Other Viewpoints

I was reading an article on Artsjournal.com that mentioned quite a few Broadway shows originated elsewhere (in fact Prymate is opening this week directly from Florida State University which is rather uncommon.) I was wondering if anyone had collated the names of the shows which originated away from Broadway before moving there. I didn’t find any (if anyone knows of an article, I would be grateful for the info) but I did come across a couple interesting sites.

The Door Swings Both Ways

I often talk about how the arts need to watch current business trends and assess how they can be applied to the arts world. I came across a Fast Company article from 1999 that spoke of a class at Duke that examined what the arts have to teach the business world.

“Leadership and the Arts” is taught by Bruce Payne. He brings his class to NYC from NC for four months. The class spends the time going to see theatre, dance, opera, orchestra concerts and art museums and discusses the lessons that can be derived from the experiences.

“In the new world of corporate America, everybody is worried about how to achieve excellence in smaller and flatter organizations,” says Payne. “That means finding styles of leadership that work well with smart, self-respecting professionals. Since everybody knows that hierarchy never worked well — and these days, it works less well than ever — what styles of leadership really make the most sense? The people who succeed in the arts these days are people who have solved that problem. They know how to coach, they know how to encourage, they know how to praise, they know how to love. And they know how to express a vision that excites rather than intimidates.”

The romantic view of leadership sees it as a kind of ectoplasmic magnetism, in which followers in variously sized groups — from teams to cults to companies to countries — are drawn mystically and irrevocably toward a central source of inspiration. A more practical view of leadership suggests that real leaders have identified and mastered a secret tool: emotional observation. If you can watch people — and, by watching them, figure out what makes them do what they do — you might be able to get them to do something else, something better. That leadership principle, Payne believes, makes the theater a perfect laboratory for anyone who wants to brush up on what makes people tick.

There were a couple parts of the story that made me wonder if I should open a consultancy business. There are topics it identifies as important that most arts people know far too much about.

“According to Payne, arts organizations, especially small repertory companies and dance troupes, serve as useful models for a world that reveres the startup. “The performing arts have always had to do more with less,” says Payne. “All arts are essentially entrepreneurial.”

Business books and seminars have picked clean any number of occupational metaphors to teach management and leadership skills — sports, the military, wilderness survival, religion. Yet, perhaps more than people in any of these other fields, people in the arts have learned to deal effectively with impossible deadlines, tight budgets, temperamental employees, and the perpetual challenge of selling a product with a short shelf life to a fickle, demanding consumer base.

For inspiration on creative ways to lead a company — or to chart a meaningful career — there’s no business like show business”

All Around the World

I also came across a website with the results of a world wide survey comparing the social norms of a number of countries on topics like Social Welfare, Sports, Religion, Politics to picayune details like whether a period or comma is used as a decimal point. Another website breaks the responses down by subject area.

It is all very interesting reading and the questions seemed to have been set up so that answers were reflecting the same criteria. For example, being late for a meeting was measured in increments of when you mutter excuses, when you apologize profusely, and when the lateness was intolerable. Many cultures it was 5 min, 10 min and 30 minutes, respectively. In some cases though it was 30 minutes and 1 hour, respectively.

I did wonder about the validity of the survey or at least about the age of those answering the questions when it came to the arts section because everyone almost uniformly answered “You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It’s likely you don’t see that many plays, either,” or a near equivalent. It made me wonder if the reputed esteem that Europeans bestow upon the arts was a myth they liked to reinforce so they could feel superior to the U.S. or if it is just likely that the type of people who spend enough time on the web to answer lengthy cultural surveys aren’t inclined to go see shows.

Nonetheless, it is all very intriguing.

More Power of Blogging Thoughts

Last month I did an entry on Bloggers as the New Arts Critics. This past weekend, Terry Teachout touched upon the same subject in an interview on Studio 360. (The whole interview is very interesting, but for the portion pertinent to this entry, click the forward button on your media player twice to the third segment and move the progress button to about 5:15)

During the interview, Mr. Teachout mentions that he writes so prolifically for his blog in addition to providing reviews and commentary for print journals and authoring books (a fact noted in a recent Washington Post article) because contributing to a new medium and interacting with his readers is so exciting and engaging. He goes on to talk about how he sees serious arts coverage naturally migrating to the web as less time is devoted to coverage in papers and television. He is confident that good bloggers will gain credibility and influence. He says of blogs, “They empower the amateur. Anybody can write one. And whether you have any credentials or not, if it is any good, believe me, it will get noticed.”

He was then asked if more amateurs blogging necessarily meant there would be more talented people in the world rather than just a lot of people churning out a lot of mediocre stuff. Teachout mentioned he now interacts with many very talented people who he had never heard of prior to coming across their blogs. These people don’t have access to the traditional media channels through which to make their reputation but are doing so on the web.

The interviewer also brought up the point that the ease of self-publishing on the web circumvents the reflection and review process that one goes through before submitting work for print publication and removes the outside point of view of an editor. Teachout responds by pointing out that it is also easy (and widely lauded by the online community) to go back and insert an update or retraction in an entry saying you were wrong in your initial assessment.

He did feel that the way Amazon has set up their review process was not conducive to the rendering of honest, quality reviews. He does mention that he can find some really excellent writing among the other reviews, mostly from people who are amateur experts with a passion for the subject matter.

