted random security screenings with fairy wands
- Comprehensive (and fun) audience polling by airline-themed paper surveys, stored in your seat back pocket
- Marketing stunts to garner attention:
- Drag Queen Daniella Decoteau walked around the 16th Street Mall (a busy pedestrian area downtown) handing out flyers and posing for pictures
- 30-second video spot featured on the jumbo screen on the side of the Convention Center
- Drag Queen Makeover became our most popular YouTube video yet with over 7,000 views
- Marketing firm Gyro created special posters for the show that were carefully placed around town
- The most successful Off-Center production yet: 2 sold-out shows, 2 added performances based on demand, and a huge line outside of the theatre waiting for the doors to open each night
- The audience loved the pre-show activities and almost everyone created a drag name each night
- We built authentic relationships with the GLBT community that resulted in many new audience members
If you want to learn more about the rest of our prototypes, you can download our full Season 2 Recap document here.
Applying the Recipe to a mainstage show
In the past four months, we have been excited to see ideas tested at Off-Center spreading through the larger organization. The Marketing Department is developing new audience engagement initiatives inspired by Off-Center’s learning. Additionally, with the support of a generous grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we are going to test out our curation model on a larger scale this season.
We will be curating The Legend of Georgia McBride on the DCTC mainstage in January 2014. This will be the first time we will directly apply Off-Center learning (and the Recipe) to a mainstage show. We will take what we tested in DRAG MACHINE and leverage the relationships we built to expand the artistic process and create a more complete audience experience for the show and attract new people to the DCTC. It will be interesting to learn how the model we developed at Off-Center enhances and challenges our traditional production process and facilitates better cross-departmental collaboration around the show.
In addition to that project, we just launched a full season of Off-Center prototypes in The Jones with our Season Release Party back in September. You can always follow along with our newest initiatives on social media – we’ll continue to document the fun on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.