Promoting a play or a musical is a big job, and an important one; it’s the easiest way to increase ticket sales for your community theater. Great marketing campaigns do so much more than get butts in seats — they keeps your audience engaged between shows, attracts new volunteers, and ensures that every audition is packed with talented actors, singers, and musicians.
Since most community theaters work with limited budgets, most of your marketing efforts need to be cheap — or even better, free! To help you build awareness, we’ve put together our favorite community theater marketing ideas.
*Top image courtesy of Otterbein University Theatre & Dance under CC BY-SA 2.0
Marketing a Community Theater Between Shows
The best time to get a handle on your community theater marketing is between shows. That’s when your board members, volunteers, and performers have the most time — plus, it’s easier to think clearly and strategically when you’re not in the midst of rehearsals! These are the best ways to promote your community theater group between musicals and plays.
1. Make sure your website is updated (and not ugly!)
It’s 2021, but many theaters still have websites that are straight out of the Dark Ages of the internet. Your website is the first place people visit — make sure they can find the information by whipping your site into shape. It should be attractive and easy to navigate, with key links in a high-visibility spot. (For most theaters, that’s Upcoming Shows, Tickets, and Auditions.)
2. Write a list of media contacts and update it regularly
If you don’t already have a media list — or if yours is woefully outdated — now is the time to start. That way, when it’s time to market a community theater production, you won’t have to scramble to find contacts. Include the email address, job title, phone number, and physical address for local media contacts:
- Local arts/events journalists for online and print publications
- Radio station hosts
- TV journalists
- Websites with local event listings
- Marketing/PR staff at other performing arts organizations in the region
- Local bloggers and social media personalities
3. Do local SEO for your theater group
Local SEO (search engine optimization) sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple — it’s a process of updating your theater’s web presence to help people find you. The “local” part means that you’ll use keywords relating to your city, region, or state. We have a longer guide coming, but some quick steps to get you started:
- Update your theater’s Google listing with current contact information
- Add city-based keywords to your website – phrases like community theater in Chicago, musicals in Boise, theater auditions in New Orleans
- Fill out contact information in all social media profiles
- Create listings in local directories – chamber of commerce, tourism board, etc.
3. Set up a community theater email list
An email list is one of the best marketing tools for community theater — it’s cheap, and you can reach hundreds or thousands of people with a single click. Plus, you can use it to keep your audience up to date throughout the year with audition announcements, newsletters, season announcements, and more.
Start by putting your existing list into an email marketing program like MailChimp or Constant Contact. Marketing emails are regulated by the CAN-SPAM Act, and these programs make it easy to stay compliant. Make sure to add a form to your website to allow people to opt into your email list.
4. Update Theater Audiences with a Regular Email Newsletter
Now that you have an email list, it’s time to use it! At least once per quarter, send out an email newsletter to keep your audience members up to date. Don’t be afraid to get creative — do personal profiles on cast/crew/orchestra, share your members’ other artistic endeavors (link to great YouTube performances, etc.), and give behind-the-scenes peeks at upcoming projects. This is a great way to build rapport and create a personal connection, which is huge in community theater.
5. Create a Google Docs account for your community theater
Community theaters often see a great deal of turnover. Make sure everyone has access to the materials they need by setting up a free Google account. Any time you have a new director, technical director, or stage manager, you can grant them access to specific folders. It takes some time to gather, organize, and assign permissions, so it’s a good idea to do it between shows. Some of the documents you can include are:
- Forms for auditions, volunteer registration, and new members
- Templates for newsletters, show programs, and rehearsal schedules
- Timelines for directors and production team
- Orientation materials for new board members
- Mailing list of physical addresses
- Contact information for members, casts, boards
- Budget spreadsheets and other financial information
6. Start a theater blog and invite people to contribute posts
Community theater is a labor of love — chances are, your members are passionate about theater and brimming with knowledge and expertise. Share that wisdom with the world (and market your theater at the same time) by starting a blog. Disclaimer: you should only do this if you have the time and commitment to put out at least one post per month. A dead blog is worse than no blog at all!
Invite your members, directors, actors, musicians, tech staff, and stage crew to contribute posts. A blog is also a great place to announce your season, promote shows, publicize auditions, and give a behind-the-scenes peek at musicals and plays. Regular posts are fantastic for SEO, so it’s easier for people to find you; just make sure the blog is a part of your website.
7. Increase your visibility in the community
Audiences can’t come to your shows if they don’t know your theater exists. Between performances, take time to establish a presence in your local area. Promote your upcoming season with a booth at a local farmer’s market or craft show, march in local parades, volunteer as a group at community events, or sponsor other organizations. You might also raise money for a small scholarship to help local students attend college or go to a performing arts summer program.
