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TBA Online: News & Features: Top News

Hive Project Seeks New Audiences Through Collaboration

Wednesday, May 8, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

Lindsay Krumbein would rather be texturizing set walls, fine-tuning sound cues or directing scenes but first she’s got to make sure there will be an audience for her latest production at Gritty City Rep, where she is executive director, a task that makes growing demands on her time while yielding increasingly paltry results in these days of dwindling theatre audiences.

Shrinking audiences remain a perennial problem for Bay Area theatres and have contributed to a feeling of discouragement within the community.

“We’re all hustling,” says Krumbein, “and it’s so hard. You feel like you’re begging all the time.”

One response to this problem is for theatre companies to think competitively and jealously guard their remaining audience members. However Krumbein and some other Bay Area theatre leaders are trying a different approach. This past fall, Krumbein joined forces with Mina Morita, artistic director of Crowded Fire Theater, and Michael Moran, artistic director of Ubuntu Theater Project, to launch The Hive Project, an initiative which attempts to build audiences by bringing together each company’s most loyal supporters and turning them into a community of “ambassadors” who will support the member companies and bring new audience members into the fold.

Michael Moran, Mina Morita, Lindsay Krumbein, and Bethany Herron, managing director of Crowded Fire. 

Photo by Adam Tolbert.

“Why do we hold so fast to our own audiences, donors, our own ways of doing things?” says Morita. “How do we create a culture of collaboration, whether that is a sharing of resources or mentorship in certain areas of expertise? How do we share audiences and how do we encourage a sense of people being more adventurous in seeing theatre?”

These questions arose in conversations Krumbein and Morita had with Margot Melcon, program executive at the Zellerbach Family Foundation, which is supporting the project with a grant. Melcon encouraged them to collaborate and they reached out to Moran at Ubuntu, meeting over burgers and realizing how much their companies had in common.

“We all have similar missions,” says Krumbein. “We’re all putting more diverse actors and stories on stage, we’re bringing in more diverse audiences and there has to be a way to leverage that beyond ‘Here I’ll put you in my e-blast.’”

Agreeing that traditional sales and marketing campaigns weren’t helping to cultivate their target demographics—younger audiences, people of color, low-income folks—the cohort settled on what they describe as an “organic way of audience development,” creating opportunities for audience members to interact socially while learning about other theatre companies.

“Bearing in mind our mission [at Ubuntu] to try and bring distinct groups together, it was exciting to think of expanding that in connection with other companies,” says Moran.

Each company rep was tasked with inviting eight to ten of their regular audience members to join a diverse cohort that would attend five theatre outings over the course of nine months.

“Our general discussion as a group was diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, level of connectedness to the theatre,” says Krumbein. “Just trying to think about really having some different folks in the room and not just targeting any one demographic.

Members of the HIVE cohort. Photo by Adam Tolbert.

Once the group of thirty was assembled, the project kicked off last August with a launch event at Betti Ono gallery in Oakland and continued with three group trips to productions at the participating theatres. Dinner and drinks were provided at each event and cohort members stayed after each show to converse with each other and the featured artists, building new relationships in the process.

“It’s been really successful in terms of seeing people who were basically strangers looking forward to seeing theatre together and even meeting up sometimes out of the group to get together and see other shows,” says Nailah Harper-Malveaux, who was hired as the Hive’s program director.

The project had its share of growing pains. Trying to get so many people to commit to the schedule proved challenging and three participants ultimately dropped out of the 30-person cohort. Because the events were so spread out chronologically, it proved challenging for cohort members to remember each others’ names. To solve this problem, the organizers sent out an email after the second event to maintain communication and memory.

“We’re still figuring out how to create community,” says Harper-Malveaux.

As HIVE members formed friendships and made plans to see other shows, the organizers noticed other benefits to the collaboration.

“Getting to have regular access to a couple of other executive directors who are doing similar work in a similar-sized theatre is just so beneficial for me as an ED,” says Krumbein.

“We talked about social media practices, we talked about [Actors’]Equity,” says Morita. “There were just things that would come up in the meetings because we were close to each other: ‘Oh I actually just dealt with that’ or ‘I know how to do that’ and then we’d share, which was really great.”

A closing event in June will bring this cohort’s cycle to an end. The team is already mobilizing for the next cycle, which they plan to run on a shortened schedule (June 2019 to January 2020) but with an expanded cohort that will add to the existing group new members invited by current members. Members of the public are also invited to apply to be part of the next cycle. Applications are available now and open till June 15. If interested in supporting the HIVE in other ways, or joining next year’s cohort, please contact Nailah, the project manager, at bayhiveproject@gmail.com.

While it’s still too early to know what long-term impact the project will have on overall audience growth, cohort leaders hope the Hive project will serve as an example of the benefits of collaboration.

“It really occurs to me in doing something that requires collaboration among three organizations that the reason why a lot of theatres just stay siloed is because that [scheduling] is the hardest part. We all do so much,” says Morita. “And I would say it is possible to do it and it’s not enough anymore to have that be the reason. I think that’s the reason for so many things not to happen in our field.”

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at rotimionline.com