SAMPLE: Stories On Stage




Stories on Stage Blueprint for Inclusiveness


Process for Creating This Blueprint

From the beginning of this inclusiveness initiative, Stories on Stage has known its vision and goal: an audience representative of the diverse communities of Colorado's Front Range. This primary goal, which is foundational to our mission, is driving other efforts toward our being a more inclusive organization: desiring a more inclusive audience determines our marketing strategy, the development of our board of directors and the addition to the staff of a community outreach director. This is the framework of thought from which this blueprint has been created.

During the first quarter of 2006, the organization formed an inclusiveness committee, co-chaired by a member of the board of directors and the board chair. One other board member serves on the committee, along with five volunteers, the executive director, the artistic director, and the inclusiveness consultant.

As an important note on information gathering, the Stories on Stage Inclusiveness Committee concluded that traditional methods of gathering demographic data are inappropriate for the theater, if not the performing arts. Thanks to our experience in 2006, we know there are multiple ways to measure audience and community resonance-the feedback required in the relationship between performer and audience-excluding standard surveys. As organizations such as ours seek foundation support for inclusiveness, we hope information on methodology appropriate to the performing arts will be discovered and shared.

In August, the inclusiveness consultant engaged committee members in an e-mail exchange to create dialogue and move toward agreement on how the organization would define inclusiveness and diversity. From the responses provided, definitions were formed, and the inclusiveness consultant drafted the "Case Statement for Inclusiveness." The committee met in tandem with the Stories on Stage board of directors September 25 to present the case statement and explain the research and knowledge the initiative had generated.

In moving toward final decision-making regarding areas of development for this plan, the committee met October 10. The committee determined its areas of focus for building a better organization through inclusiveness and discussed reasoning and goals behind their decision. The inclusiveness consultant, working from research, the group's discussion, and ongoing efforts toward inclusiveness, wrote this plan. The executive director provided input, and the committee reviewed and commented on the document. Throughout the process, the Stories on Stage mission statement and vision of audience inclusiveness have been the benchmarks against which this document and the case statement have been calibrated.

Working with the guidelines provided in Inclusiveness at Work, the Stories on Stage Inclusiveness Committee kept meeting agenda and discussion tightly focused on issues and concerns that would inform this strategic plan. Audience inclusiveness has been at the heart of the Stories on Stage mission since it was founded in 2000. The committee's work in defining terms and discussing strategy has benefited from the momentum of current activity to build more inclusive audiences. For example, hammering out a "Case Statement for Inclusiveness" happened simultaneously with forming relationships with diverse communities underrepresented in our audience. The committee, in other words, has had a practical context for its work.


Audience Development. According to Donna Walker-Kuhne, (Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community, New York: Theatre Communications Group. 2005), audience development "is about making contacts, going into the communities you are trying to reach, engaging them in dialogue or activities related to the arts and your institution's activities, forming partnerships, and creating doors where none existed before."

Audience Outreach. Again according to Walker-Kuhne, outreach is "an organization's making contacts and opening doors."1

Community. Our community comprises our target audience and stakeholders-our subscribers, board of directors, volunteers, staff, vendors, partners, sponsors, beneficiaries, donors, and community organizations to which we may reach out in partnership to create a new show.

Diversity. Stories on Stage recognizes that cultural diversity exists in multiple dimensions, including differences among people that are not immediately visible.

Field. Our profile as a nonprofit theater, thanks to our format and programming, is distinct from other theaters. Our field is made up not of theaters in general, but those that combine theater and literature, including Selected Shorts (New York), and Arts & Letters Live (Dallas).

Inclusiveness. Stories on Stage defines inclusiveness as striving to broadly represent the values and perspectives of our diverse community through our program content and by continuing to make our programming accessible to people of diverse cultures and ethnicity.

Target Audience. Our goal is an audience as diverse and broad-based as the communities of Colorado's Front Range.


Case Statement for Inclusiveness

Stories on Stage defines inclusiveness as striving to broadly represent the values and perspectives of our diverse community through our program content and by continuing to make our programming accessible to people of diverse cultures and ethnicity.

We recognize that cultural diversity exists in multiple dimensions, including differences among people that are not immediately visible. While we cannot heal all divisions and inequities in society, our performances create unique opportunities for cross-cultural understanding and exchange. The more diverse the audience we can bring to these experiences, the better our goal will be achieved.