8. Host theater workshops
One of the big challenges of a community theater is cultivating a constant stream of performers. Keep your actors involved — and help them develop their skills — by hosting workshops between shows. Topics are endless, but some great places to start are stage makeup, theater lighting, sound design, stage managing, directing, costume construction, pit orchestra, acting, and dance. This is a fantastic way to utilize your resources and encourage a love of theater in your community.
You can also use workshops to prepare your talent pool for upcoming shows. Planning to perform Anything Goes or Crazy for You in the next year? Host classes in tap dance. For Shrek, do classes in character makeup, and for period shows like My Fair Lady or The Music Man, host workshops about vintage hairstyles or hat-making.
Charge a small fee per person to cover your costs (and pay your instructors!). A modest investment also encourages participants to take the process seriously.
9. Promote other local theater and performing arts events
Chances are, at least a part of your audience attends other performances in the community. When you’re not putting on your own show, make a point to help other organizations with their marketing — local college performances, orchestras, festivals, theater groups, dance troupes, and choirs, just to name a few. Share Facebook posts and events, news articles, and accolades for groups that your audience might like.
You’ll promote a thriving arts community and help your fellow artists bring in new audiences. Your spirit of collaboration and support is catching, which means that other groups are more likely to do a bit of free publicity for your theatrical productions, too.
10. Reach out to local college theater departments
Does your local college have a theater program? Get in touch with professors to set up collaborations with costuming, technical theater, acting, or directing students; community theater can be a great way to get hands-on experience. You’ll also build relationships with other theater folk, which builds awareness for your productions.
Community Theater Marketing Ideas: Before and During a Musical or a Play
In the chaos of a musical or play, it’s easy to leave marketing until the last minute. The thing is, audiences need to see a marketing message 3-5 times before it takes root in their minds — and that means that you need to get started early! These steps can help keep you on track.
11. Set up a theater marketing plan for the production
During the planning stages of a musical or play, make a marketing plan. This is your chance to think through everything you want to do to promote the show. It’s crucial to start early — that way, you have time to research deadlines, printing times, and other advertising requirements.
A marketing plan for a theater production doesn’t have to be complicated; all you really need is a timeline. Schedule out your major marketing efforts: publicity for auditions, casting announcements, cast photoshoot, production photos, social media events and announcements, creating/distributing printed posters and flyers, video marketing, radio interviews, TV interviews, newspaper interviews, and influencer marketing.
During the production, simply follow your timeline to ensure that everything gets done.
12. Make cast announcements with photos
For audiences, half the fun of community theater is seeing familiar faces onstage. Play that up and create a buzz by sending out casting announcements on your social media profiles. Ask each cast member to submit a headshot. Then, share each one with the name of the character and a small bio/backstory. Cast members can share on their own social media profiles, building interest in the show from the start.
13. Do a photoshoot early in the rehearsal process
The majority of audience members come to a community theater show because they know someone in the cast, crew, or orchestra. Reinforce that personal connection by taking photos of your cast early in the rehearsal process. Use placeholder costumes and get someone to help with hair and makeup.
Beautiful photos are the best marketing tool for your community theater — you can use them on social media, posters, and in press releases. The familiar faces are a surefire way to draw attention and sell more tickets.
14. Promote your play or musical on social media (the right way!)
Social media is a great way to market community theater plays and musicals — it’s free, and the majority of your audience is on it. The trick? Don’t wait until the last minute! Post continuously, from the moment you choose the show to the day it closes. This does a few things:
- Builds excitement and anticipation about the show
- Keeps the show at the top of audiences’ minds
- Gives your cast/crew plenty of opportunities to share posts with their followers
- Reminds audiences to buy tickets
15. Use video for community theater marketing
Video is one of the most powerful ways to market your community theater. It gives audiences a window into your world — and if they like what they see, they’re instantly hooked.
Need more in-depth ideas? Read 14 Ways to Use Video for Theater Marketing
There are so many ways to use video for theater marketing campaigns, both on YouTube and social media. Some options include:
- Rehearsal videos
- Interviews with actors, directors, artists, etc.
- Peek at the backstage area
- Commercials for your current show
- Instagram takeovers for cast, orchestra, etc.
16. Get your theater cast out into the community
Your community theater actors are your best marketing assets. Create a personal connection among potential audience members by getting your stars out into the community. If you’re promoting a musical theater production, ask them to sing at local benefit concerts, farmers markets, and festivals. They might also volunteer to sing the National Anthem at local sporting events (along with a quick plug for your show, of course).
This builds awareness and shows off their talents, so people come away thinking, “Wow, I want to hear that voice again!” For both plays and musicals, you can try marching as a group in parades (great for summer theater), doing a dramatic reading or quick song selection, or hosting a discussion about the production at a library.
