What Are You Really Asking Me For?

One of the primary rules of surveying people is that you shouldn’t ask a question if you have no intention of acting upon the results. With that in mind, one of the questions on our audience survey asks patrons to make suggestions specifically on areas that are within our power to change.

The specificity of the question doesn’t seem to impede suggestions wholly outside the scope of our abilities to address. A recent suggestion in that space was to have an off-ramp added to the interstate near our building.

Another woman commented that she would have liked to have the opportunity to purchase materials from the performers. I am 98% sure this was written by the woman to whom I explained prior to the show that unlike most of our performers, the group had not brought materials to sell.

While my initial reaction is usually exasperation, I try to figure out what the audience member is really trying to tell me. In some cases, the artists people suggest reveal the fact that people don’t quite understand our mission or that we would have to charge $1000/seat to afford performers and their technical requirements in our small theatre.

The interstate off-ramp is understandable because the theatre is 300 yards from the interstate but the exit is a mile away. You would think an institution of higher education would warrant its own exit, but the campus wasn’t set up with one, alas. (What’s worse, because the interstate is lower than the campus, you can’t see the theatre from it. So while 80% of the population is stuck in traffic in front of the theatre every morning, few could tell you where it is.)

I can also understand the impulse of the woman who wanted some merchandise. She had just seen something she had never seen before, (Indian dance-Nrityagram Dance Ensemble- They are really quite above the level of other Indian dance performers), and felt the need to have something to help her continue processing the experience when she went home.

For all the notes in the program book and the research on the dance form that had gone into our informational lobby display, there was probably a great deal she did not know or understand about what she just saw. I had read all that information and more and many of my assumptions about traditional Indian dance were destroyed in a 20 minute conversation with one of the group members.

This woman didn’t have the benefit of any of that so I can understand that she may have felt a little lost at sea and asked for the only thing she could imagine we could provide that might help her out.

I didn’t get to speak with her as she left though. Maybe she was just an idiot and obstinately refused to accept the fact she couldn’t by a souvenir. Making assumptions like that doesn’t drive me to provide a better experience though.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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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