Chicago Theatre Week aims to boost stage attendance
Choose Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres hope to do for theater what Restaurant Week does for dining.
The six-year-old Chicago Restaurant Week, with its offers of specially priced prix-fixe menus at hundreds of eateries around the city, reportedly enticed a record 444,000 diners over ten days in 2012. Run by the city’s tourism arm, Choose Chicago, Restaurant Week brought in more than $20 million last year (this year’s is under way, concluding Sunday 10). Now Choose Chicago, partnering with the League of Chicago Theatres, hopes to bring a similar energy to the stage with the inaugural Chicago Theatre Week, which runs Tuesday 12 through February 17.
More than 60 theaters—including some comedy, dance and music venues, such as the Second City and Joffrey Ballet—signed on for the promotion after plans were announced at the League’s annual meeting in October. Participating companies have set aside a portion of their tickets for Theatre Week performances at a discounted price—mostly either $15 or $30. Tickets went on sale January 9.
The League and Choose Chicago see Theatre Week as an opportunity to promote the depth and breadth of the city’s stage offerings to residents and regional tourists alike. About 90 shows are on offer on chicagotheatreweek.com, ranging from the Goodman’s Other Desert Cities and Teddy Ferrara to Emerald City’s Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s program of Rachmaninoff and Sibelius.
From a consumer standpoint, the model might be considered an improvement on Restaurant Week; rather than a prix-fixe menu, you get the same product as if you paid full price. Yet there’s disagreement among theater marketers about whether discounting tickets creates return customers.
And there’s at least one downside to a designated theater week: Not every Chicago theater has a show up to sell. “We absolutely would have participated,” says Court Theatre’s marketing director, Adam Thurman, but Court’s Skylight closes Sunday 10.
Some other theaters slated programming to take advantage of the promotion. LiveWire Chicago Theatre is mounting I Love You, I Think, a collection of monologues by Bekah Brunstetter, for four performances. The citywide push was a major factor, says LiveWire artistic director Joel Ewing. “We were wanting something specifically for Theatre Week. February is kind of a void for us, programming-wise,” he says. And the patrons purchasing advance tickets with the Theatre Week code aren’t in LiveWire’s database, “so it seems to be reaching people who aren’t in our [existing] audience.”
Deb Clapp, the executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres, notes that Theatre Week has garnered interest from TV outlets and others that might not regularly feature local theater. “We’re all so happy with the attention it’s been getting,” she says. About 4,000 people have subscribed to e-mail updates, with help from a promotional push by Broadway in Chicago to its mailing list; also, Theatre Week subscribers are entered into drawings for free tickets to several shows. “Before the website was even up, we had 1,000 people signed up,” Clapp says.
Plans for additional special events, potentially to include a kickoff party, were still in the works as of press time. Clapp says the League’s member theaters are already looking forward to a second annual Theatre Week. “All of the theaters—they’re not always eager to participate in every single thing,” she says. “Everybody was very eager to participate in this—and audiences are eager for it, too.”
Chicago Theatre Week promotions run Tuesday 12–February 17. Visit chicagotheatreweek.com for more information.