Putting Audiences Centre Stage

When visiting the theatre, there is a curiosity from audience members about what happens backstage. Broadway is slowly learning to accommodate this into their shows with Wicked presenting Behind the Emerald Curtain, but as yet we haven’t really seen this in the Australian theatre market. Enter Todd McKenney . . .

Photo Credit: Jeff Busby

Photo Credit: Jeff Busby

He may be best known as the mean judge on Dancing with the Stars and is currently the Teen Angel in the Melbourne season of Grease, but Todd McKenney’s interests do not end on-stage. His latest venture, Todd’s Tours, is improving the audience experience around the show outside the actual performance. A topic he passionately discussed during our interview at the Melbourne Grease media launch.

“It just started off as a question from a man over lunch who isn’t in theatre, he owns restaurants, who asked ‘Have you ever thought of taking people backstage and holding tours?’. At the time I just laughed it off, but as I was driving home from lunch I thought, ‘What a good idea!’ ”

And it is a good idea. One that has been selling like hotcakes during the Sydney season of Grease! Seven nights were put up for sale (30 participants per night) in Sydney and they all sold out.

“I take them to dinner first – a really good meal – and we talk about musical theatre, showbiz in general, a bit of backstage Dancing with the Stars goss. And then I bring them to a VIP room here at the theatre where they get treated to champagne.

Then at the end of the night they stay in their seats and I come and grab them. I take them on a tour backstage where they get to see the workings of the show after they have just seen the performance. Then they get to experience what it is like for us standing on stage and looking out. The whole concept is that they end up centre stage.

For the Melbourne season, the entire night is in the Maj. So we are up in the Mike Walsh suite for dinner and some of the cast drop by. It is a really different way to see a show.

However, this offering isn’t only innovative in changing the way these audiences experience the theatre. It has managed to capture a new segment of people who were previously not attending shows.

It has brought together a lot of singles, people who have lost their partner or don’t have a partner and don’t want to go to the theatre on their own. And we are also getting a lot of people who don’t know what to give their parents for presents. So we are getting a lot of kids buying it for their Mum and Dad.”

While invading the gift market is certainly lucrative, the singles market is one that hasn’t really been targeted in Australian theatre. It can be lonely to go to the theatre by yourself and this experience manages to create a community for theatre-going – a group of people with whom the show can be shared.

Grease is not the end for Todd’s Tours. Since the new offering has taken off, opportunities for expansion into other Australian musical productions, such as Strictly Ballroom, are currently being explored with the hope to incorporate it into as many big productions as possible in the future.

For more information on the upcoming Todd’s Tours and to find out more about this great initiative, visit: http://www.toddstours.com.au/. Apparently the Melbourne season is already selling ‘like hotcakes’ . . . so get on it quickly!