The Gateway Theatre Project, An Experiment: Helen Merino Explains and Invites on Behalf of Five Companies in Austin
The Gateway Theatre Project is a slow drip experiment we're launching in 2020 to see if we can transform a handful of people who are indifferent to theatre into a new and engaged Austin theatre audience. It's an unusual idea, and we want you in on it.
Collaborating companies: Austin Shakespeare, Hidden Room Theatre, Hyde Park Theatre, Jarrott Productions, Penfold Theatre. Click HERE for a display of performance photos from their recent work. Each of the five photos is a link to additional images and information about the company
The Gateway Theatre Project is an experiment to see if we can take a small handful of people who are indifferent to theatre and, in less than 12 months, turn them into invested and passionate consumers of theatre.The long term goal is to deepen our theatres' imprint on the city’s character and, obviously, to create new audiences for our
home grown companies.The mechanism we’re using turns on some new science relating to habit formation, identity, and tribal affiliation along with just the visceral bang of a theatre experience.
To start, we’ll be staging a semi-immersive production of a new adaptation of Ibsens's Ghosts. The venue is the parlor of a Hugo Kuehne historic home in Clarksville. There are only about fourteen seats in the house per night. Half of the seats will be filled by people who have signed on as “mentors,” and each of them will bring one guest who hasn’t seen a show in at least 5 years.
Every night of the run will be co-hosted by a different local theatre company. A representative of that company will be there to greet the new guests, talk casually about their company, and really just make a personal connection.
The audience of 14 will eventually be ushered into the parlor where the reality of the show will begin to push against their own reality. Our guest will immediately detect the difference between this and digital media. Theatre is not just a show. It's a happening.
After experiencing the show, the guests will spend a few minutes with the cast, share a glass of wine and, again, make a personal connection that they link to the event.
When the night is done, our guest will be sent off with a voucher to see the next production in the co-hosting company's season. This is to seed the notion of attending another show before they leave the building, before the spell is broken.
In the intervening months they’ll be emailed brief 2-4 minute movies that develop their sense of curiosity and insight without ever lapsing into “educating." The videos will just be short samples of what it’s like to be backstage at a performance, what rehearsals are like, what the evolution of a scene looks like, what outdoor is theatre like, what do people do when they don’t like a show, etc. They'll come to know more about theatre almost accidentally.
Finally, when the time comes for them to see that second show, they’ll be invited to sponsor someone else. If they’re interested in the opportunity, they can choose a person who hasn’t seen a show in five years and mentor them into that next performance. This changes their role from outsider to teacher.
They're no longer an indifferent bystander. Now they’re someone in the community, someone who actually knows a lot, and has spent time with people who create theatre. At the end of the year we can assess what impact its had on the guest, and if they paid that impact forward.
We chose the name Gateway for two reasons. This first hit is free, after all, and we aim to hook them hard on the high of live theatre.
We also chose it because a gate is the boundary of a stranger's home. However, the moment you walk through a gate you're a guest,
you belong there.
We want people to feel what they're missing when they pass by
Austin theatre without looking in.
We want more of Austin to accept our welcome and come to stay.