High Touch

January 13, 2010

It’s written on our website and you’ve probably heard us say it: Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company is a community-focused, socially-conscious, Equity theater company. But what you may not know is how seriously we take each of those descriptors of Mo`olelo. Being community-focused means that we pay careful attention to truly represent and serve the San Diego community with particular attention paid to those communities that are traditionally underserved by the arts. Indeed, cultivating relationships with underrepresented audiences is central to our mission and over the years we have developed a high-touch, community-focused strategy that has proven successful over the years.

Step One: Play Selection Process – At the very root of Mo`olelo’s operations is our commitment to selecting plays with the diversity of our community in mind. As Mo`olelo staff reads scripts, in addition to evaluating the artistic merits of the play, we ask ourselves two important questions: Can we outreach to non-traditional audiences with this play? Does the play offer opportunities for actors of color? Only if the answer is yes to both questions will a play be considered for production by Mo`olelo.

Step Two: Outreach List – Once a play has been selected for Mo`olelo production, we compile a comprehensive list of community groups, leaders and members from our target non-traditional audience identified in the play selection process. We cast the net wide and make sure we create this list at least six to 18 months prior to the start of rehearsals.

Step Three: Meetings, Listening & Learning – We then immediately begin contacting everyone on the Outreach List and request a meeting with our Artistic Director – we find that the earlier we can meet, the more successful we’ll be at cultivating the relationship. At these meetings we try to learn more about the community, their needs and objectives. We share information about Mo`olelo’s mission and philosophy and we share the selected script. We listen to their feedback on the script and we listen to their personal stories as they relate to the themes in the play.

Step Four: Brainstorming & Consensus Organizing – We then brainstorm with these individuals to discover if and how our production might serve their community. Over the years, these brainstorming sessions have led to the development of education programs that surround the production, dramaturgical research for the artists, post-show discussions, and the community groups using our productions as fundraisers for their organizations.

Step Five: Community Stakeholders – We spend the months leading up the production deepening the relationship with these community groups, inviting them to observe rehearsals, seeking their dramaturgical advice, and supporting their community events. By the time the production opens they have become major stakeholders in Mo`olelo and the project and they spread the word among their community to support the play. Further, our relationship with the community doesn’t end at the close of production, but rather we continue to invite them to our shows and seek their guidance and feedback on future productions in order to cultivate a long-term connection that outlives the original production.

We measure the success of this strategy through our box office reports, and the result has been that our past three productions achieved 90-95% overall capacity with, on average, 15% of the audience for each production coming from the targeted underserved population. Over the years, the plays we have selected and our concurrent community outreach work have engaged a diversity of communities, including San Diego’s Arab American, Israeli, military and veteran, refugee, African American, Asian American, Filipino, disability, adoption, and under-35 communities.

Many of our peer theater companies marvel at Mo`olelo’s “marketing.” We always correct them. What we do isn’t marketing, it’s relationship building.

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