Technology / 11.30.22
Tips From the Ticketing Trenches: Opening New Doors to Technology at Theatre Network
Photo credit: DB Photographics
On Jan. 13, 2015, the Roxy Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, burned down on the preview night of a show. It was a devastating event and the company lost almost everything, including many of their cherished archival tapes. The board had an emergency meeting that same night and decided their immediate goal was to rebuild the theatre. This decision set the company on a course that would evolve and expand over the next seven years, ultimately forcing them to evaluate and fight for what was most important to them. In the weeks and months that followed, staff dug through the ashes to salvage whatever they could, including some of their most cherished and prized possessions, such as their Sterling Theatre Awards which celebrates professional theatre in Edmonton. During this same period of time, Harley Morison and his team also doubled down on their connection to their local community and audiences and how important their team focus, processes and technology were to their ongoing success.
At the end of that seven year battle, the team at Theatre Network successfully reopened their doors in 2022 at the same site and now houses the Nancy Power Theatre, the Lorne Cardinal Theatre, the Miller Art Gallery and the Rehearsal Hall.
Harley Morison, the Managing Director of Theatre Network, shares his tips on what their key learnings were during this rebuilding process while implementing a new ticketing and fundraising system with Red61.
Protect Your Data
Harley says, “The biggest piece of advice I can give to other ticketing professionals is to back up your data, take good care of your data and hire really great IT people.”
One of the positive storylines within this “fiery tale” is that the Theatre Network’s on-site ticketing and CRM server survived the fire that night, so as they were sweeping up the ashes, Harley’s IT team was able to extract all their member and subscriber data from their previous system. In addition to feeling hugely fortunate about this bit of luck, this data was used immediately to market to their audiences as they began presenting shows across the city at temporary venues. This allowed them to keep their dedicated core audience by continuing to communicate with them about what they were doing artistically and as they developed their long-term rebuilding plan. Audiences began following them from place to place throughout the city and slowly but surely they continued to rebuild their previous relationships while creating new ones along the way. As part of their process of moving from space to space, not all of their previous customers have been able to rejoin, so they are still actively using their salvaged “miracle” data to this day.
It has taught them that it is very important to continue to take care of your data and keep it clean, including managing the records of those who no longer live in your area and have moved on. “The patron data in your ticketing system should be really good, as that’s why you have it!” Harley says.
With the move to Red61 their data is now hosted off-site within a secure AWS facility and no longer on premise, which is a big relief for both security and disaster planning. “There is much more peace of mind now that the data is being hosted safely, backed up and is not going anywhere,” Harley says. He is excited that they recently sent their first big mailer through Red61.
Partner With Your Community
With the immediate decision to rebuild after the fire, they also decided to continue with some of their planned programming. The first show after the fire was a touring show that they presented at a local high school, which was possible as the touring company had its own stage props and could be quite mobile. It was a major accomplishment to bounce back and present a show, and generosity followed from other venues in Edmonton that gave them the use of their spaces. It provided the ability to present programming across 14 different venues citywide. They finally landed in a semi-permanent temporary space that could be used for a few years while the new venue was being built.
When the new venue opened in 2022, Theatre Network began cross-selling with the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Theatre Network is one of the participating venues in the Fringe and experimented to bring audiences to the north side of Edmonton as part of a recent BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) initiative. The added bonus this year is that both organizations could cross-sell for each other using their own Red61 databases — which were temporarily linked for shared inventory — while maintaining their own customer data and expanding where and how the inventory could be sold. Theatre Network became another physical box office location for the Fringe in the city and created an outpost for people in the residential area of Theatre Network. It provided an easy way to get tickets and a mini-Fringe experience in their region without having to travel too far. It was a good test this year, and they are really excited about growing this initiative year over year.
Theatre Network’s new building has also brought back their presence as the “entertainment anchor” of the neighborhood. Harley says, “It has become a very trendy spot in the last decade. There are great local coffee shops, small boutiques and a plethora of independent businesses, without a chain to be seen!”
Photo credit: Ian Jackson, EPIC Photography
Theatre Network is also actively welcoming new Canadians to their venue by participating in the Canadian Government’s Canoo program. Canoo is a mobile app that provides new Canadian citizens with the ability to register for free or discounted ticket offers for events and at venues.
Learn From Repetition
One of the biggest challenges of losing their venue was having to create many temporary theatre seating plans and box office locations while they performed at temporary venues, all while facing the challenges of COVID as they were building a new venue. In this case, the key benefit is that the staff became product experts as part of this repetitive process and were able to use this knowledge toward how they would build their new seating plans at their new “home.”
Conversations about potentially changing their ticketing system started while they were in this constantly changing cycle. With a venue that would be increasing from one to multiple spaces, they started thinking about how they could manage this on a system while on a growth trajectory. Wanting to provide a better online service for customers spearheaded the discussion. Knowing that their staffing levels would not be where they once were, they needed a system that could take care of itself online. They had a very small team moving into a very large building. When the pandemic hit, their worry about transitioning audiences was dispelled as everyone was forced to transition, and that helped them rapidly decide to move forward with changing their ticketing system. Their biggest hesitancy was that they were amid a capital campaign and needed a strategy of how to move systems and all the data that was there.