Our programs present literary material (mostly short stories) from a deliberately wide range of authors, performed on stage by actors of varied backgrounds for audiences of diverse people to hear and feel together. We believe this creates an experience that fosters cultural inclusiveness at an essential, emotional level. Striving for inclusiveness thus goes to the heart of our mission, which states, "The citizens of the Colorado Front Range are the primary focus of our activities. Our intent is inclusive."

To pursue our mission, we will continue to present stories of high literary value while exploring new ways to welcome audience members from groups underrepresented among theatergoers. To improve our audience inclusiveness, we will:

  • Deepen existing relationships with communities underrepresented in our current audience.
  • Welcome underrepresented communities to collaborate with us in developing innovative programming, venues, and marketing and scholarship strategies.
  • Review our policies and activities to ensure our staff, board and volunteers, as well as our stories and actors, represent the perspectives and values of our broader community.

Striving for inclusiveness is intrinsic to our existence: in fulfilling this case statement, we will have been faithful to our mission.


Overview of Research Methodology

Our number #1 goal of building a more inclusive audience is the framework that has determined other organizational categories (i.e., marketing and community relations, board of directors) on which we are focusing our work toward becoming fully inclusive.


Research -- Marketing & Community Relations

Field Data

(1) Identified, studied, and interviewed theaters that combine theater and literature and those that made building inclusive audiences a deliberate goal.

(2) Interviewed a researcher focused exclusively on the arts.

  • Discussion generated at steering committee meetings with community partners and prospective partners.
  • Discussion of efforts toward building community partnerships in previous seasons.

Community Data

(1) Analysis of database of zip codes associated with ticket sales.

(2) Anonymous written survey of audience members.

Organization Data

Research -- Board of Directors

(Field data conducted for marketing & community relations indicated the importance of the board's role in being ambassadors for the organization in the community.)

(1) Anonymous online survey of staff and volunteers, as well as board members.

(2) Diversity profile and analysis, with recommendations, conducted on board by a third-party consultant.

Discussion of Research: Success and Setback

For the purpose of gathering quantitative data, the Inclusiveness Committee decided to survey audience members in May 2006 by way of an anonymous printed piece placed in event programs. The survey requested demographic information, including an individual's annual income and racial and ethnic background. Though the survey was brief, anonymous, and voluntary, several audience members verbally expressed being opposed to and insulted by the experience. From our research into audience development practices by other theaters, we found that the Berkeley Repertory Theatre also experienced a backlash when presenting audience members with a traditional survey that included questions of race and ethnicity.

Context may have been a factor in why the Stories on Stage survey backfired. The theater, an experience in which a theatergoer expects to be transported and has chosen to invest personnel time, money and planning, is an inappropriate place to gather information of a personal and sensitive nature. As a creative organization, Stories on Stage has realized it must find creative ways to understand the diverse makeup and consumer decision-making of its audience.

The field of performing arts organizations that combine theater and literature is small. By interviewing, assessing the efforts of and establishing a relationship with these groups, however, we have created a platform for a continuing exchange of information. This is important, given the necessity of ongoing research to the goal of audience development.

Key Findings from Our Research

Regarding audience development and related marketing and community relations, we set out to research -

  • Systems for collecting and managing data used by other theaters.
  • The platforms, methods for developing audiences, and results of those efforts for six to ten organizations that have programming similar to Stories on Stage or that have worked toward a goal of audience inclusiveness.

After gathering and assessing the results of these initial objectives, we then researched the geographic locations within the Denver metro area from which our ticket buyers hail. We believed assessing zip codes from our ticket sales would give us a general representation of audience demographics. Matching the data to information on Denver's neighborhoods from the Piton Foundation has added important detail.

We also contracted with the Impact Institute to survey the cultural beliefs and perceptions of our board of directors.


I. Results of Research into Other Theaters

A. Practices for Collecting and Managing Data

  • Focus groups and in-depth interviews
  • Community telephone surveys
  • Audience questionnaires
  • Director's voice mail reserved for audience comments
  • A marketing plan for each production
  • Employing focus groups specifically to test how to position each production
  • Detailed definition of the market
  • Investment of time in database creation, maintenance and development
  • Dedication to marketing that is planned, structured and developed
  • Strategic framework and plan of action

B. Summary of Results of Audience Development by Other Theaters

Goodman Theater, Chicago.

