The End Is Just The Beginning

Saturday was the end of our season for all intents and purposes. We have a couple inhouse events and scads of rentals, but the days of meeting people at the airport and seeing them safely to the hotel are over for awhile.

I planned on diving in to final grant reports and catching up on paperwork pushed aside when the office manager broke her hip. Amidst doing all that though I ended up in conversations planning for next year.

The last two days have been, despite my earlier intentions, a series of discussions about the next season. I have been in contact with the new development person stating my desire to form a unified plan for fundraising over the year to be reflected in speeches and publications.

I suggested that next month’s meeting of my booking consortium include proposals of performers for the next two years in preparation for the state foundation’s biennium grant proposal process.

I got into a long conversation with the assistant theatre manager enjoining her to think how we can improve customer service, volunteerism, our publications and website. We have made some good progress in customer service, but given people’s expectations, we have some areas of improvement.

I also discussed how I envisioned how the integration of information sources we have been slowly effecting in our database will hopefully serve to increase our attendance next season (and therefore, is what we needed to work on the next few months.)

As I have gone through the last two days, all the memories of all the small corrective actions I took over the past year came back to me. They were accompanied by recollections of all the mental notes I made to formulate policies to turn the small actions and comments into documented instructions for practices.

One thing I gotta solve and maybe some of the readers can help with some advice. One of the recurring events that I think I need to address is that people often call, hear we charge $2 handling fee on advance sales (vs the fees of many names Ticketmaster levies) and say they rather come the night of the performance.

Part of the problem is our performances don’t approach capacity in advance so there is no perceived downside for our audience. If they show up early enough for a general admission show, they can get tickets and good seats.

The fee itself is mainly to cover the credit card charge and to help pay for the clerk who seems to be sitting around doing less and less as time goes on. We can either raise the price across the board so everyone pays for the person covering the advance sales for the dwindling group of folks who want to talk to someone when they order tickets vs. buy them online or we can just cut the ticket office hours to the week before the performance which is when most people who are calling in advance or walking up are contacting us.

The question we need to answer is if it is returning ticket buyer who is purchasing in advance and will we alienate them if we cut our hours back to reflect the period when demand exists. We actually forward the phones to our office and staff them fairly consistently throughout the year until two weeks, and now perhaps one week, prior to a show when the increase in calls becomes too much of an interruption.

To add a complication, if we are only employing a ticket office clerk a week prior to a performance, it becomes more difficult to find someone willing to work so infrequently. I suspect we are simply caught in an awkward transition of technology period where there are just enough people who haven’t adopted a new technology to make discounting the old system unwise from a relationship standpoint, but so few it makes continuing unwise from a financial standpoint.

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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