Looking For Shows In All The Close Places

Last Friday I went to First Friday downtown. My main motivation was that my assistant theatre manager and his wife were performing at an outdoor stage. The theme was Asian performance so there were performances of gamelan, kulintang music, Balinese, Cambodian and Thai dance and a couple of fusion pieces.

While I came to support a friend, I was soon evaluating performances for suitability in upcoming seasons. We have been told to expect that we are all but guaranteed to lose $20,000 from a regular source so I need to identify generally inexpensive quality performances. Ultimately, I didn’t think any I saw that night were quite right and a couple, pretty awful. Before I made this determination I started to ponder how I might structure future seasons.

I started to wonder if it might be possible to follow Numa Saisselin’s example and announce a shorter season in my brochure next Fall with the intent of adding two or three performances as the opportunity presents itself. There are always a few shows that do well and a few shows that attract a third of what the best shows do. My expenses are generally the same for all of them so if I can reduce my costs a little, I will be doing better. What contributes either directly or indirectly to my costs is distance people have to travel so I can realize some significant savings if I can control those expenses. Since people are making their attendance decisions extremely close to the performance dates, I don’t think I would lose anything by having some events absent from the season brochure.

I often have a general idea of which shows will have a lower appeal but pay the price knowing that the work is worth seeing and if I don’t bring them, then no one else will. The smaller audience appreciates the opportunity no less than the larger one. Unfortunately, that idealism may have to be indulged slightly less often in favor of discerning whether there are local/regional performers who have the quality but haven’t had the opportunity to be seen.

Outside of my uncertainty about such groups existing, one concern I have is that if I don’t set my schedule early, I will have to really control what dates I rent out. We have a fairly strong facility rental program and can have most of the year rented out almost immediately after releasing the dates we don’t intend to use.

I would most certainly make more money renting instead of presenting on those same dates but I don’t want to reduce our offerings even in these financially tenuous times. I believe we would lose momentum with our community. While precious few seem to have any loyalty to us, I suspect their numbers are greater than we imagine. There is also the issue of slipping out of the collective consciousness if there are fewer mentions of us in the media.

So for the next few months I am going to be doing a lot of pondering, talking and consulting with people on our direction. There is no option before me that I want to fully commit to –fully a rental house, fully produce local performers–but the fiscal realities before me are likely to mean exploring these options to some degree.

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/)

I am currently the 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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