Ladder Against the Wrong Wall?

So if you have read my recent entries (and lets face it, there haven’t been many) you will know that my theatre is currently working on a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses.

The director has been trying to assuage my concerns about the money we are spending to keep the water separate from the wood floor and the electrical lines by confidently telling me that if we can’t sell a show with a 30’x25′ pool of water, we can’t sell anything.

Problem is, I fear he is right.

We certainly have “a gimmick” that the musical Gypsy informs you that you must have. Two separate news stations have come out to film the show and the entertainment writer from the largest newspaper on the islands wrote a feature story. When one of the news anchors was editing the story, women were looking over his shoulder with interest because the clips featured very good looking bare chested men engaging in a spectacular water battle. The anchor of the most watched 6 o’clock news commented on air at the end of the segment that ticket sales would probably skyrocket after that clip.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. First performance we didn’t even fill half the house, the second performance we filled fewer seats and the third performance we slightly out sold the second. The next three performances have less than 40 seats sold between them. I expect sales will pick up as we approach the dates, but I don’t foresee any problem getting tickets.

It is difficult to blame the small audiences on lack of exposure. I did quite a bit of paid advertising along with the free coverage we got. My thoughts turn to three tough questions Ben Cameron (Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group) posed that the Artful Manager reprinted
“-What is the value of having my organization in my community?

-Harder: What is the value my group alone offers, or that my group offers better than anyone else? Duplicative or second-rate value will not stand in this economy.

-Hardest: How will my community be damaged if we close our doors and move away tomorrow? ”

I am in a position to do a lot of good in the community and a new window of opportunity opened just today. However, there seems to be a bit of mounting evidence that paying a lot of money to fly and house people from the Mainland and other countries is not providing value for the community.

By the same token, for the last three years, there hasn’t been anyone really concentrating on educating people about the value of the theatre in the community. I am not talking about convincing people they ought to love us because we are illuminating them in their ignorance. Rather, I mean giving us the same value in the community as the corner store, the firehouse and the Little League field. Become a place were people gather and look back at it as a cornerstone of their lives.

I am already seeing the possibilities as members of niche communities are coming forward offering their assistance to spread the word about upcoming performances.

Like everything else I write about in this blog that is a work in progress…we shall see.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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