How to convince your non-theatre friends to see theatre

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Written by Michaela Bulkley

Image credit: The 28th Annual LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards held at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on January 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)


This might be a blasphemous confession, but most of my friends are not “theatre people”.  

That doesn’t stop me from talking about theatre, a lot. After being in LA for 6 years, and having a lot of friends say they don’t like theatre, this is my experience on how to convert the nontheater folks into dedicated patrons. 


Why don’t they want to go to theatre? 

If you love theatre (which you probably do considering you’re reading this), it’s easy to get defensive and go into a TED Talk style rant about the importance of art when someone says anything bad about theatre. I promise that is the easiest way to get your friends to check out and care about theatre even less. I get how they feel, it’s how I feel anytime someone starts talking about sports. 

Instead I like to ask, why don’t they go to theatre? What about theatre do they not like? This mini-interview helps me collect data on why people outside the arts don’t see art. If I know what’s holding them back I can slowly coax them into seeing a play with me. 


Here is what I normally hear: 


I don’t know where or how to find shows I would like. 

There are over 250 professional theatres in LA, we can find one in their neighborhood that is relevant to something they like. My go-to spot of course is onStage.LA to look by neighborhood, or if I am willing to drive a little further and want to see something I know is going to be good, I pop on the Ovation Recommended filter. 

I can also just search by some basic tags, like comedy or musical. This helps me find a show my friend will like, and helps me expand my own artistic tastes a bit. 


Don’t I have to dress nice? 

Maybe if you’re going to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but most places follow the California casual dress code. This isn’t Broadway or the 1950s, we don’t really get dressed up for the theatre, because it’s just part of our daily lives for the most part. I do always recommend wearing layers because you never know if the theatre is going to be too cold or too hot. 


The Ovation Awards Reception at The Pasadena Playhouse on December 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Corey Cano/Capture Imaging)


Isn’t theatre expensive?

Not always, and it’s almost always cheaper than spending a couple hours in a DTLA bar. Plus, there are discount tickets everywhere, and some places have discounts if you’re under 25. Also, everything in LA costs money, so why are we complaining about the $20 to see this show when we spent close to $40 at brunch last weekend? 


I don’t like Shakespeare. 

Not all theatre is Shakespeare. I promise. There are modern plays too. 


After we go through some of these myths and excuses, they start to warm up to the idea of theatre. Then there a couple options on actually getting them into the theatre seat next to you.  


Invite them. 

This may sound obvious, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If there is a show I want to see, and don’t want to go by myself, I pick a couple of dates and times that works for me and invite someone to come with me. This specific ask, “Do you want to go see *this show* at *this theatre* on *one of these days and times*?” creates an easier conversation than the super vague “Do you want to go see a show sometime?”  


The Ovation Awards Reception at The Pasadena Playhouse on December 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Corey Cano/Capture Imaging)


Make an adventure out of it. 

We live in Los Angeles, there is always something to do, or see, or eat, or drink, and normally they are in close proximity. When my parents visited me in Downtown Los Angeles for the first time, we went to Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building, the Broad Museum, and ended the night at the Mark Taper Forum. When I took my sister to Hollywood for the first time we saw the Walk of Stars, saw a show, then ended the night at my favorite bar. It takes a little extra planning, but now every time they think of LA, they think of the shows we saw together. 

Even my friends who are LA natives, I throw out theatre as an option for a night out. It’s normally more affordable and more interesting than spending another night at the local bar.  Also, Los Angeles is giant, so I am sure there is a neighborhood we haven’t explored yet. 


Want an interesting first date? 

As a single millennial, I’ve cycled through my fair share of Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Hinge matches. I use theatre as my go-to first date idea. It’s a public space, there is normally a bar or restaurant close by, and it shows me if the person I am dating is willing to participate in something that is important to me. Theatre is pretty much a non-negotiable aspect of my life, so might as well through it in the mix early. It’s also just a unique date idea, and even if the show is terrible, it gives you something to talk about besides what you watched on Netflix recently. 


The Ovation Awards Reception at The Pasadena Playhouse on December 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Corey Cano/Capture Imaging)


It starts to add up. 

All of the above are small methods to start building your Rolodex of people willing to see shows with you. It is a little extra work, but it’s a small moment of pride when my sister buys a season pass to a theatre company, or my friend in law-school takes his girlfriend to see a play. 

No amount of marketing materials or ads can replace people wanting to get together and see some theatre. 

Michaela Bulkley

Michaela Bulkley

Michaela is unapologetically passionate about building the performing arts community and culture to be more sustainable. Her BA in Theatre Producing, Masters in Nonprofit Management, and experience in marketing and arts management, all perfectly align in her dream job of working at LA STAGE Alliance. To learn more about her adventures in arts admin follower her on Instagram: @michaela.bulkley