A Contemporary Theatre (ACT): Ramayana Ambassadors
ACT forges relationships with Asian and Southeast Asian audience through cultural ambassadors and relevant programming
Valuing relationships leads to giving audiences something they value
A Contemporary Theatre Seattle (ACT) has been on the scene since 1965, but they’re nothing if not fresh. Their manifesto states:
We believe in the theatre of the moment, this moment, the present, contemporary struggles, issues, ideas...
An influx of new people into Seattle from Asia and Southeast Asia was one of the changing circumstances ACT wanted to respond to in their programming.
Believing that theatre should also elevate and connect people to timeless and deeply-affective ideas, ACT wanted their means of building relationships with immigrant communities to involve revered, high art.
Enter the Ramayana, a Hindu epic touching on the tension between love and duty. This story is beloved of many Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.
ACT wanted to stage the Ramayana as a way of reaching out to and incorporating ethnic newcomers into the theatre’s conversation and community. But they knew that to do it right — both the outreach and the production — they would need help.
ACT assembled a team of Ramayana Ambassadors composed of wise and influentional people from the Asian and Southeast Asian community. Initially, ACT thought the ambassadors would primarily help with marketing, but as the project progressed, they learned to lean on the Ramayana team for more — because it wasn't just about selling tickets.
You can’t go into building an audience from a marketing perspective. It has to be about relationships. - Sheila Daniels, co-director
ACT wanted a real relationship with these communities, and that meant being open to the amabassadors' ideas. So, in addition to relying on the Ramyana ambassadors for targeted marketing and outreach, ACT gave them space to make other significant contributions like:
- Offering insight on the Ramayana story to ACT's artistic colloborators. This ultimately informed how ACT staged the play.
- Planning and hosting a month of events called the Ramayana Rally, featuring performances by other community artists, a 20-person youth dance ensemble, and various lectures.
- Creating meaningful auxiliary programs to complement the Ramayana production, like “Eye On” weeks, a rotating “marketplace” set up in ACT’s lobby displaying a different Asian or Southeast Asian culture each week of Ramayana’s run.
These weren't tasks assigned to the ambassadors to complete. These were ideas the team came up with on their own and executed as true colloborators.
The work that ACT and the Ramayana Ambassadors put into Ramayana paid off in many ways:
- Overwhelming box office response (third highest in ACT’s 47-year history)
- Expanded audience reach and engagement (1,000 new households attended during Ramayana’s run)
- A new work of theater created based on a timeless story
The biggest win of all: The ambassadorial team continues to be involved at ACT.
For more ways to engage diverse cultural groups read our next Strategic Example or download our Engage Diverse Cultural Groups Tool Kit, below.
- Engage Diverse Cultural Groups Toolkit (PDF)
- Embracing Diversity in the Arts: Random Reflections on the Coming Tide of Change (PDF)
- APLI Cohorts: A Contemporary Theatre (ACT)
- Forums, Resources & Takeaways: Cultivate brand ambassadors
- Forums, Resources & Takeaways: Forum 2 — Who's New in Town: Arts Organizations Respond to Changing Demographics
- Forums, Resources & Takeaways: Forum 6 — Making Art, Making Change: Trends and Transformations in Uncertain Times
- Forums, Resources & Takeaways: Forum 9 — Stirring Up Arts Participation: 13 Projects
- Forums, Resources & Takeaways: Partner up for increased impact