Canadian Stage is one of Canada’s leading not-for-profit contemporary theatre companies. Under the direction of Artistic & General Director Matthew Jocelyn and Managing Director Su Hutchinson, the company produces and presents theatre with a focus on emerging performance styles that integrate theatre with other artistic media such as dance, film, visual arts and more.
Most established arts organizations share the common struggles of competing for diminishing annual funding and of attracting new audiences to their productions and ultimately into their donor groups. We’ve been both patrons and neighbours to Canadian Stage throughout our 20-year history, and, having attended many of the company’s performances, felt we had the interest, edge, and resources to help out. Admittedly, the fact that they’re our next-door neighbours made it all very convenient.
Performing arts companies are often run by artists, and their inherent passion for the programming can obscure the required line of sight on the mindset, motivations, and psychography of their target group—people with a neutral interest in the performing arts. Let’s face it: if you’re numb to the notion of live performance as a worthy night out, often-obscure contemporary works are a tough pitch when you’re working with posters, transit ads, and light print insertions.
Beyond the support of loyal and invested subscriber groups, tickets are sold primarily on the buzz of reviews, which are the domain of columnists and influencers, which appear within specialized sections and sites. The language of reviews is typically high-minded and geared toward people familiar with the scene.
Marketing for the company was traditionally planned on a show-by-show basis, essentially promoting each performance on its own merit and subject, with reviews and star power as the base messaging. Of course, when each show is a ‘new product’ you’re losing an opportunity to build the loyalty required to reduce ad spend over the course of the season and year-over-year.
What if we explored a concept that would invite new audiences into the company itself, independent of the regular season programming, and provide a completely different audience experience and an opportunity for audiences to engage in new and profound ways?
Working closely with Canadian Stage’s Education and Audience Development Manager, we conceived of a completely new production concept for the company.
We co-developed and produced INTERMISSION, an immersive event series held at the Berkeley Street theatre during key periods throughout each season. Each volume of the series would be individually programmed, curated, and designed to provide new audiences with a pass to the inner sanctum of the company, inviting attendees to engage with Canadian Stage on an entirely different sensory plain.
INTERMISSION is a live, experiential mood board of the themes and ideas that drive the performance programming. The series name, INTERMISSION, is appropriately based on the mid-performance break, which aligns with the position of the event brand as adjunctive programming, outside of—but influenced by—the production.
The visual identity system was developed to co-mingle two distinct ideas: performance and found objects. The logo is reminiscent of a blindfold and illustrates the sharp juxtaposition of diverse ideas. The mark is accompanied by a carefully-sourced stock photograph or illustration (the bane of any agency’s work) and is related to the event design for each volume in the series, which are named to reinforce the idea of productive contrasts.
INTERMISSION events have been well-attended and received, with programming ranging from live music with Brendan Canning and Maloo, to live projection pieces, interactive games, a pop-up arts market, and a post-performance live debate on journalism, ethics, and the tension between public and private lives. The series has boosted membership in C-Stage, Canadian Stage’s program for young performance patrons, and has attracted a broad range of demographics to each event, with positive feedback and an escalation in ticket sales.
The series will enter its fourth season this autumn, and will evolve to include a new event, The Low Ball, a down-market fundraising event designed to lower the bar for PWYC patronage, loyalty, and philanthropy.
Purpose/Built continues to sponsor the event series, providing pro-bono event and material design. We do it in part because we donate 5% of our production hours to our non-profit partners, but mostly because the people and the projects are creative and courageous.