Welcome Back to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
One of the capital’s largest venues, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre open its doors for an annual 18-week season… in a normal year, at least. We spoke to Commercial Director Andy Locke to find out how they've found welcoming audiences back into the theatre after the lockdown.
As far as we’re aware, you were the first major London venue to announce you were reopening post-lockdown. Is that right?
Yes, we were the first West End theatre to reopen with live performances during the pandemic.
What’s it been like welcoming customers back in?
Well, it’s been incredible. For most people coming through our gates, this is the first piece of theatre they have seen since March. And so audiences are going through quite an emotional experience. That feeling of entering a theatre again, and something resembling normality, albeit wearing a face covering. You can see that people are physically moved by the experience.
It’s been amazing welcoming people back. It always is a seasonal venue. But this year, specifically. Because of everything and because we didn’t think we’d be opening this summer.
What do you think it has been like for customers returning?
The feedback from customers has been amazing. It has clearly meant a lot to lots of people that we’ve been able to do this. And not only have people been writing in to express their feelings about the performance but also about how we have made the venue COVID Secure for audiences. People are writing in to us saying “this is the safest I’ve felt going out since the pandemic started”. So it is good to know that we’ve got it right. It’s been a great experience.
What have been the main challenges of opening post-lockdown?
The whole experience has been challenging. I mean, just take the ticketing side of things. How are we going to sell tickets so that people are socially distanced in the auditorium whilst accommodating as many people as we physically can? We are only selling one-third of our normal capacity, so it is important to maximize our financial potential.
And then communicating what we are doing to make everyone safe. We wanted people to be confident from the outset, so needed our processes in place from the day that we announced the project. We wanted to be completely prepared. That took a lot of work. There was no blueprint. No theatre had yet done it.
Has crowdEngage been able to help with reopening?
One of the key things in terms of procedures was that we wanted to be paperless. From a ticketing perspective, it was good to know that we had a tried and tested system that would allow that already.
We’ve been using crowdEngage for 3 years – we did a test in 2017, which went well, and we’ve been using it ever since.
To communicate our COVID secure procedures, crowdEngage has been an important element. Customers initially received information when booking. Then, a week before the performance, we emailed all customers with additional information about their visit and what to expect when they arrived. Finally, twenty-four hours before the performance, we sent our crowdEngage message with their tickets. This year we have been telling customers that they can just show their tickets on their mobiles, rather than printing their ‘print-at-home-tickets’.
What was really useful with crowdEngage was that not only was it enabling us to go paperless, but it also meant we could have all our latest FAQs on customers’ phones as they were coming to the venue.
We also used the ordering functionality to accept donations. As customers were opening their mobile tickets, they were prompted about making a donation to the theatre, highlighting the financial challenges we are experiencing this year. Seeing donations generated from this has been brilliant and something we can develop for the future.
You were one of the first venues to start using crowdEngage. What drew you to it and what are the benefits?
Well, from my point of view, this is the way forward for theatre ticketing. The world has changed and changed very quickly in terms of mobile ticketing and it's getting much more to be the norm. For example, when you take a flight you will get the option to have the tickets sent to your phone.
It also helps us to be greener. One of our objectives is to become more sustainable in the way we operate. The more we can reduce the amount of paper we ask customers to generate, the better. And I think people are increasingly less likely to have printers at home these days anyway.
Also, showing a PDF ticket on a mobile device can be really tricky in terms of scanning barcodes. That isn’t a problem with crowdEngage tickets which are created specifically for this.
So, I really felt at the time that crowdEngage was the way forward for ticketing and was a technology that we should embrace. And what’s been great is being involved from the outset and seeing how crowdEngage has developed. For example, one of the great features is the ability to forward a ticket to a different member of your group so that you don’t necessarily all have to arrive together. One person can arrive and get the drinks in, or whatever, and the other person can arrive later with their own ticket. That’s great functionality.
The interactive map has been really useful for us as we’re in the middle of a Royal Park and signage to the theatre is therefore limited. Having directions on your phone is a brilliant tool.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Only in terms of bigging up crowdEngage, which I’m sure is something you would like me to do! I just find crowdEngage an incredibly easy company to work with. Very flexible. With regards to the technology, the dashboard is so easy to use and with the ordering facility, is also now generating an additional income stream. The potential of crowdEngage continues to grow.