Hi Pauline! The Bridge has been open again for about 6 weeks now. How has it been?

It’s been great. It’s so nice to do “the real job” again. It’s wonderful inviting audiences back and seeing their reaction.

We are really lucky at The Bridge in that we are set up in a way that meant we could reopen right now. We’re a newer theatre and we have a flexible auditorium. We only opened 3 years ago so we have a small and agile team who are used to working with new technology pretty much all the time and have always been really customer-focused. So, lots of the stuff that we were already thinking about in terms of the way we communicate with audiences has just been able to be amplified.

We already had actors lined up and ready who wanted to perform on stage to create a series of monologues. So, in many ways it felt like we should be doing it – to allow audiences to enjoy theatre and to ensure that there was someone doing something. We’re aware that others can’t put on performances for various reasons, so we just want to offer a bit of hope for those that can or want to do it.

I think we have all undervalued, until now, the shared experience of being in one room with a group of people. Laughing. Crying. Clapping. Together. There is something wonderfully good for the soul about that.

The first socially distanced performance at The Bridge [Photograph: Craig Sudgen]

It was announced in early August that you were reopening. What was the build up like?

We’d had quite a lot of conversations throughout the lockdown period about if we could reopen and how we’d make it work with social distancing requirements. There was lots of looking at seating plans and spreadsheets to ask, “right, how would that work financially?”

We’d worked out that we could make it work with about 1 metre or a 1.5 metre distancing.

What have been the main challenges of opening post lockdown?

We had to decide how we wanted to sell tickets. Did we want to sell general admission? Did we want to show people the seating plan? How to do customer comms. How to avoid queuing, from timed entry, to how they ordered their drinks at the bar… We were thinking about the whole experience to eliminate any queuing or people being too close to each other.

We wanted to go paperless to avoid queues at the box office completely, so being able to have e-tickets or mobile tickets was really important. Part of the challenge was making sure our audiences would understand that, so we talked a lot about comms and how we would present it.

This isn’t “the COVID season”, this is a season of fabulous actors, actresses, writing - that you can see right now. You want to keep that brilliant experience. You don’t want people to feel they are just coming because they are supporting “the Arts”. You want them to have a good time.

One of the main challenges has been getting an audience to come and know they will have a good time. I think people assume that theatres are closed. We’re very lucky in that we have a loyal audience and we’re seeing those people come along. For people who haven’t been to the venue before, I think one of the hardest things is getting them to appreciate that the venue is safe, that we’re trustworthy, and that theatre is happening.

How has crowdEngage been able to help with reopening?

It has been really great because we have been using crowdEngage for about two and a bit years now so it’s a service people are used to. Since reopening we’ve been able to accelerate what we wanted to do with it already, and that is to streamline things, with no COBOs and by giving people a better way to access their tickets on their phones.

It means people can find their tickets when they want them, so they're not going, “Oh, I booked 6 weeks ago. It’s on an email I received when I booked it. Where is that email? I can’t find my ticket!”  With crowdEngage you get a text on the day of the show with your tickets – we’ve had so many compliments about that.

Using crowdEngage has meant that we’ve had no queues on arrival. People have been able to preorder drinks and we’ve seen our bar sales go up actually. And also I like that people can use it to find out how to get to the theatre from wherever they are.

crowdEngage just gives you everything you need at the point that you need it.

For drinks, am I right in thinking you are offering at-seat service only? How does that work?

We had two days notice at the point they said you couldn’t do bar service anymore. Bear in mind that that’s the secondary revenue stream for us – our key stream is ticket sales – so we have people on the bar, but it’s not what we specialise in. But if we had to take that revenue stream away, that would limit what we could do. So we started with a preorder takeaway service and now we’ve moved to at-seat service.

We are using crowdEngage for at-seat service, and people can also flag staff down in the auditorium. What is great is that crowdEngage is so flexible. For example, we can offer different menus depending on the time of day that people are ordering and that means we can filter the offering at different times. We can use it for both at-seat service and preordering in advance, and the orders come through to the bar with the customer’s seat information included automatically. The flexibility means the system works smoothly, both for customers and for back-of-house.

What was it that convinced the Bridge Theatre to start working with crowdEngage?

I was tasked at The Bridge to put the customers first. To think about the user experience and the user journey. crowdEngage ticked all of those boxes and it felt like the right thing to be doing.

To be honest I was initially sceptical because at the time we brought it in it was for a show called Allelujah! which was an Alan Bennett play. I knew the audience was going to be an older audience but we tried it out anyway and you know, I was definitely proved wrong! Everyone was complimenting it and enjoying using it. So, I love that it built up from that point organically and we wanted to work out how we could use it more and more.

How do you find working with crowdEngage?

Working with crowdEngage is great in the fact that we are all having to adapt and change and they are absolutely set up to do that. But crowdEngage is also a service that gives us an instant way to communicate with people if we do need to update them about something. One of our fears of course is that we might have to cancel shows at some point in time and knowing we have a very quick way of communicating with people is amazing.

I’m not sure how we would have done everything right now without crowdEngage.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I think that might be it… Except that everyone should use crowdEngage! I think that ticketing is going to progress a lot in this period of time because the pace of change has accelerated.

I think what’s great is that so many theatres are adopting crowdEngage and I think audiences are just going to get more and more used to it. In fact, they are probably going to start going to theatres that don’t use it and ask “oh, why don’t you do that?!”

Thanks to Pauline Fallowell at The Bridge for taking part in our Welcome Back series. If you’re interested in seeing how crowdEngage can support your reopening, drop us a line!