In almost every area of the entertainment and events industry, there is at least one time of year that is less than optimal for engaging audiences.
In TV, many long-running series get cancelled after being moved to the Friday Night Death Zone. Remember Prison Break and Ugly Betty?
Early July is the timeout period for almost every major sports league.
The very start of the school year and the holiday season are referred to as the Off Season Dead Zones for most museums and cultural attractions.
Ticketed entertainment is no different and the performing arts’ ‘dump months’ are right around the corner.
What’s the story behind the idea of the dump months?
The idea of the dump months comes from the film world, where the industry quickly formed the belief that the months of August, September, October, January and February were a good dumping ground for films that studios felt would fail.
Much like any area of the arts, films are produced for different reasons. Some because actors want to remain connected to cinema as art or as a pet project by someone with a lot of industry pull. Others are politically driven, perhaps so a studio can develop clout within the festival circuit. Or else a title is expected to be a tent pole film when it is developed, only to be produced into a movie distributors know will come up short of predictions. All of these categories are the movies that get scheduled for release in the dump months.
If you look at the five movie dump months, you’ll see a few trends:
- People have less disposable income after expensive annual events: there are always costs that come with the start of the school year and the holidays
- There are competing priorities for entertainment: think television premieres, performing arts blockbusters and major sporting events like the Super Bowl and Olympics
- Other industry factors blocking major releases: eligibility for major awards ends the last week of December and summer blockbusters are released at the start of the summer
All in all, the dump months are not the best time to draw huge crowds of moviegoers. That same idea has now spread to the performing arts.
The dump months in live entertainment
Though not as defined as the film industry, the performing arts dump months generally come between blockbuster productions. Opening and closing a season with a blockbuster and adding a third audience favorite, like a holiday show or a mid-season audience blockbuster, is the typical arc for a year’s programming.
Perhaps you have an upcoming show that has a bit more of an edge. Or one that your Artistic Director is looking to test in the market between the season opener and a holiday staple. Regardless of which it may be, the dump months are coming from mid-October until at least the American Thanksgiving long weekend.
Are the dump months a bad thing for an entertainment or performing arts organization?
While the dump months for an organization sound like one of the worst times to be in the ticketed entertainment industry, these weeks can be a catalyst for creativity.
Many artistic departments use the dump months as a time to showcase experimental content and the same concept can be applied for complementary administrative activities. There can be just as much creativity in the front of house as there is on stage and ticketed entertainment professionals can be as experimental as their artistic counterparts.
You shouldn’t expect a full house during the dump months, and that’s okay!
If you look at the projections for mid-fall and late-winter productions, I’ll bet that an entire run of the new show your organization is testing would be the equivalent of one night of your holiday production. Your blockbusters use tried-and-tested strategies to earn revenue from group sales, merchandise, concessions, field trips, donations and anything else you do to engage your customers. These are classics and they bring in audiences, so you can’t discount their importance.
But you also can’t discount your own innovation and your desire to try out new strategies on a sample group of customers.
The dump months provide a perfect opportunity to do so. Especially as your attendees are often your most loyal patrons, whose subscriptions include tickets to these harder-to-sell shows. These audience members love your organization and want to experience your growth, and this isn’t limited to artistic pursuits and they are likely the ones to give you the most candid feedback on your new initiatives.
Using the dump months to your advantage
The appeal for loyal patrons to attend a cutting-edge show is to experience it before it becomes a blockbuster – to be among the first to enjoy how your organization grows. But this shouldn’t be limited to what they see on the stage or on screen.
Here is where the magic lies in the dump months. Your loyal patrons are eager to experience something new in every step of their journey. Is there a new front of house enhancement you want to try out with an audience? What about a new fundraising campaign that’s a little crazy? Or how about a unique piece of merchandise that might get people talking?
Many of us fail to try something edgy in the arts because absolutely every dollar counts as budgets become even thinner, yet dump months are the perfect time to see if and how new strategies are adopted by your customers.
If it’s a success, you’ve unlocked the next great strategy to advance your organization during next year’s blockbuster.
And if it fails? The great thing is that you tried, learned something new and now know your patrons even better.
The dump months are a great time for everyone to experiment with new ideas. Artists bring out shows that may only play once, and you can do the same. If your new idea gets a standing ovation from customers, bring it back for an encore! But if you face a flop, no one will remember because your holiday blockbuster weeks are just around the corner.