The term “audience development” is a new one in Germany – so new, there’s not even one of those wonderful German compound words for it. But as the independent theater scene becomes a stronger presence, theatermakers like Shermin Langhoff of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße and Nicole Oder of the Heimathafen Neukölln are starting to ask themselves: Who is our audience? Who should our audience members be? And how do we find them?
Berlin is a surprising city to live in for an American theatergoer used to American audience sizes. The selling capacity of theaters in the United States, for the most part, just doesn’t compare. Germany hasn’t felt the need to think too much about its audiences, because its theaters are always full. And also because that’s not where they’re getting their money anyway.
As Berlin’s independent theater scene gets more and more visible, however, the voices of smaller, independent theaters that aren’t always full are getting louder. At the talkback after Verrücktes Blut at Ballhaus Naunynstraße, the “target audience” question was part of what made the discussion turn heated. Artistic director Shermin Langhoff sees the ideal Ballhaus audience as primarily existing of people with “migrant backgrounds,” which would make ita kind of by-of-for theater. In contrast, Nurkan Erpulat, director/co-author of Verrücktes Blut, sees the target audience as white, educated, middle-class. And everyone at the Ballhaus is opposed to the idea of targeting an audience of children or youth – something that the Augenblick mal! jury seemed to find very offensive during its talk last weekend. (A bi-annual festival of children and youth theater that runs concurrently with the Theatertreffen, Augenblick mal! also invited Verrücktes Blut to their festival this year. The Ballhaus turned them down.)
Only two years old, the Ballhaus has experienced a drastic audience shift after the opening of Verrücktes Blut in fall 2011, which received lots of press attention and praise. Continue reading Getting to know you: the Ballhaus and Heimathafen meet their audiences