A few months ago, I was walking to my place of work, the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, behind a group of young boys, behaving with the same levels of bravado and cockiness you would expect from boys aged 10 – 13 the world over. As they started pushing one boy towards the door of the beauty salon we share the frontage of our building with, it became clear that the youngest-looking of the group needed the toilet, though was reluctant to ask the hairdresser if they had one he could use. Nonetheless, in he went, to be swiftly ejected moments later.
His mates looked in. He looked in. But nobody was going in.
His mates pushed him into the automated revolving door, only for him to leap anxiously back out again into the street and his laughing gang, just as it looked as though the doors might sweep him inside to our foyer. I went past them into the building. 10 minutes later, as I was passing back through the foyer, the group were still outside at the bus stop. The boy was now clearly getting desperate as his mates egged him to go into the theatre, but still he would not.
At the time, I got to thinking about what this might mean for me as one of the people charged with encouraging people to come to our theatre. I got to thinking about why he could bring himself to enter a ladies’ beauty salon, but not our building where, incidently, he would have been able to walk through our foyer and use the facilities without challenge. I also got to thinking about what he might have made of the place if he’d actually made it inside. But I got back to my desk and thought it was bit silly to base a whole way of thinking of the experience of one boy as I quickly forgot about it again.
Last week, however, the quiet industriousness of our little marketing office, tucked away at the back of the theatre facing onto a private car park, was interupted with squeels of horror as we realised that someone was choosing to relieve himself pretty much at our window, rather than come inside and ask to use the toilet.
OK, so assuming this guy wasn’t making some kind of statement by facing the exterior wall of our building rather than a private tiled wall, and recognising that this behaviour isn’t the norm for most people, it still sparked the following thoughts and ideas in me.
If there is a group of people who would rather urinate in the street than come into our theatre building, what does that tell us about the challenge facing artists and marketers? Are we doing enough to make sure that the building itself, its perception in the community and the way we present ourselves say “We’re here! We’re open! You’re welcome!”
Maybe, before we even think about how we’re talking about the latest world premiere or the press acolades that a director has won, we need to work out how to get people in to do something they need to do (using the toilet), or something we know they’ll like (beer and cake).
And once they’re in the door, what more can we do to keep there, or make them come back? Can people see into the auditorium from their route to the toilets? Can they find out about who comes to the theatre and what they thought of it? Do we have poster frames on the back of loo doors? Is there information on the table about what’s happening in the building besides performances? What could we do to keep the building alive and busy during the day if we don’t have a catering outlet? Will they pass a box office? Will it be open? Will anyone say hello to them?
Inevitably, a lot of these questions will come second to the constant demands of programming and marketing a theatre season. But maybe next time I find myself in the smallest room in the theatre, I might get round to thinking about some of these.