GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE How to go to the theatre

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Indoor performances can start again from August 1, but with social distancing still in place how will theatres and concert halls work?

After four months of closure many of England’s 1,000-plus theatres are struggling to be able to make a return, and some have even closed permanently, so last week’s announcement the business can at last resume was welcomed.

The green light came with strict rules to “support the safe return of audiences”, however, so how can theatre-going be made to work?

Blackpool Grand Theatre – a 126-year-old refurbished Frank Matcham theatre known now as “The National Theatre of Variety” - has been developing its IT systems, including enhancing its customer relationship management (CRM) and audience data year-on-year, increasing the customer experience and getting valuable audience feedback for the theatre and the industry to come.

Theatregoers will find it easier to book from home using devices such as Alexa, and they will be able to get notifications during the interval showing the quietest bars to visit for a quick drink or snack stop using heat map technology, and receiving a discreet text notifying them  when their phones need to be put on silent before curtain-up.

“The journey to re-opening is an opportunity to test out new ideas and approaches. Start small and review your current processes. What takes up a lot of staff time? What training would be useful? What could you do if you had more resources?” said James Akers, Arts Council England’s tech champion.

“We have already seen some organisations take huge strides using segmentation to tailor messaging and cut costs with hyper-targeted campaigns. The next stage of matching artificial intelligence to box office systems is incredibly exciting as this takes it beyond simple marketing messaging to actually enhancing the user experience and building a deep connection with audiences”. 

The Blackpool Grand has drawn up a series of illustrations showing how technology is likely to change our theatre-going over the next five years.

  1. An audience of people in a theatre setting holding and looking at their phone, with the show about to start, and their phones all displaying the same message: “It is time to mute your phone and dim the screen”.
  2. A family sat in a lounge watching a theatre production from the comfort of their home
  3. Interval notifications – Someone standing in a theatre looking at a television screen which shows a bar heatmap based on card transactions allowing customers to choose quietest bars in the intervals.
  4. Two people looking at one mobile screen and choosing their drinks to order from their seats
  5. A row of seats with people in them accept one empty chair that has an A5 personalised birthday message from the chief executive to the customer
  6. Consumer booking their theatre tickets through Alexa

“The likes of live tickets, cashless venues and booking through your smart device (TV, Phone, Watch) will be here within the near future, the capabilities are there, it’s more about integrating it with systems theatres already use – that’s the key” said the Grand’s head of marketing, Andrew Howard.

“These changes are already happening - theatre’s like us and the Barbican are leading the way in AI and digital experiences, live broadcasting following the pandemic has boomed 100’s of millions of hours of viewing. Digital tickets are already here, but Live Tickets should be here very soon. Automated seats, heat-mapping and iBeacons (Apple’s electronic distancing device) will probably be seen in the next five years. Theatres are already adopting the cashless theatre. Again, the pandemic will make that a sooner than predicted reality.”

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