Was Operation #SoldOutShow a failure?

This summer I had the crazy idea of making this year’s play the most successful one ever. I even proposed the ambitious moonshot goal of selling out a performance.

With nothing remaining except clean up, how close did we come to achieving our Operation #SoldOutShow goal?

Historical Perspective

Before presenting the final number, here’s some historical perspective. Last year’s production of Arsenic & Old Lace had a grand total of 650 paying people attend (50 of those were free admission). When I learned the official total two months ago, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

I had thought the actual number was closer to 900, which is easily rounded up to a 1,000.


A thousand people. That’s a respectable number. But 650!?! That’s only 217 people a night. In an auditorium that seats 1,402,  it’s a ghost town and deeply disappointing! **deep sign**

It might be even more disheartening to know that 3,300 people attended High School Musical* just four months later in the same venue.

So how did we do this year?

Well, we didn’t sell out. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen before I even started. If we couldn’t sell out for HSM with a cast and crew three times larger then it wasn’t going to happen for Robin Hood. In fact, we haven’t sold out a show since 2007’s Les Miserable.

The barricade from Les Miserables

Failed Strategies

I wasn’t able to implement all of my Operation #SoldOutShow strategies.

Recruiting retirement communities to attend
Despite being just a few miles away and in our school district, a local retirement community wasn’t interested in sending a bus full of residents. I was disappointed and to be honest a little hurt. I expected more support from a community neighbor. They didn’t even have to pay full price. We were ready to offer a steep discount in exchange for a full bus.

Most retirement communities I attempted to contact repeatedly bounced me to voicemail and never returned my calls.

Discount Coupons
I had plans of distributing $1 off coupons to the show at both the Lampeter Fair and the Strasburg Hallow Parade. I even printed them…all 1,500 of them. But plans to sell tickets online that ultimately fell through put the coupon idea on hold.

I have 1,500 of these coupons sitting in my desk draw. In a parallel universe we were able to distribute them.

Food Trucks
I had several different ideas that would create additional incentives for attending the show. One idea was having food trucks there. But food truck vendors are hard to pin down. I struggled to get a confirmation instead just letting me hang. A simple “no” probably would have saved all involved a lot of time.

It might have been for the best though when temperatures the weekend of the show plummeted to near freezing. No one wants to stand around outside in that kind of cold waiting for a slider.

Teachers are busy. Stressed by the daily challenge of getting through a rigorous curriculum not every one could attend the teaser. The positive word of mouth from another 750 students and staff could have been put more butts in the seats.


Winning Strategies

I was able to implent several strategies that were outlined in Operation #SoldOutShow and a few others that we didn’t think of until later.

Movie Style Poster
It took a lot of effort to arrange and organize but we created an awesome poster for the show. Very different from what other schools were doing. My time advising LS News has taught me that a student’s photo equals more clicks than a photo without a student. Furthermore, the more students in the picture the more clicks it gets. My theory was the same holds true for theater ticket.

You can see that The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood poster (on the right) stands in sharp contrast to most other school’s fall play posters.

Participating in the Strasburg Halloween Parade was a great promotional tool. Advertising the show to hundreds of local residents. The promotional value of the event was definitely worth the effort. It was also a lot of fun. I’m already planning on doing it next year.


Luckily only the middle school declined our teaser invitation, both elementary schools and the high school did come. This was the first time the fall play had ever held a teaser. If it wasn’t the first time, no one can remember the last time it happened. The teaser put the show on 2,172 student’s radar and undoubtedly spurred more ticket sales. In fact, the elementary students ate up every second of the teaser. They were a GREAT audience.

The cast greeting the students as they left the morning’s teaser.

Student Vouchers
We distributed 1,327 student ticket vouchers (with the purchase of an adult ticket) to every single elementary student kindergarten through fifth. In total, 173 students used the voucher with 173 paying adults accompanying them. Regardless of what those students paid to get in, I saw a lot of children visiting the PTO’s concession stand. In fact, they had triple the sales this year due to the increased traffic.

Student Voucher

Character Cut-outs
Character cut-outs proved to be hugely popular. Every time I looked someone else was posing with it. Undoubtedly many of them were posted on Facebook and Instagram further helping to prompt the show. I had them on display at the Lampeter Fair, at the stadium for home sporting events, and in the lobby for concerts.


Promotional Shout-Outs
I asked the show’s playwright Mary Lynn Dobson to help promote the play by creating a short video promo. Much to my surprise she agreed to help.

We decided to make 300 paper Robin Hood archer’s caps to distribute at the Saturday matinee. A last minute (or last 72 hour) decision was to make a Robin Hood coloring book. I repackaged the Wanted / Pay Your Taxes posters into a color book. We made 700 copies and distributed them to anyone who wanted them at all performances until we ran out.


The cast was even excited about the coloring books. Because let’s be honest, how often do you get to be in a coloring book?


In truth, the lofty goal of selling out a performance–all 1,402 seats–was going to take a Christmas miracle laced with a birthday wish supercharged by the magic of a fairy godmother. Unfortunately this tale has no deus ex machina in the form of an omnipotent Mr. Technical Director and the sold out audience never materialized.

But people did come. Lots of people. A lot more than last year. In fact on opening night more than half of the previous year’s total attendance turned out. Not bad for a Thursday night.


Attendance Stats



Of the 1,453 people, 1,160 were paying patrons with another 293 with free admission (110 complimentary tickets for faulty and staff, 173 via the student voucher program, and another ten from our cast and crew bulk ticket rate). The number skyrockets to 3,635 when you add the two teasers.

3,600 people saw the play this year compared to last year’s 650!
I can live with that.

Obviously not sold out but a respectable number of which I’m proud. We more than double last year’s attendance which definitely makes all that hard work worth it. That was the impetus for this whole endeavor to make all that hard work worth it.

The show will probably even turn a profit which it historically almost never does.

The show proved to be unbelievably popular generating tons of positive buzz on social media. This good word of mouth will undoubtedly prove beneficial for next year’s show. Hopefully creating the momentum we need to double attendance again or maybe even sell out.

Huzzah! Huzzah!!

“Now scatter!”

* On the topic of High School Musical including the three District wide teasers we performed, that number doubled to 6,400. In fact, High School Musical was the best attended show ever at Lampeter-Strasburg.

More people saw HSM than 2007’s Les Miserables, which actually sold out one night. Although it should be noted that Les Miserables only had three performances to HSM’s four.


  1. I’m so glad the elementary schools sent the kids to see the show. Frankly, exposing the students to theatre is itself a worthy outcome. So in my mind, this was a “win” for you , Adam! 👍

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