Strategy Introduce more African-Americans to the theater through single-ticket sales and special subscriptions, then convert them to full-season subscribers.


Research: surveys, focus groups.

Programming: works by African-American playwrights; plays with broad themes that transcend culture; events for new subscribers to meet the director and cast.


Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Strategy Partner with the Asian American Theater Company.


Research: traditional surveys backfired as people resented being asked about race and ethnicity. Company wishes it had done more focus groups.

Marketing: joining marketing and subscription efforts.

Programming: developing a repertoire of Asian-American plays; efforts toward making the theater a home for Asian-American artists.


Manhattan Theatre Club, New York.

Strategy Change the venue of plays that will appeal to new, larger and diverse audiences.


Research: focus groups are used to understand how to market each show.

Marketing: Produce a marketing plan for each production; rely on database information and outside lists to specialize and target marketing efforts; begin reaching out to community groups six months before a performance by talking to community churches and community-based organizations and media.

Note African-American attendance has crossed over to Writers in Performance, a literary series the format of which is similar to Stories on Stage.


Theater Dell'Arte, Blue Lake, CA.

Strategy Create tours and residencies in a five-county region; develop plays that reflect the region's history and people and involve locals in the creation process; produce a soap opera about the community.


Research: audience surveys; community feedback, including what is gathered by company members, who are required to volunteer in the community.

Marketing: "no efforts are duplicated"-devise a strong, consistent approach that includes partnerships that leverage direct communication with the target audience; special ticket prices and designated performances for families and local residents.

Programming: by attending town meetings, the director learned the issues over which community members became emotional.


The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Strategy Make Shakespeare publicly accessible.


Marketing: (a) subway and bus advertising, radio public service announcements; (b) target high school students and their families with workshops, matinees, touring performances, seminars, and a year-long partnership with schools that emphasizes texts, meeting company members and attending special performances. Tickets are brought to the schools, and bus transportation is provided.

Fundraising: board of directors pledges, partnerships with corporations, formation of Friends for Free for All.


Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia.

Strategy Cater to the interests of audience, rather than artistry.


Research: (a) marketing study, done by an outside consultant, of Philadelphia's cultural audiences; (b) measurement of the benefit of a production to the organization. "We are now a research-based institution," says artistic director Walter Dallas.

Marketing: refine and raise the professionalism of marketing and sales.

Programming: strictly tailored to audience taste and preference.


Arts & Letters Live, a division of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Strategy Arts & Letters Live admittedly stumbled into, and did not intentionally set out, to attract a more diverse audience.


Marketing: Monthly late-night programming to attract younger-and hence more diverse-audiences.

Programming: Arts & Letters Live originally held late-night performances as part of the museum's anniversary celebration in which it stayed open nonstop over approximately two days. Significantly, because of the late-night hours, an audience that was younger-and inherently more diverse-was attracted to the theater.



Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story, a program of Symphony Space,

New York.

Strategy Program as broadly as possible


Marketing: (a) partner with diverse groups as often as possible; (c) share contact information with diverse groups.



II. One Viewpoint of the Cultural Beliefs and Perceptions of Our Board of Directors

The following summary is from a report by the Impact Institute profiling the cultural beliefs and perceptions of the Stories on Stage board of directors:

  • The group is likely to respond appropriately to others and not make incorrect assumptions based on stereotypes. Overall, there is a positive intention toward Diversity and Inclusion.
  • The group makes some effort to add factual data to their own personal information base, but rarely discusses diversity issues with others.
  • A majority of the group does not see their own cultural background as significant. How each individual's cultural assumptions, beliefs and values influence their behavior is still a mystery for some board members.
  • Differences in communication styles can create barriers for some board members.
  • Majority of board members are unclear on their strengths and limitations.
  • Most board members are unsure of how to handle someone who is offensive to them or someone else.

III. Stakeholder Perceptions

A survey of our organization's staff and volunteers surveyed a portion, rather than the full scope, of our stakeholders. It provides feedback on our effectiveness, performance, and handling of cultural inclusiveness, among other points. It is a starting point for the organizational research that, by necessity, will be ongoing.

