FILLING SEATS FOR THE ARTS 


Orlando’s not really short on arts and culture. The problem is that people simply don’t buy tickets to shows. There’s a general sense of apathy compounded by limited arts funding and an even tinier budget for promotions, especially for small underground arts groups, which make up a substantial portion of the arts scene.

Enter the Red Chair Project, a campaign unrolled two years ago to increase participation in arts events through promotions, a rolling calendar of events and ticket offerings. The public service campaign spearheaded by the Central Florida Performing Arts Alliance, Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and United Arts of Central Florida was announced to much hype in 2005.

Then there was silence, even as the project unveiled its website during a soft midseason launch early this year. But now moving into its first full season of promoting shows and offering ticket sales, a burst of organic growth has helped shoot the project forward despite its shoestring budget.

The Red Chair Project may be hitting its stride.

The Red Chair Project (symbolic of a waiting seat to experience the city’s arts and cultural events) came about following a 2002 study of the Orlando arts and cultural community by United Arts of Central Florida, which determined that events were not being adequately promoted because of a lack of funding and resources. The study also revealed that only 11 percent of Central Florida households attend arts and cultural events.

“In some cities it’s 20 to 30 percent or even higher,” says Margot Knight, president and CEO of United Arts of Central Florida, noting that more than 180 organizations are working to help hit the goal of 20 percent.

Since RedChairProject.com has gone live, more than 4,400 tickets have been purchased through the site. Part of that boon came from the project’s exclusive sale of tickets to the recent Global Peace Film Festival.

“Small groups use it as their own box office. You can sell tickets you never would have sold without Red Chair,” Knight says.

Patrons absorb a portion of the cost of operating the site by paying a $1.50 box office vendor fee and a 10 percent service charge on each ticket purchased through the site. Tickets are purchased online with a credit card and then picked up at “will call” prior to the show.

“We just want to be the conduit. People say they don’t know where to go to get the information,” says Jim Morris, executive director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Central Florida.

He notes that volunteers are still working to encourage additional groups to sell tickets through the site. Some organizations, such as the Orlando Opera and the Orlando Ballet, sell tickets through the site to complement an existing box office.

“It’s a challenge really. Most arts and cultural communities lack the resources,” Morris says. “But our goal is to increase participation. We don’t care where they buy the tickets; we’re just trying to get someone in front of that group.”

Scottie Campbell, a spokesman for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, says the organization primarily uses Red Chair Rewards, which allows the theater to send out weekly discounts such as “buy one, get one free” offers via e-mail. They haven’t yet sold tickets through the site because the OST already has its own ticketing service, but are contemplating trying their hand at selling some tickets on the site.

One dilemma for patrons purchasing tickets through Red Chair is that if organizations have their own box office and place only a handful of tickets up for sale at the site, the buyer will not be able to see all available seats. However, most agree that the tradeoff is well worth the opportunity to round up new patrons, even those who may only come to one show.

“Tourists find it and it makes it more convenient for them too,” says Campbell.

For some groups, the extra marketing has already significantly impacted ticket sales. John DiDonna, co-producing artistic director for Empty Spaces Theatre Co. (which just produced his original script, Bathory), says that while the organization doesn’t yet sell tickets on the Red Chair site, he’s noticed increasingly full performances since it went live. And he notes that one out of every four potential patrons who calls the box office heard about shows through Red Chair.

DiDonna, also an adjunct instructor with Valencia Community College, says the college has had tremendous success selling tickets through the site. Like many small theaters, Valencia can’t afford to implement its own box office.

“They sold out Romeo and Juliet and were sold out on opening night for all shows,” he says. “It was tremendous.”

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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