Submission of Excellence: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

A scene from Woolly Mammoth's "The Vibrator Play"
A scene from Woolly Mammoth’s “The Vibrator Play”

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s groundbreaking Connectivity program – a new strategy for audience and community engagement – activates the civic dialogue that is central to our mission statement.  Our Connectivity staff members sculpt an audience experience around each production – which can include post-show discussions, events in our lobby, podcasts, video blogs, crowd-sourced art projects, exhibits from local artists, and more.  These opportunities are aimed at intensifying the “explosive engagement” we strive for at Woolly.

Making connecting a core value

During our 30th Anniversary Season in 2009–2010, we became hungry for new methods to activate the “explosive engagement” that lives at the heart of our mission statement.  For decades, we had depended on our selection of path-breaking new plays to incite the explosiveness we sought, but we felt that Woolly could provide a more effective catalyst.

We also knew that the productions on our stage were designed to prompt dialogue, but we had no outlet for our patrons to converse with our artists or each other.  After deep reflection and extensive research, we formed Connectivity, a new strategy for audience and community engagement.

Committing organization resources to a new department

After nurturing our Connectivity initiative in EmcArts’ Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts, this department now has three distinct responsibilities.  Its staff members work with the board, staff, and audience members to create a sense of artistic purpose behind every production, and brainstorm audience design and experience ideas.  After using those original ideas to envision the most responsive potential audience for each play (as one might design lights or sets), the Connectivity Department sculpts an audience experience that speaks to the themes and ideas inherent to the play, including the lobby design, blog postings, podcasts, post-show discussions, happy hours in our lobby, visiting museum exhibits, “text to vote” polling, and much more.

A scene from Woolly Mammoth's "The Vibrator Play"
A scene from Woolly Mammoth’s “The Vibrator Play”

Creating a space for critical community dialogue

A prime example of Connectivity’s impact on Woolly is the result of our work surrounding IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY (2010), a play that launched conversations on sexuality and gender roles.  We rallied support in the community through connecting with women’s groups and gender studies classes.  We designed an interactive “Secret Desires” display in the lobby and online; programmed a dense series of pre- and post-show conversations with a dozen new community partners; maintained an active blog and podcast series; and piloted a micro-fundraising campaign called “It’s Not The Size Of The Gift That Counts.”

An organizational investment leads to community investment

All of these activities combined to help IN THE NEXT ROOM become the highest-grossing play in Woolly’s history.  The play’s programming also brought in over 6,000 new audience members, and more than 100 new donors. It has become clear that investment in Connectivity is directly tied to increased investment from community stakeholders, new audiences, and new donors.  Most importantly, Connectivity is giving our patrons the opportunity for dialogue that they crave – in our theatre, online, and out in our community.

During our 2011–2012 Season, we brought the project to scale by applying our Connectivity work to our presented shows in addition to our produced work, and we have integrated this initiative into our season planning process moving forward.

About Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Founded in Washington DC in 1980, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been dedicated to producing provocative new plays from America’s most innovative artists.  We fiercely pursue our unique mission: To ignite an explosive engagement between theatre artists and the community by developing, producing, and promoting new plays that explore the edges of theatrical style and human experience, and by implementing new ways to use the artistry of theatre to serve the people of Greater Washington, DC.”

Woolly Mammoth’s fearless approach to the art form has established it as the R&D center for American theatre. The World Premieres of Sarah Ruhl’s DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE, David Adjmi’s STUNNING, and Danai Gurira’s ECLIPSED had incredible, award-winning productions on our stage. Our most notable success was Bruce Norris’ CLYBOURNE PARK, which has garnered worldwide acclaim, winning the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best New Play.

 

Read the stories of our “Business Unusual” Story Contest Finalists: Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-MecklenburgColumbus Museum of ArtCornerstone Theater CompanyIntersection for the ArtsPortland Art Museum.  Vote for your favorite Finalist by December 21!  Visit our poll.

Read other Submissions of Excellence from the contest: Art & History Museums-MaitlandGlobal Action ProjectHowlRoundWalker Art Center.

About
Sabrina has recently joined the Woolly team as the Foundation & Corporate Relations Manager from her previous post as Associate Director of Development at Cornerstone Theater Company. She has also worked with Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (LA), and Horizon Theater (Atlanta), and is a freelance grant writer.