Fridays Under 40 at the Met

10 Years of Transformation

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met opera

Lately, I’ve heard some exciting conversations happening across our industry about how we can welcome new audiences into our world. It got me thinking: what better way to dig into those conversations than by spotlighting a group that’s been doing this kind of audience development for ten years?

The Met Opera’s Fridays Under 40 program, architected by the Met team including Gilly Brierley and our own Meghan Goria in 2014, marks its tenth anniversary this year, showcasing a decade of transformative engagement and innovation within the opera community.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brierley and Goria, to reflect on its inception, impact, and the lessons learned along the way. Through strategic marketing, largely propelled by the genuine enthusiasm of its participants and staff, and the serendipitous timing of leadership evolution at the Met, the program has not only flourished but also served as a catalyst for further innovation.

Damian Bazadona: When this idea was initially conceived, what was the original goal of the program? What were you hoping for?

Gilly Brierley: When I first started, I could feel that the Met team was full of enthusiasm to make an impact. We began by focusing on the customer experience and revamping our physical space.

Following that, when we proposed introducing vibrant, younger crowds, special guest stars like drag queens and Met artists, we saw an instant and refreshing change in the atmosphere.

Meghan Goria: Honestly, the biggest challenge at first was managing the overwhelming staff enthusiasm; everyone wanted to be at the parties and contribute ideas for who should host the next one!

Our goal from the beginning was to make it a cool place to be. We wanted to create an environment as lively and fun as a night out at a bar.

Damian Bazadona: Was the initiative more about driving revenue, building a new audience, or enhancing the overall experience?

Gilly Brierley: Initially, it wasn’t about revenue. We focused on making the place appealing.  Quickly, our efforts became a topic of conversation, even among those who hadn’t visited yet.

Damian Bazadona: That’s when you know you have a successful idea—when everyone wants to be part of it.

Gilly Brierley: I completely agree. And our Education Department was crucial in generating creative ideas, which led to enjoyable and innovative events. Our focus has always been on creating a welcoming community.

Damian Bazadona: How has introducing a younger demographic changed the overall experience?

Gilly Brierley: It’s been well-received. Our approach to creating a sense of belonging has proven effective, especially during events like our reopening, which attracted a diverse and engaged audience.

Meghan Goria: The initiative evolved from simply filling seats to becoming a must-attend event and lowering the average age of our attendees.

Damian Bazadona: So the data shows significant engagement from new audiences. How do we scale this success?

Gilly Brierley: The main challenge is the building’s capacity. We aim to host a minimum of ten events per season to maintain momentum. 

We’ve also seen success with other community-building efforts, like with Live in HD, our series of live movie theater transmissions, which has fostered its own vibrant community.

Damian Bazadona: So it’s about creating affinity groups that organically grow and support the initiative.

Gilly Brierley: Absolutely. We’ve also made tickets available on non-event nights to maintain engagement. The focus on student programs has significantly increased attendance, with flexible price ranges making the opera more accessible.

Meghan Goria: Pricing strategies were initially improvised, with discounts aimed at making events affordable while covering some costs. The question now is whether we can increase prices without alienating our audience.

Gilly Brierley: Creating special experiences for various groups, like the under-40s, challenges us to keep the offerings diverse and engaging. It’s about finding the right balance to make the opera appealing to everyone.

Damian Bazadona: The program’s success reflects a broader trend of people seeking community and experiences with peers. It’s fascinating to see how altering the audience composition can transform the atmosphere, making the experience more inclusive and reflective of the community. 

Introducing students to Broadway shows, for instance, changes the show’s dynamic for everyone, making it more lively and reflective of the wider community. It’s about making art accessible and enjoyable for all.

Gilly Brierley: I’m interested in expanding our involvement with student-focused programs, we’re opening more dress rehearsals to students. 

Damian Bazadona: Definitely, student engagement is crucial, and there’s a growing demand for more programs aimed at them.

Gilly Brierley: We have a dress rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet coming up with 3000 students attending. It’s an unprecedented scale for us and promises to change the dynamic significantly, making it a fun experience.

Damian Bazadona: With the Fridays Under 40 program in place, do you see this initiative expanding further?

Gilly Brierley: It’s essential to expand and focus on these programs, especially as we approach the Fridays Under 40 program’s 10th anniversary. We need to innovate and inject new life into it.

Damian Bazadona: It underscores how change within an organization can create opportunities for new initiatives.

Meghan Goria: Exactly, implementing something new isn’t just for novelty; it addresses specific audience segments and solves problems in innovative ways. 

Working on creative projects is incredibly motivating for administrative staff, reducing burnout and enhancing job satisfaction. It’s crucial for both audience engagement and staff well-being. 

It’s been a rewarding journey, and I’m excited for what’s next.

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