Building Audiences

Stories from America's Theaters

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 2 (Fall 1998)

Kristen Simone Review by Sarah Lutman

1997, 20-25 pages in each of three papers, Lila Wallace Readers' Digest Fund, Two Park Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, New York 10016, 212-251-9800.

In December 1997, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund released its most recent monograph in a series titled Building Audiences: Stories from America's Theaters. This latest paper deals with “How Theaters Deal With Change in Building, Diversifying Audiences.” The purpose of the monograph series, available free of charge from the Fund, is to share lessons from the forty-two nonprofit theaters that are taking part in a $25 million initiative to expand and diversify audiences. The 24-page report concludes with a list of those participating, with addresses and telephone numbers.

These are not statistical analyses of numbers of audiences, their composition, and attendance habits. Rather they are narratives describing the various activities the Fund's grantees tried with their grant funds, with candid assessments of how things worked (or didn't). Grantmakers who are involved in audience development projects will find the mini-case studies useful, though some may hunger for more data. Many of the Fund's projects were successful, and these stories offer a helpful guide to the qualities that made things work. In the introduction, the report's writer Kristine Simone says, “What these theaters have discovered…echoes one of the most important lessons learned across all sectors of the Fund's grantmaking: there is no magic bullet. The key is understanding how chosen strategies will engage audiences and then working those strategies effectively with target audience groups over a sustained period.”

Sarah Lutman