This does not represent baseline data. We are developing our database and refining how we collect and use data. Beginning 2007, we will be able to track ticket sales by year and performance, for example, establishing a baseline for future comparison.

In 2006, the Stories on Stage Inclusiveness Committee identified the following as stakeholders:  subscribers, board of directors, volunteers, staff, community organizations with whom we may partner, current partners, sponsors, beneficiaries, and donors. We will revisit and revise the list in the future, as necessary.


IV. Audience Profile Based on Zip Code Data

Following is a summary of the top five Denver neighborhoods from which the greatest concentration of community members in the Stories on Stage database hail. This concentration represents approximately 3 24 percent of the database, which is made up of those who have attended performances and are on our mailing list.



413 addresses in database


Total population: 5,412

Average household income: $71,313

Percentage of children living with single parents: 27.3%

Percentage of owner-occupied housing: 71.3%

Percentage of renters paying > 30 % of income on housing: 35%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is African American: 8.3%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Latino: 7.9%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Asian/Pacific Islander: 1.8%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is White: 78.7%


Congress Park

327 addresses in database


Total population: 10,468

Average household income: $62,925

Percentage of children living with single parents: 29%

Percentage of owner-occupied housing: 39.9%

Percentage of renters paying > 30 % of income on housing: 32.9%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is African American: 6.7%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Latino: 9.2%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Asian/Pacific Islander: 2.1%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is White: 79.1%


Washington Park

282 addresses in database


Total population: 6,571

Average household income: $109,785

Percentage of children living with single parents: 14.5%

Percentage of owner-occupied housing: 79.4%

Percentage of renters paying > 30 % of income on housing: 17.3%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is African American: 0.5%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Latino: 3.4%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Asian/Pacific Islander: 1.6%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is White: 92.9%


Cheesman Park

239 addresses in database


Total population: 8,396

Average household income: $52,865

Percentage of children living with single parents: 51.4%

Percentage of owner-occupied housing: 26%

Percentage of renters paying > 30 % of income on housing: 35.7%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is African American: 6.1%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Latino: 9.2%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Asian/Pacific Islander: 2.1%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is White: 79.4%


University Park

222 addresses in database


Total population: 6,787

Average household income: $65,311

Percentage of children living with single parents: 18.9%

Percentage of owner-occupied housing: 43.5%

Percentage of renters paying > 30 % of income on housing: 41.7%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is African American: 1.8%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Latino: 6.0%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is Asian/Pacific Islander: 4.2%

Percentage of neighborhood population that is White: 85.8%



V. Diversity of Youth and Metro Denver's Larger Racial Groups

The nature of the information provided by Piton can be a resource to Stories on Stage with regard to building an audience more diverse in age and racial and ethnic background. According to Piton, Asian Americans comprise metro Denver's fastest-growing ethnic population, having increased from just less than 43,000 in 1990 to almost 88,000 in 2000. This represents an annual increase of 7.5 percent. The annual rate of growth for other racial groups is as follows:

  • African American 2.9%
  • Latino 6.6%
  • White 1.6%

Piton, using what it terms a "conservative estimate," projects that in the next 24 years, the "white population [is] likely to remain the largest race group, but will decrease as a percent of [the] total population." Piton projects the metro Denver population of racial groups for the year 2030 as follows:

  • African American 203,000
  • Asian American 270,000
  • Latino 1,158,000
  • White 2,266,000

As was discovered by Arts & Letters Live, Dallas, Stories on Stage may find success in attracting a more ethnically and racially diverse audience by attracting younger people. According to Piton, the white population of metro Denver is "generally older than the other racial or ethnic groups." In 2000, Asian Americans made up the largest percentage of metro Denver residents among people 20 to 39 years old.

Latinos were the second largest group in this age range, African Americans were third and Whites comprised the lowest number. In residents age 40 and older, however, Whites make up the largest percentage of the metro Denver population, followed in descending order by African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos.



Plan of Action for Building a More Inclusive Audience

Overall Strategy

Deepen our work in reaching out to, creating dialogue with, and partnering with community groups that represent people from culturally diverse backgrounds who are not yet in our audience.