17. Get deals on print marketing materials for your play or musical
Since community theaters rely mostly on local audiences, printed marketing materials can be a big hit. Put up flyers and posters in the places that theater-lovers tend to congregate: coffee shops, college campuses, bookstores, co-ops, and local businesses are great places to start.
Online printers such as VistaPrint can help you save money — sign up for the email list and an account early, and keep an eye out for sales and discount codes. This is a great way to get banners, posters, flyers, cast T-shirts, and more for cheap. Printing takes time, so remember to account for it in your theater marketing calendar.
18. Create custom social media graphics for each musical or play
Your cast and crew can be huge assets in marketing community theater. Imagine you have 30 people involved in the production, and each one shares a post with their 100 followers, that’s 3,000 people you can reach without spending a penny. Custom graphics give them something beautiful that they can be proud to share.
If you don’t have a designer in your group, use one of the free templates at Canva. This is also a great way to use the photos you took — add a custom frame with the name and date of the show, and your cast members can share them on Facebook, Instagram, and other networks.
19. Take advantage of free radio advertising for your theater
If you’re running a non-profit community theater, local radio stations are a great place to get free advertising. Since these stations use public airwaves, the FCC requires them to operate with “public interest, convenience and necessity” in mind. Most stations do this by offering free public service announcements (PSAs). You can send your PSA as a script for the radio station’s announcer to read and/or as a media file that can be played on the air.
Check out these great examples of radio PSAs for inspiration. While you’re at it, reach out to your radio contacts about interviewing your director and a cast member or two — they get interesting, locally relevant content for their broadcasts, and you get free marketing.
20. Go above and beyond a press release with a full promotional media kit
When you’re marketing a community theater show, do you send out a press release and hope for the best? Make it even easier for reporters to feature your show by creating a full media kit. In addition to the press release, include photos of your cast in both print and digital resolutions, a digital version of your logo, and a video or audio file (if your license allows). Send it out to everyone on your media list (see #2) to drum up interest in the show.
21. Be smart about newspaper advertising for your theater
Newspapers might seem like a thing of the past, but they still have a devoted readership. This is particularly true in the older demographic of your community theater audience. There’s no need to blow your entire marketing budget — instead, run ads when and where they’ll be most effective. Start with the places people look when they want something to do: weekend papers, “What’s Happening” sections, and special arts inserts.
22. Post about your community theater show in relevant social media groups
In the age of the internet, many people look to social media to find things to do locally. Create an event for your musical or play on Facebook — then, share it in family groups, local events pages, arts groups, and any other page that’s dedicated to local goings-on. Just make sure the group/page welcomes unsolicited posts!
23. List your plays and musicals on local event calendars
Does your town have online or print publications that run a list of local events? Submit the details of your next community theater show. This is an easy, free way to promote your theater; plus, it gets the information in front of people who are looking for something to do.
24. Work with other local theaters and performing arts groups
When you’re running a community theater, you probably share a good chunk of your audience with other arts groups. If you’ve been sharing other organizations’ performing arts marketing throughout the year, reach out and ask them to share yours. Just make sure you have the social media event on your website so it’s easy to do.
25. Spend a little bit of money on Facebook and Instagram ads
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has a remarkably sophisticated advertising system — and it’s cheap! In the two weeks before opening night, invest in a few ads. Since a community theater marketing budget is usually pretty tight, choose the platform where you have the most engagement. Target your ads to local people who have a demonstrated interest in theater or performing arts (think: opera, ballet, comedy, and classical music); the advertising platform makes it easy to choose your audience.
26. Host a red-carpet opening night for your theater
One surefire way to get audiences buzzing about your community theater is to host a red-carpet opening night. Encourage patrons to dress for the event — everyone loves a chance to dress up — and walk the red carpet. Make a photo background with your logo and the logo for the show, and get some volunteers to play the paparazzi as guests enter the theater. Post the photos on your social media sites so audience members can share them and build interest in the show.
27. Host an opening night after-party in the theater
Keep the opening-night excitement going strong with an after-party. Serve cocktails, ask your cast members to dress up, and encourage audience members to stick around and meet your talented team. This is another great opportunity to take photos and share them to social media.
28. Work with local businesses to create special dinner/theater deals
Chances are, many of your patrons will go out to dinner before they head to your community theater show. Why not make it more attractive (and support other community businesses) by setting up dinner/theater promotions with nearby restaurants? Your audiences will get a deal, and both you and the restaurant will get more foot traffic.
29. Set up a special post-show showtunes karaoke event
Have you ever walked out of a theater singing the songs from the musical? Keep that lighthearted joy going by setting up a showtunes karaoke evening with the closest bar. Patrons (and cast members) can head over after the show for a cocktail and some singing. Arrange for drink specials with the owner in exchange for the increased business and free advertising.