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In today's age of constant connection, a bright side to our new and mobile normal

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Sitting in a comfortable blue velvet seat, watching one of our world-class performers nail a high note from “Music of the Night” under the unforgiving scrutiny of a spotlight and audibly perfect audio system brings your focus to this moment, and nothing else.

You’re mesmerized by what is taking place before you, and your ability to share this experience with those who matter most to you is paramount.

It is a much-needed reminder: With all of the traditional and new opportunities to connect with an audience at a marketer’s disposal, the purpose of live performance is to allow people to experience those high notes together.

Those of us in the marketing world are immersed in rapid-fire statistics about social media, the hard-to-pinpoint millennials (being one of them, I would know) and consumer retail marketing. There are 1.28 billion users on Facebook and 645 million users on Twitter. More than 1 billion searches are performed every month on YouTube.

You cannot turn on a newscast or watch a sports event without seeing a hashtag — and that means there are millions of dual and triple screens in family rooms across the globe churning out tweets, texts and updates in an effort to connect with each other. How do those of us entrenched in the arts and live entertainment respond?

Teenagers today are the first generation to grow up with a device, and it rarely leaves their hands — 71 percent between the ages of 12 and 17 have a cellphone and 93 percent go online daily, according to Pew Research. This is bad news for parents yearning for simpler times, and good news for the future digital landscape.

As the head of marketing for American Music Theatre — the only theater of its size in the country that presents both original live theater and touring concerts — I see a bright side to our new and mobile normal. The arts and theater can certainly benefit from this magnetic desire to connect, and we now have increasing opportunities and targeted tools to attract eager new theater goers. Our relevance is made more valuable because we’re the ultimate interactive experience.

On the economic side, we’re proud to be part of the arts community in Lancaster County, a body that contributed $72 million in economic flows and sustains 1,100 jobs, according to the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce.

Social media is a way for us to connect with young people and to build anticipation and buzz around a performance. In a 2012 Pew Internet study of 1,244 arts organizations, “81% of the organizations … say the internet and digital technologies are ‘very important’ for promoting the arts” and “78% say these technologies are very important for increasing audience engagement.”

This should come as no surprise. Anyone with a smartphone is now photographer, videographer, and citizen journalist. With apps like Applauze, ThrillCall and Goldstar presenting myriad nearby live-event options, there are increasing options to connect with this younger demographic.

What’s more, Eventbrite reports that a Facebook share is worth at least $4.15 in future ticket sales and can drive 15 pageviews. While Twitter doesn’t drive as much revenue ($2.15 in sales), it drives 28 pageviews — nearly double Facebook. For music-festival-goers, 65 percent tweet or post to their social channels during a live concert, 56 percent of attendees upload event photos, and 31 percent write reviews both during and after the experience. That’s meaningful brand interaction.

Historically, theater is a family event and provides an opportunity for loved ones to be entertained together — in real life. The emotional connection between artist and audience is organic. It’s not unusual to see the audience get up and dance. It’s an unfiltered experience with an appeal to participate and a sign of our guests enjoying themselves. We call that value proposition having fun.

We welcome this new audience of potential lifetime theater patrons. “Check-in” services like Yelp and Foursquare are also popular platforms that broaden awareness of the arts, tying into concert calendars for venues, and allowing audiences to share experiences and reactions.

American Music Theatre has embraced the digital age and hopes to introduce many more emerging digital natives to the ultimate connection between performer and audience. “The audience has already moved from ‘arts attendance as an event’ to ‘arts attendance as an experience,’” says the Pew report.

Often seen as an outlier in an age of reality-show entertainment, theater gives a hint of the pulse and vibrancy of creative arts in a community. Using that metric, Lancaster County and Central Pennsylvania are sustaining an arts culture providing young and old with wonderful storytelling performances unedited and easily shared.

And if you share that experience on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, we consider that a win for our performers, a win for live theater and a win for the community.

Michael Rathfon is marketing manager for American Music Theatre in East Lampeter Township. Email him at MRathfon@AMTshows.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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