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TBA Online: News & Features: February 2019

Introducing Bay Area Theatre Week

Monday, February 4, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Sam Hurwitt

A perennial problem for theatre companies in the Bay Area, and for Theatre Bay Area as their service organization, is that the region is bursting with an incredibly rich and diverse variety of theatre of which the population at large is unaware. Unless people are already tapped into the theatre community, it’s completely off their radar.

That’s why Theatre Bay Area is unveiling Bay Area Theatre Week, which despite the name is an almost two-week celebration of Bay Area theatre from March 26 through April 7. Participating theatres, large and small, offer affordable tickets—priced at $15, $25 or $35—through a central web portal.

This isn’t the first time Theatre Bay Area has orchestrated an event like this. For several years in the early 2000s, TBA participated in Free Night of Theater, a national program in which companies were encouraged to offer a certain number of tickets for free.


Brad Erickson.

“The pitch to the field is that this is sort of the long-awaited son of Free Night of Theater, or daughter of Free Night of Theater, which we had real success with over seven years and gave away something like 35,000 free tickets and got a lot of excitement and energy from the theatre field, and something like 100 theatre companies would participate each fall,” says Theatre Bay Area executive director Brad Erickson. “We were able to get all sorts of visibility that we were hoping to achieve for theatre as a whole in the Bay Area. But what we found over time was that the free factor was not really generating ongoing theatre going in the way that we had hoped that it would. There was a sense that it would be better if we could come up with another community-wide effort to raise the profile of theatre and make it more visible in the Bay Area, but not lean on the free factor.”

Interestingly, and unbeknownst to the organizers, Theatre Bay Area actually organized a Bay Area Theatre Week for several years in the 1980s, starting when TBA was still called Theatre Communications Center of the Bay Area. That used a different, pre-internet model, however, with two-for-one voucher booklets and a big publicity push including radio ads by local notables such as Robin Williams (which you can find on YouTube).

One of the models for the new iteration was Chicago Theatre Week, which the League of Chicago Theatres has been doing in partnership with tourism organization Choose Chicago successfully for seven years with a very similar model to what TBA has adopted.


Debb Clapp. Photo by Joe Mazza.

“The theatres really, really love it,” says Deb Clapp, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres. “People have started even rearranging their schedule so that they will have a show during Theatre Week. Last year we sold 12,500 tickets. We find that patrons really respond to that price and to knowing what it’s going to be, and that they’re willing to try a new theatre at that price. So a lot of why it’s such a huge thing for theatres is that a huge percentage of the audiences are attending that theatre for the first time. That’s gold.”

Another model for both organizations was Restaurant Week, which uses a similar model to get people to check out local restaurants at a fixed discount price.

Early interest in the event has been encouraging, with many major institutions already on board.

“We’ve got already dozens and we’re hoping we’re going to get like something like 80 theatres on board, and they’re including all of the big ones at this point,” says Erickson. “It’s not only A.C.T. and Berkeley Rep, but it’s also the Curran and SHN, and they’ve never participated in these programs in the past. It’s the big commercial houses, it’s the big nonprofit houses, it’s the midsize nonprofit houses and into small, too.”

“That’s the thrilling part, because that rarely happens, where you have both the commercial and the nonprofit industries working together to elevate the industry as one. And ultimately that’s the goal,” says Randy Taradash, creative director and general manager of Feinstein’s at the Nikko, who runs his own marketing firm and has been working with Theatre Bay Area to plan Bay Area Theatre Week.


“We didn’t want to go to any company and say do something unique for this,” Taradash says. “The idea is to let people know about and have an opportunity to see the work that is on your regular schedule. This is highlighting the work that you do every day, the artists that you employ every day. So we chose a period that everybody for the most part was in production and said the rule of Theatre Week is that we want everybody to have a collective price point, because it really seems to be kind of a unifying entree for patrons.”


Taradash brought TodayTix in as a ticketing partner and portal to streamline the patron ticketing experience. “Interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to us, they were actually partners in both the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Theatre Weeks,” he says. “So they’ve actually had a couple of years in facilitating these relationships and also starting to put together best practices for this, seeing what has worked and what hasn’t worked. The third component to this, from a partnering point of view, was San Francisco Travel, which basically is the marketing and press wing for the city of San Francisco. Their job is to elevate the visibility, which they do really well.”


Randy Taradash. Photo courtesy Mr. Taradash.

“What I love personally about the Bay Area theatre scene is how it reflects everything we love about the Bay Area,” Taradash adds. “It’s incredibly diverse, it’s incredibly specific to here, it’s super unique. We are at the forefront of trends when it comes to new ideologies for the art form. There’s a really wonderful base of performers that comes out of here. We have some of the great training institutions and regional companies. So how do we take all of that and collectively raise it into one visible moment?”

Of course, unusual approaches also present unusual challenges.

“We do have a number of theatre companies, particularly some of the smaller ones, who always have a sliding scale available,” Erickson notes. “And they had some concern about, well, I don’t want someone buying a ticket online for $15, walking into the theatre and realizing they could have dropped $1 in the jar and gotten in. It’s a challenge that I think doesn’t exist in every market quite so much as it does here, and we’re working with TodayTix to try to figure out how to work with that. We might just do a workaround, like if you’re going to buy a ticket for five bucks, you’re going to go through their own websites.”

“I’d love to see this become an annual tradition that we do in the Bay Area every year,” Erickson adds. “We really hope to make people aware of the breadth and variety of theatre in the Bay Area and encourage them, through the affordable ticket prices, to go to see something that they probably otherwise wouldn’t have gone to see.”

To find out more about Bay Area Theatre Week, visit go.todaytix.com/BayAreaTheatreWeek

Sam Hurwitt is a Bay Area arts journalist and playwright. Follow him at twitter.com/shurwitt