Skip to content

BCE Cohorts Bring New Ideas, Help Revive Reagle Music Theatre

Rachel Bertone leans down to pose with Alejandro Garcia Urencio and Halle Korman who are sitting at a table
Reagle Music Theatre’s Artistic Director Rachel Bertone, left, with Alejandro Garcia Urencio ’23, middle, and Halle Korman ’23, while the students worked the survey table during Reagle’s ChristmasTime show.

Like many live theater production companies, the Reagle Music Theatre suffered from the impact of COVID. But like a musical plot line, a good Samaritan came to help Reagle – or two cohorts of the Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) Senior Residency Program.

Reagle had to stop producing live theater in 2020, and didn’t present its first full main stage production until 2022. Audiences evaporated, and long thereafter remained timid about reassembling en masse. There was also a second whammy for Reagle (RMT) when the founder and artistic director retired. Several other key people with institutional knowledge and insights followed his exit.

“Valuable assets, including information about audiences and vital PR materials, literally walked out the door, creating a ground-up renovation challenge,” said BCE affiliated faculty member Gary Overhultz. “From a long professional career in management and consulting, I was immediately excited by the opportunities RMT’s dilemma created. I was very confident that our classes could rise to the challenge, and more importantly, connect with RMT members to relaunch what could be considered an established start-up.”

BCE’s initial connection was forged by Hannah McEachern, administrative assistant for both BCE and Comedic Arts. McEachern introduced Reagle Artistic Director Rachel Bertone, a former dance instructor at Emerson, and Managing Director Emma Calabrese to Overhultz.

Alejandro Garcia Urencio
Alejandro Garcia Urencio ’23

Since Fall 2022, two year-long cohorts of BCE seniors have helped to lift up the Waltham, Massachusetts production company and outline a path for their ongoing success. For BCE students, Reagle became a real-world opportunity to test their mettle.

“One of RMT’s biggest issues was their lack of a customer relationship-management database. There were precious few insights to help guide our initial recommendations,” said Alejandro Garcia Urencio ’23. “With that in mind, I suggested we conduct focus groups to engage with RMT’s audience directly in hopes of acquiring important perspectives.”

The cohorts have since conducted numerous focus groups. The students attended performances and spoke with customers at length about how to improve their experience and add value. BCE students also surveyed people completely unaware of Reagle Music Theatre to understand how they could become potential new audience members.

Gary Overhultz initial visit to RMT after winning special cookies at a silent auction
BCE Adjunct Faculty Gary Overhultz’s initial visit to Reagle Music Theatre in August 2022 included winning cookies from a silent auction.

Beyond surveys and focus groups, a wide variety of projects kept students working. Those ranged from theater and performance photography, sound production, drafting press releases, suggesting website improvements, creating marketing materials, organizing decades of archives, data analysis, researching alternate theater venues, distributing posters, and assistance with donor management.

“We presented our current goals, initiatives, and shared some longer-term strategic concepts that Reagle has, and they came back with incredible ideas as well as suggestions and action plans for what we could do to help our theater be more accessible, more affordable, and more engaging,” said Bertone, who also taught at Emerson for three years starting in 2016. “They’ve really been helping us look at our audience demographics, asking them what they want to see, what’s working, and what’s not working. They analyze all the materials and then come back with plans to improve and enhance the theatrical experience with our audiences and community.”

Emily Hughes ’24 said this year’s cohort benefitted from being a small class of seven students.

“That allowed everyone to avoid being pigeonholed into one role and provided opportunities to offer input on any or every aspect of the business,” said Hughes. She helped create, distribute, and analyze this year’s RMT annual survey of audience members during holiday season shows.

“Through this survey, we were able to make observations about customer preferences for marketing, subscription models, and overall important aspects of a RMT’s performance,” Hughes said. “We were able to compare this year’s data with last year’s, and that was highly informative to better understand their customers.” 

Noting that RMT’s shows are staged at Waltham High School, Hughes felt school-age youth are an untapped market that can become new audience members. Getting new and younger audience members is something RMT is striving for, as its audience demographics overwhelmingly consisted of older white women.

Rachel Bertone sits on a couch
Reagle Music Theatre’s Artistic Director Rachel Bertone

Based on year-to-year surveys conducted by BCE students, the percentage of audiences composed of people older than 65 dropped from 55 percent to 37 percent. Through the surveys and focus groups, they were also able to determine the key factors for converting early audience attendees to long-term and loyal patrons. Shows are now often near or at full capacity.

Bertone was excited to work with the BCE students in creating more outreach opportunities for younger students, especially those in high school. BCE students were also excited to provide a more interactive and engaging experience for Reagle audiences before and after shows.

“Last summer they suggested and created an interactive experience in the lobby during our summer shows to engage with patrons,” said Bertone.

From data analysis, BCE students learned that audience members wanted more opportunities to access theater and had a thirst for newer works. BCE students also helped launch Uplift, a series that takes place at smaller venues in downtown Boston. Those performances are also able to address contemporary issues and attract substantially more diverse audiences.

That kind out-of-the-box thinking is exactly what Bertone wants to offer audiences and RMT supporters.

“These Emerson students have been amazing! I love hearing what this next generation of theater makers and thinkers have to say about the arts now and about how we’re going to serve them,” said Bertone.

The Reagle Music Theatre group will join Senior Residency cohorts from across the BCE program for a celebration of their work at the annual BCE Showcase on Thursday, April 25, 3-9 pm, at the Little Building.

(Visited 100 times, 1 visits today)