‘More efficient use of technology may enable our industry to get back to work’
Love them or loathe them, we can learn a lot from the technology ‘disruptors’. The likes of Uber and Amazon recognised when business models needed to change to focus on giving customers control over how they manage their lives.
In so doing, they (and their counterparts) revolutionised how we book taxis, shop and more. In the same way, the current crisis must change how the theatre industry uses technology.
In fact, it may be more than that. More efficient use of technology may pave the way for a ‘new normal’ that enables our industry to get back to work, while keeping people safe and better serving customers in the long term.
Throughout the current crisis, South Korea’s ability to implement test, track and trace measures using existing software and a customer-friendly phone app has meant that full lockdown was never imposed.
Based on this, The Phantom of the Opera in Seoul remained the only major international production on stage anywhere in the world for some months, using a combination of technology, enhanced security, compulsory sign-in for company members, health checks and intensified cleaning regimes.
Nevertheless, a recent spike in virus cases traced to a Seoul nightclub demonstrates that, even with the strictest measures in place, entertainment venues need to remain extremely vigilant.
Social distancing is a blunt instrument through which theatre cannot function
Here in the UK, the choice is stark. Social distancing is a blunt instrument through which theatre, as we know it today, cannot function. It simply doesn’t work.
However, technology, such as an app that effectively becomes your passport into arts venues, and a will in the theatre industry to better serve customers may be major parts of the solution we’re all craving. These are the types of measures that will rebuild the confidence of our much-missed audiences.
So, what do we mean when we say ‘better serving our customers’? In many instances, this is about normalising changes that were already happening – from online bookings and digital refreshment orders to entirely contactless payments.
Take ticketing for example. Last year, we overhauled our booking journey to create an easy, intuitive, fast mobile system. The results were telling: a surge in browsing and booking on mobile, and a 170% uplift in mobile conversion. This is now our primary booking channel.
When theatres reopen, e-tickets will be one of the many measures used to reduce contact and keep audiences, staff and performers safe. Combine that with a modernised box office focused on assisting customers, rather than endless queuing for tickets, and pre-ordering with contactless payment across bars and merchandise counters, and you can see the appeal.
None of this is new. But this pandemic is testing our industry in unprecedented ways. As we deal with these challenges, we have the opportunity to reinvent how we facilitate live entertainment to emerge stronger, better and more resilient for the future. Our industry mustn’t be afraid to seize this opportunity.
Rebecca Kane Burton is chief executive of LW Theatres
Theatre is in dire straits, and in urgent need of support. We all hope that help is on its way from the government. But whatever support it receives, when theatre re-emerges from this disastrous pandemic, it will look very different. Now is the time to think about what happens next. That is what The Stage has asked people working across our sector to do: to select an issue that can be improved upon when theatre returns. The above article is one of 24 pieces in our ‘Theatre 2021’ series. There are many more topics to cover, and many more ideas to share. This series of articles is the first step in saying that despite this terrible crisis, theatre in 2021 can re-emerge, and in many ways can be better than before.