After almost 11 years on the road, the 4th national touring company of Cats has found innovative ways to attract new audiences. For this company, which in four months sets a record as the longest-running single national touring company in history, coloring books, face-painting, workshops, and discounted children's tickets have been essential in creating lines at the boxoffice.
Jim Kerber, the press representative for the touring company, said, "In our years of touring, this Cats tour has become a staple to many of the cities on our route, playing some as many as six times. Long ago we went through your basic theatregoers, so we're constantly seeking new marketing alternatives to fill houses."
Kerber reported that in recent weeks the 4th national has experienced a "bump up" in ticket sales due to national media coverage of the New York celebration to mark Cats becoming the longest running show in Broadway history.
"But," he added, "the show on the road is harder to sell. We're no longer the 'hottest, most spectacular' show' to hit town, so full houses aren't a given. We have to do it the hard way and earn our full houses."
Kerber noted that a big problem is that the cost of taking Cats on the road hasn't gotten cheaper. "We have a company of 32 plus technical crew," he said. "The show travels in five 18-wheeler trucks and has extensive load-in and load-out (installing the complex set and removing it) costs. We can't lower prices. The average is $40. But we try as often as possible, especially when we're given back-up from local promoters [in 40 cities, that's Pace Theatricals], to have children's discounts." The 4th national tour (on the road since March, 1987), which in November will earn a historic distinction when it surpasses Oklahoma! to become the longest-running single tour, has also found methods to build fresh audiences.
"Since the show is family entertainment," Kerber said, "we know that kids are our mainstay. There are always kids who've yet to see Cats and to attract them we have well-publicized face-painting by the cast before the shows in most major stops where we sit down for a few days. We send our performers into the schools, libraries, YMCAS, and shopping malls to do workshops, such as on 'How To Become A Cat,' which is basically built on the improvisation learned in rehearsals."
A new selling tool, developed recently for the Broadway open houses held by Cats in New York during its celebration, is an action coloring book. "It's educational but also fun," said Kerber. "It tells all about the various cats in the show and highlights some behind-the- scene elements such as the backstage jobs." The books are distributed free in promotions at the theatres and book stores.
When all else fails, according to Kerber, there's an old reliable to fall back on. "Even after all these years," he noted, "local TV stations thankfully still want to do a backstage story on the actors going through the make-up process."