Kerry Michael and Jessica Kranish explain how audiences are being engaged through digital media in Theatre Royal Stratford East’s new ‘third space’

Theatre Royal Stratford East © PHOTO Robert Day

This Spring, Theatre Royal Stratford East become the first UK theatre to introduce Facebook ticketing, through a new app we developed with Ticketsolve and Ultimate Concept Marketing. Audiences can now purchase tickets to our shows without ever leaving Facebook. It’s all part of our online presence and what we now call our ‘third space’ (the first being our stage and the second our cabaret bar) where we invite our audiences to interact with us through a variety of digital media. Our ethos is to give everyone a voice and to allow that voice to be heard; it's a drive to democratise the arts we work in.

In recent years we’ve made engaging our audience digitally a specific focus; seeking out those who we may not reach through traditional marketing methods. Last year, we launched our Tweet Zone – a special area of the theatre designated for those who wish to respond to a performance via Twitter. We also recently began hosting bloggers’ previews in addition to our traditional press nights. We want to encourage a dialogue about our plays with as wide a group as possible, blogs and other online media is a really good way of doing this.

Our Facebook ticketing system was inspired by the growing number of retailers who offer Facebook shops to purchase their goods. We’d seen Facebook pages where you could buy makeup and t-shirts – so why not theatre tickets? We also wanted to encourage a social aspect through our app. When you book tickets with us through Facebook, you have the option to allow the app to share the details of your purchase on your wall. A friend might see that you are attending a certain performance on a certain date and book tickets in order to join you.

From the teenager tweeting from his mobile phone to the silver surfer using Facebook to reconnect with old friends, the online audience is ever-expanding. We hoped to encourage a wide variety of potential audience members by providing another shop front for selling tickets. When we were developing the app, ease of use was paramount. We wanted to provide people with a quick and straightforward way to book tickets using a familiar platform. We also wanted to test our hypothesis that when the ticket-buying process is made even simpler audiences book tickets, on average, earlier than they had previously.

The positive reaction to our app has encouraged us to continue our exciting programme of digital engagement. In May we launched a new web site channel, which – with behind-the-scenes multimedia content, a space for sharing videos and lots of opportunities for audiences to have their say – we hope will become a real gathering place. Somewhere for our audience to chat, share opinions, debate and argue; to be inspired and to inspire us.

As our old-fashioned auditorium suggests, Theatre Royal Stratford East has a great history. But we want to celebrate the future of theatre and invent reasons for the next generation of theatregoers to take part. We believe that the more we democratise the work we do, the more scrutiny the work will be subject to, and the better the work has to be. And that's really exciting.

Kerry Michael is Artistic Director & Chief Executive and Jessica Kranish is Communications Assistant at Theatre Royal Stratford East
W http://stratfordeast.com