Many people probably heard about a Minnesota venue cancelling Dave Chappelle’s show hours before it was suppose to occur. Something similar happened a few weeks ago at a venue on the other side of my state where a comedy show with different comedians was cancelled the day before it was supposed to occur.
This has gotten me to thinking that art and cultural organizations need to be doing a better job developing and implementing policies and procedures. Putting aside the question about whether these shows should be cancelled, the decision to cancel shouldn’t be made so close to the performance date. Regardless of the content of the performers’ show, cancelling anything so close to performance time is irresponsible, unprofessional and bad for community relations. (I know how complicated it is move venues and re-seat people having done it during Covid. The fact the Minneapolis show was immediately moved to another venue suggests the decision and arrangements were made earlier, but only announced the day of.)
The organization on the other side of my state flubbed things even more by issuing a statement that said the show was cancelled due to the content and then issuing another statement saying it was because the proper paperwork and deposits were not received. This sort of mixed messaging is an indication that there is not a good crisis management plan in place. I am not suggesting the social and political views of a performer constitutes a crisis, but if you have a plan to have one voice addressing your roof falling in during a performance or an entire cast testing positive for Covid after a week of shows, you have a process for communicating tough decisions.
I suspect the venue in Minneapolis was already generally aware of the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle and the clamor of protest got to a point where it outweighed the benefits of hosting the show. For most other programming, whether it is a solicitation to book a performance or for an outside party to rent the space, it is important to be very clear about the content and requirements of the proposed event. This is a good policy for reasons almost entirely unrelated to opinions about political and social issues.
Ninety-nine percent of the issues that have occurred in venues I have been involved with have been related to technical requirements. Often renters are too vague about their plans and technical needs or show up and add a ton of things they never mentioned before, resulting in a higher bill because we have to scramble to find equipment and staffing at the last minute. Most of our rental contracting has been held up because the technical director doesn’t have the information he needs to accurately estimate the event. There are definitely people who neglect to submit deposits and paperwork on time, but we address that well in advance of the show.
Similarly, our biggest concern with shows we book is lack of technical details on one hand or assurances that the show will fit in our space despite misgivings. Agents and production offices 500 miles away are motivated to contract a show and leave it to the people on the ground to work around problems far too often.
We have declined to present productions or rent our venue due to technical concerns far more often than for content. Content needs to be reviewed and considered alongside technical requirements in a holistic process. Things shouldn’t reach the contracting stage if there are issues, much less be a matter of discussion a day or two before. I suspect our colleagues on the other side of the state saw the opportunity to generate some rental revenue and didn’t really pay attention to who it was until the protests started a few days before the performance.
As for the policies and procedures you put into place, that is a matter for discussion with involvement from internal and external constituencies and some legal review. Those policies are going to differ for each organization and community.