Align Your Business and Technology Objectives
Theatre Network made decisions on both their business objectives and what new solutions were available from their new partner in parallel. One of the newest offerings to Theatre Network audiences was the move to e-ticketing. Harley says, “People are jazzed and excited about it!”
The organizations partnered to establish new fundraising features and processes to support the capital campaign that would make it possible for Theatre Network to bring their unified data and campaigns forward. Both organizations reviewed what the right balance would be to meet and evolve the needs of the capital campaign. A review was done of what tools had been used in the past, as well as what new fundraising features were the priority to serve the future and could be achieved within the timeline. As a result, the addition of pledges, recurring donations and tax receipt functionality are some of the new enhancements for fundraising now available in Red61.
Administratively, they now have a system that takes a great load off their human resources staffing requirements, as the system is easy and quick to program, and they have the assurance that the technology is taking care of everything. “One of the biggest considerations of moving to a new system was that it wasn’t a ‘make work’ project. It needed to be something that would take the work off staff, and Red61 was attractive for that.”
Other business objectives that they achieved during their transition to Red61 include: launching automated messaging and show reminders, processing and managing daily head counts for the un-ticketed art gallery, managing off-site parking and providing an enhanced online customer journey. They are rolling out features of their API (application programming interface) website integration over the winter with their web designer and will offer new online innovations to their seating map design, the ticket flow and a calendar function.
Reimagine Subscription Ticketing
Theatre Network is changing the way they offer passes and subscriptions in Red61 from what they have traditionally offered based on their past software solution. They are continuing to evaluate the features and options they now have available to them and are talking with other users about the pros and cons with assigned and general seating and having the flexibility to change that. Their subscriber packages have a few varieties from previews to openings at different price points, as well as a flex pass. In addition to these packages, Theatre Network is piloting a new membership program this year. Rather than just offering their traditional subscriptions, the new membership program will provide members with the ability to select three tickets for any shows in the season (with some exceptions), which they can do in advance or at the venue, plus a 15% discount for the purchaser and a guest for additional tickets. It is the biggest offer they are reinventing this year so that purchasers are not restricted to just having to buy a set series.
Challenge Your Audience and Refund as Necessary
Photo credit: DB Photographics
Theatre Network presents work that can be risky and not necessarily pleasing, and they are not afraid to “take a bite” out of artistic works that are provoking and create an emotional reaction.
The first show presented in the new venue in April 2022 was Toronto’s Crow Theatre’s production version of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” a radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal. The audience was starkly divided on whether they loved or hated it. For customer service, the ticket office provided ticket refunds to those who didn’t like it and wanted their money back. It was a big process, but the ticket office and the Red61 system were prepped to handle this. Only a small number of people wanted their money back because of the show. Fifty percent of those refunded wanted a conversation with the artistic director about the show to talk about it face to face and discuss their thoughts about the programming.
In November 2022, Theatre Network presented the first in-house show that they have created as a team called “The Innocence of Trees” by Eugene Sitckland. It is about the abstract expressionist Agnes Martin. In their Miller Art Gallery, they will feature a photography series by her friend and collaborator, Donald Woodman, focusing on their travels together, as well as the print series “On A Clear Day,” currently displayed in the building alongside a multimedia exhibit about her in the Lorne Cardinal Theatre.
Find the Right Technology Partner
As they were rebuilding, they started thinking about how they could manage their growth trajectory from what used to be a single theatre space to a multi-faceted theatre with multiple spaces, an art gallery, a festival and a venue that is part of another regional festival. Making the decision to move to a new ticketing software platform that could support upgraded online ticketing and fundraising offers was one that Theatre Network and Red61 partnered on together to help Theatre Network launch their new technology in 2022.
Theatre Network could not have imagined trying to operate and implement any other system while trying to get everyone trained at the same time for opening a new venue and ticket office. “The Red61 system is as advertised and works as advertised,” Harley says.
About Theatre Network
Theatre Network is a nonprofit, charitable organization operating within the jurisdiction of the Canadian Actors Equity Association (CAEA) and is a member of The Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT and the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC)). Theatre Network is dedicated to producing and facilitating the development of work that is challenging and engaging, unafraid to question our conceptions of the world we live in and provides an unexpected and exciting experience. Theatre Network tells Canadian stories by Canadian artists. Our continuing commitment is toward risk, especially where it involves content and the energy that is born from that kind of risk. Not all of our work is controversial, but we have chosen to welcome controversy rather than fear it. For more information, please visit www.theatrenetwork.ca.
Red61 is a leading worldwide ticketing as a service software company, providing audience management and ticketing solutions for festivals, venues, agencies, and attractions. Red61 makes the ticketing process quick, easy, simple and organized for clients across the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Papua New Guinea and the United States. From the very beginning as the ticketing solution for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the world’s largest arts festival, Red61 has worked collaboratively with our clients in a spirit of constant innovation to completely transform the customer journey and increase sales. For more information, please visit www.red61.com.
This article was sponsored by Red61.
Tags: Sponsored Content