My First Solicited Book Review

I recently received a request from the authors of Performing Arts Management: A Handbook of Professional Practices to review the book. (Actually, it was from one of their student assistants.) While I have read and summarized books on this blog before, they have been books I have been interested in reading rather than ones I was solicited to read. The only consideration received for this review was a free copy of the book. When I was asked if I would like to read the book, I told them I was interested in learning more, but made no promises I would write a review, much less say anything nice about it.

My Approach
I am not going to even attempt to approximate the format or voice of some of the more prestigious book reviews. Mainly my approach is going to be as a person who used theatre management texts both as a student and as a professor, seasoned with my experience working in the industry.

Overall, Great
By and large I thought the book was really excellent as a resource. Nearly every time I made a note that they hadn’t covered a topic, I later came across a chapter segment where they handled that subject in great detail. The authors, Tobie Stein and Jessica Bathurst, conducted a massive number of interviews over a number of years which yield a great deal of practical advice.

Weaknesses First
Most of this entry is going to praise the book so I thought I would get the few criticisms out of the way first. Though they were extremely thorough and detailed in most areas, one of the subjects that I would have liked to see covered was volunteer recruitment and the care and handling thereof. This includes board recruitment. Given the importance of these two groups and their comprehensive coverage of so many other areas, I was really surprised there was very little about recruitment, cultivation and retention of volunteers.

New York City Is The Center
The other thing is that the book is VERY New York City and theatre oriented. This is probably no surprise given the authors live and work in New York and Brooklyn. Many of the people and prominent organizations they need to interview are located there. There are mentions of arts organizations outside of New York like the Kennedy Center, Guthrie Theatre and New England summer stock theatres, but everything seemed to come back to New York. Discussion of Las Vegas focussed on how Broadway shows were abridged for Vegas audiences. There are interviews with people from other disciplines certainly, but so much seemed to orient on theatre.

The section on touring seemed to assume that the reader would be presenting a touring play or musical. In some regard, these are the best disciplines to cover because all the unions potentially involved gives something of a “worst case scenario” of the issues that might need to be addressed in a tour. The options of music and dance are mentioned and some of the agents interviewed mention the dance companies they represent. But the focus was so heavily on plays and musicals, I am afraid students using the book might think that is the only sort of touring that goes on.

I was also concerned that people who intended to work in other parts of the country and present differ types of performance may feel the book didn’t contain anything of value for them. I think this is especially true these days when arts organizations have to be more nimble with the type of shows they present and produce. At the very least, it would have been nice to have a contract for a dance tour or musical group included in the examples at the end of the touring chapter.

No, Performing Arts Management Isn’t Boring
The final thing I thought was a weakness for the book was employing the “professional input quote” technique in the first chapter. For most of the book, these quotes are extremely valuable and add great insight. I will even mention a couple instances later. In the first chapter, it drags it down. Here is an example on the second page of the chapter. In the first full paragraph starting with “Commercial producers organize…” The authors took three different interviews with people in different times and places and made it sound like they were participating in the same discussion.

As I read, I could see this book from the student’s point of view. If these were the sort of discussions arts managers had, the job was deadly boring. What was quoted weren’t interesting anecdotes, but rather dry definitions of commercial theatre that were probably better just stated outright rather than quoted. These definitions were made more difficult to comprehend by the inclusion of lengthy background information on the person being quoted. Do I really need to know that Sean Patrick Flahaven is Managing Director of the Melting Pot Theatre, a small off-Broadway non-profit producing theatre to absorb the fact that “The goals of the commercial venture are to first payback its investors, then make a profit and then make something with artistic integrity.” That is his only contribution on that page and he doesn’t appear again until three pages later.

As I have have mentioned, the practice of quoting people is very valuable throughout the rest of the book. There are times later in the book when quotes are also used to provide dry definitions, but they appear amid varied information and citations. But at the time, I was just dreading the whole book was going to be like the first chapter and wondered what I had gotten myself into when I agreed to read the book.

Where It Was Strong
Okay, having gotten that out of the way. I was really impressed by a lot in the book. It was much better than the text I had learned from *mumble* years ago. The comments from different arts professionals interspersed throughout the chapters made good on the promise of the book’s title to discuss the practice of arts managers.

