In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

I had a “where are they now” moment looking back at an entry from 2006 where I mentioned the MacArthur Foundation had given a $250,000 grant to Edward Castronova to develop Arden: The World of Shakespeare.

The idea was to create the environments out of Shakespeare’s plays and allow people to play in as realistic as possible an environment. At the time I commented,

“I wonder if playing the game might not provide good research for actors. Find out how a peasant might have really felt after spending hours of drudgery online. Want to discover real motivation for delivering Henry V’s St. Crispen’s Day speech? Get ye to the Battle of Agincourt. (Of course, you might be felled by dysentery on the way if the game keeps things realistic.)”

So I wondered what ever happened to the game because I hadn’t heard of its release. Turns out, it never got released. The ambitions and motivations didn’t align with player values.

For example, one of the lessons Castronova says he derived from the experience was,

Think About Your Audience
“We put Arden in front of Shakespeare experts and they loved it. We put it in front of play testers and they yawned. We’d get feedback like, ‘I talked to that Falstaff guy for a while and got a quest to go repair something. I logged out and never came back.’ Too much reading, not enough fighting. Arden II will be more of a hack-and-slash Dungeons and Dragons type of game.”

There are probably a ton of audience relations lessons here for arts organizations, but I also saw some common incorrect assumptions shared by amateurs and other inexperienced parties about what it takes to do things full time.

I often have people who rent our theatre complain that the amount of hours we estimate their event will take is inflated, protesting that theirs is a simple show. People don’t realize that even with all the technology available to us, it is not easy to maintain the illusion that things are proceeding seamlessly without a number of people running around backstage communicating with various parties and executing a dozen tasks a minute.

Among Castronova’s other tips are not to be overly ambitious and to have appropriate staffing for the job. The thing is, even experienced groups are just as apt to underestimate requirements.

Performing arts organizations are well aware of the time and resources they need to invest in projects having done them many times over the years, yet they will often create new programs and assign them to already overburdened departments with the assumption that it won’t require too much more effort to take it on.

And that is often true, unless, you know, you want it to look half way decent.

(Title of this entry comes from an epigram to W.B. Yeats’ book, Responsibilities.)

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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