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Report Series: Audience-Building Case Studies
Part 8 of 12

Getting Past "It’s Not for People Like Us"

Pacific Northwest Ballet Builds a Following with Teens and Young Adults

A Seattle-based ballet company garnered new interest in traditional and contemporary ballet among teens and adults under the age of 25.
March 2015
Two dancers silhouetted against a red backdrop on stage.
  • Author(s)
  • Bob Harlow and Tricia Heywood
  • Publisher(s)
  • Bob Harlow Research and Consulting, LLC
Page Count 78 pages


How we did this

This case study examines the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s efforts to attract teens and young adults. It is the product of multiple interviews with key staff and analysis of program elements, budgets, and planning documents.

To shift young people’s perceptions of ballet from stuffy to stimulating, Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) took a multi-pronged approach. This case study examines the company’s efforts.

The article is part of a set of case studies and reports looking at the efforts of arts organizations that received Wallace Excellence Awards to reach new audiences and deepen relationships with current ones. The pieces examine projects at 10 of the 54 organizations that received WEA grants between 2006 and 2014.

2018 update shows how PNB has turned this successful approach to draw more 20- to 40-year-olds to its performances. 

Revamping Promotions

In 2005, PNB set about building teen and young adult audiences. That meant reshaping their views, a long-term proposition.

With that in mind, PNB addressed the problem partially by overhauling its external communications, website, and social media activity. That included:

  • Revising promotional materials to appeal to younger audiences
  • Ramping up its social media presence
  • Revamping the website to make it easier to navigate and more visually exciting
  • Posting behind-the-scenes  videos that showed daily life inside studios and performance spaces. These gave viewers an idea of what they could expect at a performance.
New Programs

At the same time, PNC introduced programs that would appeal to their target audience, such as:

  • Teen-only previews. They gave teens an exclusive opportunity to socialize with peers, while getting the first look at new work.
  • Heavily discounted tickets. Through a partnership with a Seattle arts access organization, PNB offered inexpensive day-of-show tickets.

PNB’s Facebook fan base rose from 2,000 to more than 90,000 in less than five years. In addition, over a four-year period, PNB’s ticket sales to teens more than doubled. And the number of teen and young adult visitors who made two or more visits per season increased by more than 60 percent over five years.

Key Takeaways

  • Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) took a multi-pronged approach to shifting young people’s perceptions of  ballet.
  • The company overhauled its external communications, website, and social media activity.
  • Other efforts included offering teen-only previews and heavily discounted tickets.
  • Over a four-year period, PNB’s ticket sales to teens more than doubled.


Figure 9. Facebook lifetime total “likes”
From p. 50 of the report. | Figure 9. Facebook lifetime total “likes”

What We Don't Know

  • How did PNB revamp its program aimed at attracting more patrons ages 25 to 39?
  • Did the young people who came to the ballet through these efforts continue to attend as they grew older?
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