Sold Out: Theatre iNQ

Theatre iNQ are one of the local groups reshaping Townsville's approach to last-minute bookings. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

It’s a reputation that not many Townsville performance groups can claim: every one of Theatre iNQ’s productions for 2017 has sold out weeks in advance.

From the mysterious and thought-provoking Frankenstein in the old Townsville West State School building, the fun and fantastical Alice in Wonderland in Anderson Gardens, to the infamous annual Shakespeare Under the Stars (this year showcasing a take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream), the independent professional theatre collective has turned traditional performance on its head, with all pieces given an original adaptation by Director Terri Brabon.

“This year was a massive gamble for us: we didn’t know how it was going to go, we broke all the rules in terms of how we normally produce things and what we normally sell as our season,” Terri said.

“I’m not even thinking remotely about a show in a theatre for a long time – everything I’m thinking is something different. And we’ve loved it too! Not just scenically, or because it’s been good business, but because it’s challenging for us and new skills of our team have come to the fore.”

Staging shows in new locations has been challenging not just in terms of blocking and set realisation, but guessing audience sizes well in advance.

“It’s a catch-22 of having enough space for people, but then as a producer knowing Townsville notoriously doesn’t book – so holding your breath in terms of sales, and wondering if anyone will actually come. The problem now is that in some ways we have under-budgeted for how many shows could sell out; so by doing niche events like Frankenstein where it is exclusive, once they do sell out you have these angry people asking why they can’t fit in.

“People should look at it like an Ed Sheeran concert: you don’t get to go if you wait to book until the day before it’s on. You don’t get people the day before asking why they can’t squeeze in to Ed’s show: they know that when it’s sold out, it’s sold out. With local shows though, there just doesn’t seem to be that understanding or realisation that you should start booking earlier.”

While audience capacity for Theatre iNQ shows has been limited this year, with just 80 per performance at Frankenstein, Terri said the experience that came with the smaller numbers was just as important.

“These intimate performances have a different special quality than arenas or thousand-seater theatres, because when you’re part of these smaller ones you feel part of the performance itself – you’re not removed from it, you have a role to play in the event because there is only a small amount of you; you and the cast are doing something together.

“There’s something about the work you have to preserve. With Alice in Wonderland, if you overcrowd it you have issues with sight lines, noise projection, and we’d start getting hordes of people who can’t see or hear. I’d rather have a smaller amount of people who go away having had a wonderful experience.

“I’m really pleased that for whatever reason, Theatre iNQ is getting a reputation that you must book. It’s much more comforting to know that your show is selling, and it’s taken us a while to build that up. In some ways, you can only build that up when people do miss out. You have to train the audience so if they are angry or devastated that they missed out, they book earlier next time.”

Catch Theatre iNQ’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Queens Gardens from 12-24 September, with tickets available here.

In the September/ October issue of Huxley, we chat to five local organisations challenging Townsville’s last-minute ticket market. To read all five profiles, click here

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