Ode To The Stage Technician

There is a saying among those who work in the technical side of live theatre and events that if someone notices what is going on, you are doing your job wrong.  The idea is that for the most part, the technical elements of an experience should enhance and complement rather than call attention to themselves.

But that is a double-edged sword because if people aren’t aware of all the pieces that have to come together, they think their goals are easy to accomplish.

No matter where I have worked, often one of the most frustrating parts of working with an inexperienced renter is having a conversation about their needs. Their perception is that a task can be accomplished by 1-2 people when it is closer to 6-8 due to all the locations and tasks to which stagehands need to attend at the same time. (Though truth be told, there are some experienced, returning renters with whom you might revisit the same conversation on an annual basis.)

Likewise, people don’t often think through their entire process. If something is dropped, flung, placed, etc., during a performance that wasn’t used during rehearsal, it is staying there unless someone is assigned in advance to pick it up.

What brought all this to mind is seeing a story about a week ago billing the performance by Mike Mills of the band R.E.M. at a university graduation as a surprise. While term was meant to the convey that it was a surprise to the audience, it could also be read as being a spur of the moment decision.

But the fact that there was a cable for him to plug in his guitar and another cable available to amplify the violin of the guy accompanying him wasn’t something that just happened to be there by chance. In all likelihood, he probably didn’t make the decision to perform that morning and asked that cables be run when he arrived. A number of people probably knew this was happening at least a week or so in advance.

One of the characteristics that makes for an excellent stage/movie/television technician is the ability to foresee the implications of a decision when it is discussed in advance of an event or pantomimed during a rehearsal. They are able to take action or make recommendations to solve the problems they anticipate.  But they can’t anticipate what isn’t communicated.

A lot of times they work miracles just in time anyway.

So just a little ode of appreciation today to all those technicians that make it all look so easy. Because they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

 

Measuring Our Measures

Seth Godin recently made a post on one of my favorite topics — valuing metrics that don’t really matter.

Just because they’re easy to measure doesn’t mean they matter.

[…]

If you’re working with people who say they care about measurement, it might not pay to persuade them to stop measuring.

It might make more sense to give them useful numbers to measure instead.

Personally, I think he is a tad optimistic in thinking people will stop using easily measured data if presented with data that provides a more relevant measure, especially if it is more difficult to assemble.

Though I will admit to being gratified that I am reading posts and running into people who are questioning whether economic impact is relevant when attempting to assess the value of the arts.

As we move toward the next normal, assumptions and customary approaches are being challenged so the concept of relevant metrics is something to be continually considered.

If you are a little newer to my blog, here is an entry on the topic with links to other posts on the topic.

We Work Anti-Social Hours? Never Thought Of It That Way

Artsjournal had recently included a link to a Guardian article reporting that people working in performing arts are twice as likely as the general population to experience depression.  This finding was a result of a review of over 100 studies by Dr. Lucie Clements.

Since the article was in The Guardian, I was curious to where the mix of studies were conducted. Whether it was the US, UK, Europe, Asia, etc. In the process, I discovered at Clements has a psychology practice directly working with dancers.  While I didn’t find a link to the study on her site, there was an interesting piece where she wonders why it is normal for psychologists to work with athletes but not dancers.

The reasons for the higher instances of depression noted in The Guardian article probably won’t come as a surprise to those of us in the performing arts.  However, having just written on Monday about the scarcity mindset and how it might apply to the arts provided some additional context. Especially in respect to the following about scarcity of time:

Antisocial working hours and late-night performances may lead to disruption to sleep or inconsistent sleep routines – a known risk factor for mental health problems.

“The inconsistency of touring and pressures of time travelling, erratic working schedules (including evenings and weekend performance) and chunks of time working away mean a lack of time for loved ones, family or social life,” says the review. “Musicians, for example, spoke of going months without seeing their children. This is important since support from loved ones is known to be one of the most significant protective factors for mental health.”

I hadn’t really thought about the fact that many of us work anti-social hours in order to provide others with the opportunity to socialize and spend time with each other. While it is true, I never thought of it as a zero sum situation where others’ gain is my loss.

Anxiety related to depictions of death and rape in performance were cited along with pressures performers face to maintain a specific weight and body type.

And of course the lack of stability resulting from Covid also factors in.

Other papers found that 24% of ballet dancers reported experiencing anxiety, along with 32% of opera singers, 52% of acting students, 60% of actors and 90% of rock musicians. Among the general population, 6% of individuals are thought to experience anxiety in any given week.

Cheaper By The Dozen, But I Only Have One Set of Eyes And Ears To Experience It

Seth Godin made a post about leveraging the power of word of mouth by incentivizing sharing with friends.

Krispy Kreme grew to become a doughnut behemoth in the US. The formula was simple: Scarce supply, high short-term taste satisfaction, and a dozen priced almost the same as just four.

As a result, most people bought a dozen. But few could eat a dozen, and you can’t really save them, so you realized that sharing a warm doughnut was the way to go.

Carmine’s restaurant in New York was the hot ticket for decades. One reason was that the only way to get a reservation was to come with five other people. So you needed to talk about it.

He goes on to talk about how a book he worked on about climate change, The Carbon Almanac, has priced pre-orders to make it cost effective to share copies with others.

The general concept is a springboard for ideas for arts organizations, which much like Krispy Kreme, offers a product with an ephemeral lifespan. Offering tickets/entry fees and memberships at prices which incentivize sharing the experience with friends–and intentionally promoting it within that framework provides exposure to a broader range of people.

While providing free admission to an event can also serve to expose your work to a broader range of people. One – surveys show that people who attend free admission events are ones who would have attended anyway. Even if they bring a friend, the friend may not be incentivized to return and pay for admission in the future.

Second – charging some form of admission creates an associated value with the experience. If tickets are $15 but five person pass costs $50, two people may technically be getting in for free, but the group is more likely to think of the tickets being $10 each.  The pass created a situation where two people who might not have attended now have.  If they have a good time, any of the five may not balk at paying $15 in the future when the pass or four friends aren’t available. (Or they may work to invite some new friends along.)

The venue I am at does something along these lines with movie passes which are good in any combination – an individual to 10 movies, five friends to two movies, two friends to five movies. Tickets are $5 regularly and with the larger passes I think you end up only paying $3/ticket. We end up selling quite a few of the passes and have a lot of them redeemed at each screening. It has been relatively easy to administer and worthwhile overall.

Reading Godin’s post has me thinking about how we might structure pricing and experiences for other events to encourage people to share then with friends.