Fall for Dance: The Long-Term Impact

Leslie Kraus from Kate Weare Company

Let me preface this post by saying that a full review of Friday evening’s performance is coming soon. But first, here are some thoughts and questions (and no real answers) about marketing dance at the Fall for Dance festival.

Since 2004, audiences have packed New York City Center for its Fall for Dance festival, which offers $10 tickets and an array of different companies sharing the stage each night. The festival is an ambitious undertaking, and of course, would not be possible without some serious financial support, much of which comes from Time Warner. As encouraging as it was to see a full house on Friday evening, I continue to wonder what long-term impact Fall for Dance has on dance performance attendance in and around Manhattan. Just because the festival is an annual success – cheap tickets and an incredible variety of talented companies over a ten-day period is pretty extraordinary – doesn’t necessarily mean that FFD attendees are going to attend performances for the other eleven months of the year, especially when tickets for most performances are more expensive.

I think FFD has two goals: to raise the public’s awareness about the variety of dance by presenting numerous companies from all over the globe, and to cultivate an enduring audience for dance – one that is interested in attending more performances after being wowed (hopefully) by the festival. Since audiences are treated to a diverse program no matter which night they attend, the former goal seems to have been accomplished. But it would be interesting to know how FFD has influenced annual dance attendance throughout NYC. City Center is smart to include audience surveys (and discount coupons for upcoming performances) in its programs, asking mainly about previous attendance at City Center and the types of performances that are most appealing to an individual (movies, dance, theater, etc). However, this survey is more focused on providing information to City Center so that it can increase its membership, which is certainly a reasonable and much-desired outcome of FFD. It would be interesting and incredibly useful to determine what percentage of FFD audience members – as a result of their experience at FFD – are attending performances at other venues in Manhattan, and how often they’re going.

It’s important to note that Fall for Dance isn’t solely marketing its own performances, nor is the festival only about the dancing on stage. The FFD lounge is open before, during, and after each performance, and offers pre- and post-performance cocktails, food, music, and dance lessons for the general public. A large table displayed brochures for a variety of companies and venues throughout Manhattan, and I was pleased to see so many people huddled around and perusing the offerings. Hopefully this information encourages audience members to attend more performances while increasing their awareness of the numerous dance offerings that exist in NYC, but choosing what to see can be tricky, especially for dance newcomers.

The wonderful thing about FFD is that no matter which night an individual attends, he or she will probably see at least one piece that they enjoy and appreciate, and at least one that just doesn’t speak to them. For $10, it’s worth it. But when someone’s paying $30 or more to see about two hours of one company on stage, he/she wants to make sure it’s their cup of tea since they’re taking a bigger risk. So, how do dance companies and venues address this issue? And what else can dance samplers like Fall for Dance do to encourage audiences to see more performances, and more frequently? Box office success and general buzz throughout the ten-day festival is one thing, but transferring that success and increasing overall long-term arts attendance is an entirely other challenge, and one that requires ongoing discussion and consideration.

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