I find this whole conversation on the future of blogging very exciting and intriguing. I had a brief email discussion on this matter with Adaptistration writer, Drew McManus. He pointed out that another article I linked to about publishers sending free books to top Amazon reviewers didn’t address the issue of payola for a favorable reviews. I had mentioned this as a possible dark side of blogging reviewers in my blogger as new reviewer entry. As I said then, how do you guard against it? If you are getting paid nothing and working hard to produce quality work, it is easy to favor those who provide you with even modest considerations.

The obvious answer is for today’s noted bloggers to come up with a policy of behavior that will establish a precedent while blogging with the intent to influence is still young. The problem is that there is no recognized source of authority (and isn’t lack of a dictating force part of blogging’s allure?) for people to organize around. Drew McManus’ opinion is that it will be another decade before companies find a way to make the process profitable for the writers. What happens in the interim? He points to the fact people choose news channels most closely aligned with their own views as a harbinger of the end to an effort of objective reporting.

While the idea that one may soon be able to go through life without having their world view challenged is rather frightening, the silver lining would be more writers would find employment satisfying the demand for niche writing. (I can even imagine someone becoming fabulously wealthy providing material that reinforced opposing views.)

As Terry Teachout said–interesting times and technology to be contributing to and taking part in. Of course there is a reason why the sentiment “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse by the Chinese.

Ballet of the Speedway

Last night the Roanoke Ballet Theatre presented NASCAR Ballet. Their website explains it best:
“NASCAR Ballet centers around 20 ballet and modern dancers (who represent cars) who circle a forty foot horseshoe track that banks around the corner complete with break away railings.”

When I read the story last week in the Toronto Star, my first thoughts were akin to the Penelope McPhee accusations I quoted earlier this week– I felt it was an example of dumbing down the arts. I may have agreed with Ms. McPhee that this was an attitude that needs to be discarded, but I also admitted I recoil at anything that smacks of dumbing down as well.

Of course, I caught and scolded myself for not giving it due consideration before I denounced the idea. Since I haven’t seen the show, I don’t know if it was a good idea. Reading a bit about the development process and the way they intended to execute the concept, I must say I was a bit intrigued.

Good concept and execution or not, it does present a good test of the shift in attitude Ms. McPhee espoused. NASCAR probably represents the antithesis of the arts, at least stereotypically. The reality of NASCAR demographics probably conforms to a “sophisticate’s” perception as well as a “plain folk’s” concept applies to arts attendees.

The company has done some other non-traditional pieces in the past so the regular audience won’t be totally taken aback by the show. I imagine, though, that a traditionalist might be scandalized by “gauche” elements of production which include: three huge monitors. One presents a sportscaster calling the race and interviewing drivers. The second shows the “pit” where dancers/cars bedecked in sponsors’ logos are serviced. The third presents commercials by the show’s sponsors.

When I really got to thinking about it, I couldn’t see why a contemporary subject like death defying racing was any less proper a subject than courage in the face of enchantment is in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

The company seems to have acknowledged the reality of their situation and embraced the outlook suggested by McPhee and the creative communities monograph I recently cited.

“We are hoping through this production to expand the traditional dance audience to include others who may never have experienced dance. The race is represented in a fun, wholesome environment and respect for the sport is at it’s heart.

“In order to keep the arts alive, it is up to us to produce higher quality, exciting, never-before seen extravaganzas. We have to entice the audience in, we can no longer just expect their participation. By opening up our thematic interests, we open ourselves to a whole new segment of potential dance lovers…We need to keep experimenting, keep inventing. We have to be willing to take risks. We can’t be scared into thinking small.” says Jenefer Davies Mansfield, Executive/Artistic Director of Roanoke Ballet Theatre. “These elements are integral in keeping the arts alive in a fiscally conservative environment.””

I wish them good luck with this and future events and will be interested to see if what they are doing becomes more prevalent.

Arts Education

My cable modem’s insistence on not working seemed to imply I should take advantage of the turn in the weather to warmth and sun. Thus I do not have a long, involved entry today.

Instead, I bring you some resources for education in various fields. There are a great many organizations with good education outreach programs. The ones I list here have lesson plans and classroom resources or have scads of links to websites that do.

General Links

Arts Education Partnership has the most comprehensive selection of links to sites with education resources for all disciplines I have seen.

ArtsEdge, Part of the The Kennedy Center’s education website has a very extensive selection of lesson plans for every discipline.

AllLearn (Alliance for Life Long Learning) has online courses run by Yale, Oxford and Stanford. While you do have to pay for their courses, the link I list here takes one to a page with links to a number of academic subjects, including Dramatic Literature, Classical Music, Dance and Visual Arts.

The Utah Shakespearean Festival has some excellent articles on themes from all of Shakespeare’s plays, plus all the non-Bard shows they have done. Many of the articles are from their Insights publication which they make available to patrons.

Opera America offers links to study guides by opera compnaies across the US as well as guidance on additional programs.

I didn’t find any resources with lesson plans, but Playmusic.org had links to the children’s pages of orchestras across the country (San Francisco, Dallas and Baltimore were my favorites!). These pages have a lot of activity suggestions for kids to do on their own or for their teachers to do in school. These were some of the best interactive education pages I saw in my search. (Translation: I spent a lot of time playing)

Visual Arts
The Getty and The Smithsonian both provide good lesson plan resources for the visual arts.

The New York City Ballet’s study guide for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker was the only resource I could find at this point.

I am sure there are more study guide resources out there. If people want to make me aware of them, I will assemble this list on to a resource page.