Shotgun Players

A customer journey map backed by user research with the goal of attracting and retaining subscribers to local theatre

Shotgun Players is a community theater based in Berkeley, California. Subscribers account for a large percentage of the theater’s annual earned income. For a number of years, the annual-subscriber attrition rate had been significantly higher than the national average of 26%.

To gain insights into this negative trend, I developed an audience survey and gathered focus groups to identify subscribers’ pain points and opportunities to improve our service design to better meet their needs.

Role: project lead, group facilitator, design mentor

Tools: SurveyMonkey, MailChimp, Dreamweaver


Solved the biggest user pain points

Clarified the benefits of being a subscriber

Created user personas and a customer journey map backed by user research

Achieved organizational alignment on top UX priorities

Deep dive


Patron survey

I created an 8-minute patron survey, targeting four user groups: subscribers who had already renewed for another year, subscribers who hadn’t yet renewed, lapsed subscribers, and single-ticket buyers who attended multiple shows in the same year. I designed the questions to measure brand sentiment and consumer behavior.

Some highlights we gleaned from the survey data were as follows:

  • In making the decision to see a play, price was not one of the top factors — not even among the top ten factors. Patrons were nearly twice as concerned with (1) finding a play that they would enjoy, (2) in a welcoming atmosphere, (3) with the knowledge that they were supporting community theatre.
  • Patrons valued the creative risks that Shotgun takes with its productions, but they were not very interested in contemporary stories. Only 29% of patrons expressed interest in plays that featured contemporary stories or reimagined classics.
  • Overall patron experience was being negatively impacted by the layout of the lobby. Box office customer service was highly rated, but patrons were frustrated with the tiny lobby, limited concessions options, and long lines.
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I organized a focus group of survey respondents to dig deeper into the trends uncovered in the survey. The nearly 50 attendees split into small groups, and two staff members facilitated each group discussion. I made larger sets of sticky notes featuring the same pain points for reference in the discussions, and I created a list of questions to help facilitators guide the discussions.

Affinity mapping and dot voting

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Through a survey and focus group, I gathered a large collection of quantitative and qualitative data about patrons’ experiences. To engage Shotgun staff in interpreting the data, I organized an affinity mapping exercise, compiling patron pain points on sticky notes. I then asked the staff to work together to organize the notes into categories that made sense to them. They grouped the pain points into three categories:

  • Play content
  • Getting to the theater
  • In the theater

I gave each staff member three sticky dots that they could use to vote on the pain points that they felt the greatest urgency around, and, as a team, we translated users’ biggest pain points into goals:

  • Play content: I want to avoid seeing plays that will be too upsetting for me.
  • Getting to the theater: I want to know more about the experience that I’m getting into before I commit.
  • In the theater: I want to feel physically comfortable while in the theater.


With the users’ top goals defined, I led a design studio with two marketing fellows to design user personas rich with primary source data and an interactive customer journey map that would allow staff members to continue generating new engagement strategies guided by empathy.

User personas

Shelly the Busy Student

User goals

  • Bodily comfort
  • Quick concessions experience
  • Feeling like she belongs in the crowd
  • See a show that’s popular with her peers

Marcie the Theatre Mom

User goals

  • Diversity (audience and actors)
  • Feeling comfortable bringing younger family members
  • Seeing shows on the weekends and still be able to get home early
  • Quick concessions experience

James the Alternative Theatergoer

User goals

  • Bodily comfort
  • Time management and ease in getting to and from a show
  • Having a wide variety food options prior to seeing a show
  • Not missing out on special events

Harold the Lover of Classics

User goals

  • Bodily comfort
  • Connecting the art with his own life experience and knowledge
  • Seeing a show with all of his accessibility needs met

Customer journey map

Photography by Erolina Kamburova and illustrations by Ann Liu, Shotgun Players’ 2019 M.A.D. marketing fellows


The user research and design studios I led allowed our team to come together to make immediate changes to lower our subscriber attrition rate and improve patron satisfaction. The following are the three most effective initiatives that came directly from insights gleaned from our design process.

Balancing content advisories with user freedom

Murals on on the corner of the Shotgun Players building

“Being sensitive to the amount of information each patron wants to receive in advance, we made this page separate so you can choose to read about the content, or not.”

Shotgun Players had recently made a shift to presenting more provocative plays. And content advisories were a controversial topic among artists and audience members alike. Sentiments ran the range from them being unnecessary spoilers to absolutely essential information. Phrasing also mattered a great deal. If the content advisories were placed too prominently, they would dominate press coverage. Too cursory, and patrons would complain about the graphic violence. So far, we had developed a reactionary strategy of crafting content advisories in response to artist and audience feedback in the weeks leading up to the show and in previews.

Through this design process, I discovered the extent to which our existing strategy for content advisories had eroded brand loyalty among subscribers. Users in both the survey and the focus group used the phrase “broken trust” to describe their recent experiences at shows with triggering content. I developed a communications strategy to re-instill trust in the brand — gathering a diverse group of artists to write advisories for every show prior to the season launch, creating a dedicated web page for the advisories on our website, placing links to that page at every touchpoint in the purchase path, and sending out an email to subscribers directly addressing the change in policy for our content advisories.

Creating subscription content with the “rule of three” in mind

Animation of Shotgun Players poster art showing the strategy of highlighting the shows with the widest name recognition

The survey included an option to rank shows based on the users’ level of interest. The results ran counter to our long-held assumption that our subscribers were attracted to shows by our artists. The data instead showed users only gave a high rating to our bigger-budget shows.

Following up on this discovery, we asked users in the focus group “how do you make decisions about the kind of theatre you want to see?” A majority of users said that they admired Shotgun Players’ tendency to take risks with unknown plays, but they also needed to see some plays they recognized. When asked how many plays they would need to recognize before subscribing, the majority said three.

I developed the “rule of three” as a framework for our subscription drive — focusing the content strategy on the three headline shows rather than the entire season of six shows.

Expanding the lobby for increased comfort and accessibility

The most frequently cited pain point in both the survey and the focus group was our cramped lobby space and cold theater. We had been receiving this feedback from patrons for a number of years. However, through the focus group we discovered that the discomfort went beyond mere grumbling and was leading to behaviors that were negatively impacting engagement and sales — patrons avoiding concessions and patrons arriving to shows late/leaving early.

With an abundance of qualitative data on the comfort and accessibility level of our lobby, we gained the collective clarity and momentum to raise more than $1.8 million to expand our lobby, upgrade our heating and air conditioning system, and purchase assistive listening devices.