Do you want a list of reasons why people don’t go to the opera anymore? Well, a simple Google search will give you plenty of them. It’s too expensive. People can’t understand foreign languages. Operas are too long. None of their friends are doing it. It is for old people. It is for cultured people. It is for other people. But while all of those things may be true, I think that people trying to increase attendance at their shows might want to focus their thoughts in an opposite sort of way.
Look, I’m tired of being in dying industries. I want to be in reviving industries. Whether I am at church worrying about why fewer people go to church these days, or singing operas and worrying about why fewer people go to the opera, I am always slightly fearful that all of my career choices have been seriously misguided. But why spend so much time thinking about why people don’t like what you’re doing? Why not think about why they do?
I don’t know much about marketing myself, but I can’t recall a large number of successful campaigns focusing on all of the previous problems that their product used to have, but are not fixed. I guess maybe the Dominos commercial where they informed us that their old crust used to taste like cardboard is a notable exception, but, while folks are always hyping the ‘new and improved,’ very rarely do they go into specifics. And this might be a good way to think about things.
Instead of asking what people don’t like about opera, maybe ask what they love about it! All of the best posters, flyers, and mailers that I have seen from opera companies have been the ones that emphasize what is great about it. The passion. The music. The beauty. The drama. The complete experience of seeing something like that live on stage. The worst ads that I have seen have said things like “It’s not as bad as you think.” What kind of a message is that?
If you want to address what people do not like about opera, you could do abridged 90 minute versions, perform them all in English, make the tickets $15 each, and encourage young, uncultured people to come by allowing texting during the show and selling Junior Mints and Mountain Dew to everyone as they come in. All of the problems have now been solved, and you are now a movie theater, only instead of movies you have underpaid artists wondering how their life choices could have led them to this.
So you can’t fix what people think is wrong with what you do. And if you change it to appeal to them, you aren’t doing what you do anymore. And that’s no good. So do what you do. Be proud of what you do, and when you tell people about what you do, speak passionately about the things you truly think are great. I don’t care whether you are an opera singer, or a gym teacher, or you own six Burger Kings, don’t start off on the wrong foot by apologizing in advance for what you do. Some jobs are just jobs, and it’s fine to say “I’m an actuary, which is pretty boring, but I do it so I can support my real dream of building a scale model of Middle Earth out of Legos in my three acre backyard!” But then you sell that Lego project! Show them how important it is. An artist should never apologize for their art, and a business should never apologize for their product. And if you are lucky/crazy enough to combine the two, all the more reason to stand up proud and convince everyone else that you’re on to something. So while it may be useful in some capacity to know why opera attendance is down, don’t let that frame the whole discussion. You’ve got something great going on; now you just have to let everyone else know about it.