Interview: Mark Fleischer Talks Taking Down Audience Barriers at Pittsburgh CLO

Pittsburgh's biggest musical theatre company is making big moves to support and diversify its audience.

By: Apr. 15, 2024
Interview: Mark Fleischer Talks Taking Down Audience Barriers at Pittsburgh CLO
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Interview: Mark Fleischer Talks Taking Down Audience Barriers at Pittsburgh CLO "It was never really about price at the end of the day," says Pittsburgh CLO head Mark Fleischer. "We've spent a lot of time watching audiences not come back, and the question is, why? What are the barriers for people to come downtown?" A series of focus group encounters led Fleischer and his team to a single recurring idea: remove the barriers that prevent potential audience members from coming, and from returning, to CLO shows. "I've been very interested in something like The National Theatre in Britain, which had a grant... that made every ticket twenty pounds. Cleveland Orchestra does a similar thing." Thanks to a partnership with the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Pittsburgh CLO will be rolling out three new initiatives designed to create a larger, more diverse and equitable theatre-going populace in Pittsburgh.

First, CLO will unveil family pass tickets. Says Fleischer, "we came up with the idea of a family pass: what if every parent ticket could have a discounted child ticket? If a parent buys a ticket in the highest tier, or in the lowest, their kids will be sitting right with them, not shunted off to some other seating section. We won’t be punishing parents for buying a discount ticket or bringing their kids. We’re hoping this will encourage people to come, and bring their kids to experience the musical.” 

For those needing childcare during the performances, CLO Academy will be adding creative and educational child care for children up to age 12 during Saturday matinees. "CLO Academy already teaches classes, so instead of just childcare or babysitting, we’re offering a curated Show Care program with a class. The kids who go to Show Care during a show learn something: maybe dance moves, maybe a craft or a song from the show. Something that connects to the show and gives the family something to talk about together on the way home. We are using faculty from the academy, and having parents pre-register so we can see what the ages are for the kids in the program. That way, we can get the right teachers and the right activities for the group that we have."

Finally, Fleischer and company focused in on parking and transportation. "“The final part of this is the shuttle. Parking prices have gone up, and there are some older patrons who can’t drive at night which limits them or their friends coming. We’ve reached out to different transportation, and Molly’s Trolleys came up with the ability to park in a shopping center, then get on a trolley to the theatre and back. We may start building a community this way: the people on these trolleys will have a shared experience, crafting a feeling of familiarity and shared experience for people taking these trolleys. Currently, we can do thirty people on a shuttle, and if we get above that number, we will add another trolley. The point of this all is to meet people where they are and where their experience is. It makes me sad that some people who want to come see musicals can’t, because they don’t want to drive or deal with parking."

All of these initiatives may be new and idealistic, but Fleischer doesn't see them as revolutionary per se. "To me, this doesn’t feel new- it feels like building on what we’ve already done. We already do ASL, audio description and pre or post show talks. Even the shift to the three buildings (Benedum, Byham and Greer) has been part of this: some people have said the Benedum seems too fancy, or they’ve never explored the other buildings. This variety and this inclusiveness makes it easier for people to find a foothold. I’m grateful to have a board and a staff that’s diving into this. Hopefully his will all work and we will see even more people at musicals this summer and beyond!"

Here's hoping, indeed. With another exciting Pittsburgh CLO season on the way, the theatre community, and its attendant audience, can only get bigger, better and more involved from here.


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