Producer Richard Frankel’s story about how Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman turned the process around and “auditioned” producers for the production of The Producers was great. The way he described the lengths he went to make his proposal stand out was reminiscent of the things actors will do to get themselves remembered at auditions.

Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Peter Gee discussion of the way they decided to furlough employees in the wake of the financial downturn following September 11 was very relevant to the current times.

Well Supported and Designed
Every chapter has examples appropriate to the subject matter. Many right from the people cited in the chapter. I was impressed with the amount of material included in some of the chapters. Charts, graphs, spreadsheets, etc from multiple organizations were included in many chapters so that the student has examples from groups of different sizes and budgets to compare.

The thing I appreciated in terms of classroom activities was that there were discussion questions and occasionally activities/exercises after every section of a chapter. I know as a student that I would skip over the questions at the end of a chapter unless otherwise assigned. The placement of these questions are good on many levels: They are harder for the student to avoid. If a student doesn’t quite understand what they should derive from a section, the questions immediately emphasize what concepts were important in the preceding text. The questions are valuable to a professor for the same reason–if students don’t seem to grasp a concept, the questions are readily available to facilitate learning and reduce pressure to think of discussion topics to lead students to comprehension.

Clear Investment of Time
What impressed me most was the time spent on some of the subject areas. In text books I have encountered before, mission statements received a few paragraphs. In this book, there was an entire chapter on crafting mission statements and how they fed into visions statements and formulation of organizational strategy.

The legal considerations surrounding the decision to found a for or not-for-profit also received an entire chapter. Included was information on filing for non-profit status, including the forms needed and the time line for gaining state and federal approval of your application. While I said I was disappointed that board recruitment wasn’t covered, I thought the book did a very thorough job discussing bylaws and board structure and responsibilities.

I also really appreciated the treatment the book gave Educational Programs. They talked about structure and how to set them up. Included were tips on creating professional development opportunities for teachers and teaching artists. There were some nice examples of program evaluation forms at the end of the chapter.

Since many of my duties include facility management, I was happy to see a chapter on that topic. The examples of forms and policies at the end of the chapter were as long as the chapter itself. There was a chapter devoted entirely to labor relations familiarizing the reader with pretty much every organization representing artists and labor that one could conceivably ever deal with.

I was also impressed by the amount of time the authors devoted to discussing how a agent puts a tour together in the touring chapter. I have never seen the process covered in a text book before, much less in such detail. (I have also engaged the artists represented by one of the agents so I was glad to see him getting so much space.)

I think the strongest statement on the reality of the arts was that the longest chapter in the book was on how to develop a funding base followed in length by the chapter on ticket selling strategies. Again, there were a lot of good examples at the end of the chapters and the authors really encouraged people to take a realistic view of their organization and place in the community when it came to positioning themselves as a cause worth supporting and patronizing.

Good As General Resource, But What About The Students?
Most of the textbook could serve as a general resource for anyone becoming involved with presenting and/or producing performances. And of course, since that is the goal of many students who will use the book, it succeeds in that respect. But for as long as I have been involved in the performing arts, there were a few sections that provided entirely new information to me (e.g.- detailed discussion of non-profit incorporation process). So I will be holding on to this copy.

The one chapter that is particularly valuable to students though was on internships. One of the biggest challenges for students is getting a meaningful experience out of their internship. Not only does the book come right out and say this, but like the rest of the text, student anecdotes about their interning experiences fill the chapter. There is a detailed discussion of how to seek and land internships as well as what to expect.

Should It Be Included?
This chapter also delves into organizational dynamics a little bit too. This is an area I was a little on the fence about in respect to whether more should have been included. Some arts management texts I have seen do include a discussion of this topic. Is it crucial to learn if you are getting into performing arts management, especially given the length of the book already? That is hard to say. While we are all generally subconsciously aware of organizational dynamics operating around us, I personally found it helpful to have the different ways decisions are made in an organization pointed out to me when I was in school. Given the informal structure of many arts organizations, there are often systems in place by which things get accomplished which have no relation at all to job titles.

So anyway, there is its. Performing Arts Management: A Handbook of Professional Practices by Tobie S. Stein and Jessica Bathurst. It seems a valuable resource thanks to an incredible amount of research and interviewing. (The footnotes for each chapter will knock your socks off.) I plan to keep my copy for quite awhile.

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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