The Gamification of Portland Center Stage

by Alice Hodge

in Audience (R)Evolution

Post image for The Gamification of Portland Center Stage

(This post is a part of the Audience (R)Evolution grant program and blog salon.)


“Portland Center Stage (PCS) plans to elicit deeper engagement from our patrons by ‘gamifying’ participation in our community, education, and artistic programs. We will build an interactive reward system for participation in PCS activities and create an outreach to recruit new app users and audience.”

In short, we are creating a PCS gaming app. While the numbers vary slightly from study to study, there is no doubt that smartphone and mobile users are in the majority worldwide. Just look around – chances are high that the majority of people around you are on smartphones. And on smartphones all the time. In our theater, smartphones are practically de rigueur; looking at the audience before curtain on any given night, you’ll see a flood of smartphones – last minute emails, social media check-ins, selfies instagrammed, etc.

We thought what if they were all on their smartphones with us? What if we were able to engage with our smartphone patrons when they left our building, when they are waiting for the bus or checking their email first thing in the morning? What if we could connect our audiences with each other? What if we could build greater loyalty over the long term and still interact with audiences when our stages are dark? Better yet, what if we could bring in an even wider following, not limited by locations? PCS users in Denmark? Yes, please!

The model for this type of interactive “gamified” app for a theater simply does not exist. The closest model we could find in the arts was for symphonies. For theaters, however, there are no statistics, no best practices, no studies and no empirical data. We are in semi-uncharted territory which means two things: 1) we get to dream big and 2) we need help. That is where Perka and The Program come in to play.

We first teamed up with Perka, a well respected mobile loyalty company based here in Portland, a few months ago. Perka, in turn, brought in The Program, Portland-based “self-diagnosed digital addicts” with an impressive client list, including Nike and Twitter, to actually build the app. Both companies are excited to create a new model in an untapped industry and we’re excited to work with such expertise and experience locally. Our meetings have mostly dealt in broad strokes – What are your main goals? What do you want this outcome to look like? What kind of games do you envision? Possible rewards? The PCS team decided we needed to have a “gamestorming” mini-retreat to begin to answer those questions.

Our mini-retreat consisted of about ten PCS administrative staff, ranging from Marketing, Education, Artistic, and IT to Fig, the dog. Led by Kelsey Tyler, Education and Community Outreach Director and our App Fearless Leader, we were encouraged – and incentivized by a table of prizes – to think big and not censor ourselves.

Photo: PCS staff gamestorming.

Here is a sampling of what came out of our gamestorming mini-retreat:

Main Goals & Ideal Outcomes:
• Increase loyalty, ticket sales, and the return/renewal rate while bringing new people to PCS through the game.
• Increase participation in PCS engagement activities both inside and outside the armory, and increase traffic to all of our digital properties.
• Create a fun, accessible and approachable use of the game.
• Build a digital social space that engages our audience to connect with each other outside of the theater.

Game Ideas:
• Bingo
• Scavenger Hunt
• Produce a Play at PCS!
• PCS Buddies

One of the ideas generated by our Gamestorming Retreat. Artwork by PCS Graphic Designer, Mikey Mann.

Possible actives that earn points for rewards:
• Sharing something PCS-related on Social Media
• Attending a Q&A or Prologue
• Visiting the galleries
• Purchasing food or drinks at the Cafe

Possible rewards:
• Free tickets
• VIP Backstage Tour
• First rehearsal guest
• Opening night dinner

And that’s only a small sampling!* The full list was compiled and sent to Perka and we will now begin on our greatest challenge on the horizon: keeping it simple. It’s easy to dream big; imagination is our game, after all. But how do we keep it simple in a way that is effective for the end user and sustainable to maintain on our end? Thankfully, we have an amazing team assembled to help us achieve just that.


Caption: Fig, the Dog with Brandon Wooley, Producing Associate.

*Full Disclosure: Fig, the Dog, ended up in most categories one way or another – Fig! The Game!, PCS mascot, taskmaster, guru, as a general reward, etc.

alice_hodge_headshotAlice Hodge is the Marketing and Communications Associate at Portland Center Stage. Prior to PCS, she worked for Portland State University’s Office of Communications, Ecova – a leading energy consulting firm, and as an Office Manager Off-Broadway. Pacific Northwest born and bred, she is a proud graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in Theater Arts. She shares her home with her husband, dog, cat and four chickens.


Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.