Primary Objective

Gain diverse communities' awareness of and trust in our programming and organization.

Challenge: How to Determine Success

Our ongoing discussions include whether the organization will regard overall success as one or both of the following:

(1) New and expanded relationships with diverse communities, leading to additional special programming that attracts inclusive audiences.

(2) The crossover of inclusive audiences from our special programming to our core programming.


Category 1: Marketing and Community Relations


Combine marketing and relationship building with an eye to the bottom line.

Goals That Are Ongoing

  • Create deeper community awareness of Stories on Stage, engaging in efforts, as cited by Walker- Kuhne, that "will be the most responsive to the needs and interests of the public."
  • Creatively market to diverse communities in ways they find meaningful.
  • Share our vision of inclusiveness with our artists.
  • Understand the main factors that would compel underrepresented markets to partner with us and want to attend our performances.

Goal for 2007

  • Creatively rebrand and market our pay-what-you-can ticket program.

Goal over the Next Three Years

  • Welcome more people from diverse communities to our core programming, with the goal that a significant percentage of the audience for this programming will come from diverse communities by the end of our 2009 season.


  • Add to our staff a community outreach director. The director will be our ambassador dedicated to forming and strengthening relationships with diverse communities.

Deadline: January 2007.

  • Create steering committees leading to relationships with diverse groups for new shows. Committees will be made up of staff, community members from diverse groups, and members of our board of directors.

Deadline: for two of three programs in 2007, The Gospel Project and The Mental Health Project, committees have been formed. Efforts toward forming a third committee to drive another project are ongoing.

  • Engage in collaborative marketing with organizations with whom we partner.

Timeframe: ongoing.

  • Continue our practice of programming that is culturally broad and deep.

Timeframe: ongoing.

  • Reinstitute the TalkBack, an opportunity for audiences to discuss programs with Stories on Stage following each Sunday performance.

Deadline: program was (re)launched with the fall 2006 performances.

  • Create a plan for rebranding and marketing our ticket scholarship.

Deadline: August 2007.

  • Continue to track database development by zip code.

Deadline: annually in June.

  • Refine how we collect and use data.

Timeframe: beginning 2007.

  • Research other ways to measure the increased diversity of our audience.

Timeframe: ongoing.

  • Assess if we need to repackage ticket sale options to appeal to more diverse audiences.

Timeframe: summer and fall 2007.

  • Review, gather feedback on and adjust, as necessary, each of our "touch points," or voice mail, e-mail, website, and box office, for example, to ensure they provide a comfortable and welcoming experience.

Deadline: May 2007.

  • Use our community outreach committee in advance of a given season to assess how to most effectively market productions.

Timeframe: beginning fall 2007.

  • Devise events that appeal to diverse audiences.

Timeframe: ongoing.

Resources needed: our new staff position, community outreach director, has been funded for the year.


Category II: Board of Directors

Ongoing Goal

  • Build and retain a more inclusive board of directors.
  • Understand and promote the factors that make it attractive to serve on our board.


  • Through our relationships with diverse communities, find prospective board members who represent cultural diversity and who have a passion for our organization's mission and vision.

Timeframe: ongoing.

  • Comprehensively reassess how and what to do to create a more inclusive board.

Timeframe: ongoing.

  • Devise how to incorporate inclusiveness activities in strategic planning meetings.

Timeframe: to be determined.

We will be able to capably identify the resources we need for building a more inclusive board once, beginning in 2007, we have comprehensively reassessed what our steps must be toward reaching this goal.



The Stories on Stage Inclusiveness Committee and leadership are responsible for ensuring this strategic plan is carried out.

The committee will continue to meet at least bimonthly on approximately the second Tuesday of a given month to calibrate the organization's progress with this plan. We will report our work to the board of directors.

For 2007, we will evaluate in March and September whether we need to revise our timeline for completing tasks. For succeeding years, we will establish deadlines for evaluating our progress at a later time, when we can intelligently make such determinations.

This is a working plan: we will actively revise and add detail to this blueprint as we further engage in becoming a more inclusive organization.

By the end of calendar year 2007, we will reevaluate the inclusiveness of our organization and board. Our methods for evaluation will be determined as part of our comprehensive approach for development.


Stories On Stage website