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Hull Truck Theatre’s pop-up box offices in local supermarkets sell tickets to new audiences and also create valuable community relationships. Magda Moses tells the story.

Photo of three people looking at ipad in supermarket
Pop-up box office at a Heron Foods store

Hull Truck Theatre’s pop-up box offices are part of our community engagement project called Community Dialogues. The project works to develop deeper relationships with people from areas of low arts engagement and high deprivation in Hull, encouraging them to come to the theatre, often for the first time.

Why should they spend £15 to see something they don’t know if they’ll enjoy?

My job is to get out into the local community to build relationships between community organisations and the theatre, and to better understand the barriers that might stop people attending the arts. The project started in 2016, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and I began attending events all over the city, from summer fairs to church meetings, to let people know what we do and start having conversations.

As our community relationships developed, we recognised that barriers to engagement with the arts include time, cost, lack of awareness of what’s on, childcare and a sense of it being ‘not for me’. We realised that we could work with retail chain Heron Foods, which has busy stores in the areas in which we work, to learn more, build personal relationships and start to address some of those barriers. Heron Foods is already our main auditorium sponsor and offered us space to trial our visits.

Store visits

I began in October last year by conducting informal research on trial visits to the stores on the Orchard Park estate and Anlaby Road in Hull. We used the large shop windows as our canvas and I asked shoppers to share their past, present and future experiences of theatre, linking that with A Christmas Carol, our Christmas production. People’s experiences were extremely varied – some attended often, while others were unsure of why the theatre might be relevant to them.

We continued the visits to share information about the theatre and keep an open dialogue with local communities. Members of our box office team then joined us, enabling customers to buy tickets from an ipad.

We now run these pop-up box office and community engagement sessions in four Heron Foods stores once a month, and having other staff in attendance has helped the project become more embedded across the theatre.

One of the things we’ve learnt is to visit on regular days and times so that we can promote our visits in advance and people expect us and get to know our staff. We learnt early on that certain times are no good – 2.30pm was the worst time as many people were rushing around before doing the school run. It’s all about adapting to each store, and Heron Foods and its staff have been very flexible.

Pricing and marketing

We continue to ask people why they don’t visit the theatre. Some have told us they feel intimidated by the building, let alone by walking up to the box office to buy a ticket. Some are worried they don’t know the conventions of what to wear or how to behave. We’ve found out some useful things that we can change to make the theatre more accessible.

One of the biggest barriers is ticket price. Why should they spend £15 to see something they don’t know if they’ll enjoy? We sought to address this barrier last November through the marketing campaign for our production of ‘The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca’ about the women of Hull who campaigned for fishing industry reform in the 1960s.

We held back 100 pay what you can (PWYC) tickets to the production, which were only made available to the targeted communities via the pop-up box offices. These tickets were popular and we received positive feedback that people were thrilled to be able to afford to see a play that was directly relevant to their community.

The show sold out and following that success we now allocate a number of PWYC tickets in the Heron box offices for all of our Hull Truck Theatre productions.

Audience feedback

We also gather feedback from people who are already regular attenders at the theatre. Every time we visit Heron Food stores we ask about what sorts of events they like to come to, which informs out future programming.

We’ve identified differences in audiences across the city. Shoppers on Orchard Park are likely to bring the whole family, so they want affordable shows that everyone will enjoy. Hessle Road shoppers are likely to be older and are interested in local history and Hull stories. This information helps us make sure our marketing is relevant to each area.

Our pop-up box office sessions are about much more than selling tickets. They’re also about building relationships, trust and familiarity in order to spark the idea that someone can go to the theatre.

The sessions are an important part of the Community Dialogues project and the theatre’s wider commitment to welcome new audiences. So once we get to know someone, we can direct them towards tours, coffee mornings, family events, access performances or workshops, depending on their interests.

It’s fulfilling when you help someone buy a theatre ticket for the first time, especially if they come back and tell you how much they enjoyed it.

Magda Moses is Community Projects Coordinator at Hull Truck Theatre Company.

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Photo of Magda Moses