Instead of a paper Playbill, the show’s information is delivered directly to your smartphone. At intermission, you’re asked to pull out your phone and give feedback or perhaps fill out a survey. Texting in during the show enters you into a contest. And you’re rewarded for all your texting and typing and sharing with free tickets to upcoming productions.
North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA), a local children’s program, has recently teamed up with mobile engagement company Blue Calypso to reach theater-goers in a rather unlikely way—through their mobile devices. I’ll just say it: a cellphone technology company and good old-fashioned theater seems an unlikely pairing. If you don’t believe me, just try switching on your phone in the middle of a play. In most theaters, cellphone use isn’t just frowned upon, it’s practically forbidden.
But that could change. Blue Calypso is a local, publicly traded startup that aims to provide consumers with an interactive mobile experience. Their platform, according to director of sales Jeff Spock, aligns the goals of manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. For example, say you walk into a grocery store outfitted with Blue Calypso’s platform. A beacon notification (like one you’d receive from Facebook) pops up on your phone to welcome you. If you usually buy Italian bread, a pop-up on your phone might offer you an incentive for Italian bread, or a coupon for a new product that aligns with other usual purchases. The technology tracks when you enter and exit the store, and might offer a discount or reward if you return to shop slightly sooner than you would normally.
“The coolest part is how theater is such an archaic art, but this brings us into the technology world,” Hollie Hongosh says. “It’s a perfect marriage of what we’ve been trying to do.”
Sounds great—for a grocery store. But how does it work at a theater? NTPA’s managing director Hollie Hongosh explained that Blue Calypso’s technology is a great way for NTPA’s audiences to easily share show information (with the promise of two free tickets per share) on social media and to answer surveys about what plays they’d like to see next. The platform also makes production and donation details readily accessible to audience members via an app-less “microsite,” and it helps NTPA obtain data helpful for fundraising and marketing. “We do 50 shows a years, which requires a lot of partnership,” Hongosh says. NTPA is the largest youth performing arts organization in Collin County, offering classes for kids of all ages at centers in Plano, McKinney, and Frisco. The three youth theaters put on an impressive range of plays—they’ve recently produced well-known titles including Beauty and the Beast and Little Shop of Horrors.
They’re the first performing arts center in the Dallas area to utilize such technology, so NTPA wasn’t sure how—or even if—live audiences would adapt. But it was deemed worth a shot and decided that the platform would be used during two shows—one at the Plano Children’s Theatre; the other at the McKinney Youth Theatre. (The platform was first experimented with during a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie and met with a 20-percent success rate.)
Usually, according to Hongosh, small organizations like NTPA tend to be late adopters of technology since they don’t have a lot of money. “It’s a meet in the middle,” Spock says. “They wanted to try out the technology, and we wanted exposure.”
In the future, the platform might be useful in driving their capital campaign (Hongosh says they’d like to raise enough money to build another theater). She also believes the technology will be effective internally—that is, helpful to use in connecting with and conveying information to the children involved with the program (“Kids are constantly on their phones,” Hongosh points out). They might even be able to phase out those expensive and environmentally unfriendly paper Playbills in favor of electronic ones, too.
“The coolest part is how theater is such an archaic art, but this brings us into the technology world,” she says. “It’s a perfect marriage of what we’ve been trying to do.”
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