The Answer’s Below

The Artist Owns the Audience

Forget fixing incumbent theater companies.

You might have read in last week’s Detroit Metro Times that, “today, the marketing and management of a theater is of more importance than the artists creating the work.” What follows is information on how that happens and the promise of change that’s in the air.

Existing theater companies serve as a nexus between the audience and the artists. The audience provides needed capital and the artist provides value that the audience is willing to pay for (a shared experience w/ each other, an emotional journey, etc). The artist’s work is chosen to be produced because it embodies the values of the institution which in turn embodies the values of the audience.

Overtime the theater companies build a marketing and administrative machine that tends to the needs of their audience with a laser-like focus. Producing innovative new work that appeals to a new audience risks cannibalizing the existing audience and their regular cashflow in exchange for the uncertain promise of a new audience.

The dirty secret about this kind of change is that most companies do not survive the product/value shift required for them to continue their prior success. This is widely referred to as the Innovator’s Dilemma. Prime examples are companies such as BlackBerry and Microsoft whose need to keep their existing customers outweighed the opportunity to expand by creating products that cannibalized their existing customers and revenue streams.

What this means for artists is that if your work doesn’t comply with the existing value network then it won’t be produced. This is what caused your theater professor to advise you to, “go out there and make your own work.” This advice is a great first step towards freeing yourself from the constraints and baggage of the old system. The second, equally important piece of advice is that the artist now owns the audience. Technology allows you to bypass the existing theaters and their value networks. You no longer need the status conferral of a distributor. You have the power to find an audience and create a direct relationship with them. Your lack of institutional baggage gives you flexibility and degrees of freedom. You’re small, agile, can react to audience sentiment and can innovate. Growth happens when innovation happens. New audiences will come when there’s work and experiences created specifically for them.

You can develop your own audience that no one else is competing for and monetize them however you see fit — you don’t have to generate revenue like a traditional theater company. In fact, it’s best that you don’t. You’re free! Free to create your own work and also to own it outright. Owning your work is the key to making money — not necessarily making yourself rich but having enough to live a decent and honest life as an artist.

Freedom (and building an audience) are scary. Here’s some general advice: Chart out how your company will operate using a Business Model Canvas . Fill out the canvas and look at everything on it as an assumption. Your job is to prove the assumption using interviews and experiments. If the assumption isn’t true then change it and test again. There’s a great book, The Startup Owners Manual that will guide you through this process. Take baby steps, run lean and don’t be afraid of failure.

The future of most art forms is that the artist owns the audience. We’re so excited about this idea that we’ve reoriented our entire company around it. Reach out if you’re interested in how we can help you make a sustainable and repeatable revenue stream so you can bring your work to the widest possible audience. Our consulting rates are as cheap as we can make them while still being able to eat. Visit us at

A: Who is the artist?

Building the theater’s audience of tomorrow by using customer development.

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Anthony Francavilla

Building the theater’s audience of tomorrow by using customer development.