Used properly, the 'Net is a great place to market
your theater, even locally. After all, nearly every newspaper,
radio station and television station has a web page these days...
with links to events and organizations in their area. Chambers
of Commerce are big on having local theater and arts organizations
listed on their websites, because it make the local area attractive
to business. The same goes for local, county and state-wide development
Additionally, more and more people are turning to the web to
help them make entertainment plans. Odds are your local movie
theaters are selling advance tickets online. It's time your theater
was out there.
Hosting, Domains, Etc.
If you don't have your own domain by now, get one. They don't
cost all that much... especially if your hosting service throws
it in as part of the package, as many do. WWW.MYTHEATER.ORG
is a lot easier to promote and use than www.myhost.net/~mytheater/index.htm.
It also gives you more control over your site and allows you to
move it, if necessary, without having to change the URL.
Hosting providers generally provide more than just space and
a domain... they also maintain the servers, provide utilities
such as ODBC connections for databases, email addresses and more.
Compare local internet providers with national hosting services
to come up with a plan that is cost-effective for your group.
What about design?
If you have someone with a background in deisng for the web,
use them... otherwise, it might be worth your while to see if
a local designer might donate some work on templates and design
in return for some program ads. Or talk to your local high school
or vo-tech and see if they are looking for projects for their
web and graphic design courses.
One thing to keep in mind, no matter which way you go on design...
make sure your site is easy to update and stays updated. There's
no point to putting up a website and promoting it if it lists
last years shows.
What should be on the site?
As a minimum, a list of the current season with show dates, audition
notices, information on membership, tickets and any season or
patron ticket program, directions and an email address for more
information. Make sure your current season information is very
If possible, make sure that patrons can arrange to purchase tickets
online, with a credit card through a secure server if possible,
but otherwise by an email contact, allowing a follow up call from
your ticketing operation. DO NOT do credit card transactions without
a secure server. You patrons will not appreciate that.
A more ambitious website will include a history of the organization,
photos, cast lists, information on the board of directors or trustees,
perhaps even some "how do we do it" type pieces to entice
Is there anything we should avoid -- in a design sense?
Now, that's a very subjective area... personally, I like the
KISS rule... Keep It Simple, Stupid. While Flash and Shockwave
active sites are all the rage, combining spectacular graphics
and animation, most people are still accessing the web through
dial-up modems. A slow-loading site just encourages people to
leave. If you want all the fancy stuff, fine... just make sure
there are alternatives for people who are just looking for information
without all the glitz... and make sure those alternatives are
easy to get to.
Pop-ups are a pain in the neck, as far as I'm concerned. They're
a gimmick used by advertisers and I personally block them. I also
hate frames, but there are a number of sites that use them well.
The trouble is, if you follow a link into the site from outside,
you lose navigation within the website.
One other thing: make sure your site is easy to read. Keep the
contrast between background colors or graphics and foreground
text as high as possible. There's nothing worse than arriving
at a website and being unable to read the information because
someone decided to put blue text on a black background.
Are there any good sites out there we should look at?
Another subjective subject, but yes. I've put together a list
of community theater sites that do the job very effectively. This
is by no means a complete list. Where appropriate, I have included
There are plenty more links to be found on the Green
Room Links Page.
Some Final Thoughts
Remember, your website is selling your group and your shows...
make it fun and exciting and easy to use. Don't focus too hard
on administration or membership information... you should have
that, but don't put it on the front page... use the front page
to sell your next show.
The best part of the World Wide Web is its immediacy... if you
keep your website up-to-date, you're pretty much guarranteed repeat
traffic, and repeat traffic builds loyal patrons.
Be sure that your email link goes to an address that's checked
regularly. You aren't going to be able to cover all the information
people want, no matter how good a website you have. Email is another
marketing tool, provided you use it wisely. Don't collect email
addresses and spam people, use email to answer questions and encourage
people to come to the theater. Keep it personal.