Watching Me Watching You Watching Me..erm

So I was checking my visitor stats for January. The report only shows the IP addresses of people who visited, but it does give me links to websites through which people clicked through to find me.

Turns out that people have been linking to me via the blogs maintained by a paid arts blogger, I reported on in an earlier post. The blog entries in question come from Worker Bees Blog and 42nd St. Moon.

In the former blog, she talks about the importance of monitoring your statistics and how she can now track my blog and my references to her. I imagine we will now do a humorous little turn at watching each other watch each other.

In the latter entry, she mentions how 42nd St Moon is becoming powerful at leveraging blogs. This is quite true because by visiting that entry, I then clicked through to the other related blogs, one of which is focussed on the benefit of technology to arts organizations.

Given that this whole series of events was predicated on my search for other arts blogs beyond artsjournal.com, I am starting to look at my whole effort at blogging as something of a success which is gaining momentum.

Since the December holiday season I have gotten email from people whose nieces have turned them on to my blog and from an administrator at the National Dance Project because someone brought my comments to their attention.

Makes me realize that there are a lot more people intentionally visiting the website than I realized. The web stats report tells you what keywords people used in search engines to find your website. My only comment is to look at the first word in my blog’s name. I will let you infer some of the bizarre search terms people are using from that.

Orchestras in the Age of Edutainment

I was visiting the Knight Foundation website and came across the aforementioned article, “Smart Concerts: Orchestras in the Age of Edutainment” by Alan Brown.

It offers some interesting reading about the tension between offering classical music in a manner that is appealing to new audiences while adhering to the expectations of long time audiences. (Of course the lessons learned are applicable to all the arts.) The former doesn’t attend often, but constitutes the future of your organization. The latter frequently attend, donate much needed monies in the face of declining foundation support and sit on your board. All of which can make it difficult to innovate.

Brown gives a number of examples of innovations that orchestras are using, including Concert Companion with which readers of Greg Sandow’s blog may be familiar.

He also recounts the resistance that some of these programs have faced, including booing at the Minnesota Orchestra.

A little more about that in a bit.

Brown makes some familiar observations about arts attendance. One thing he notes is that consumers want a more intense experience in a shorter time because they have less time. Thus the prevalence of extreme sports and standing ovations. People want to feel that they have had a good time in the time they had.

Another observation is that while technology makes so many more musical options available to people with the ability to download opera as easily as the latest pop single, it also allows people to continue to reinforce their own tastes by providing them with so much material, they never get tired of listening and experiment with other options.

One section I found particularly interesting:

In his book “Who Needs Classical Music?,” Julian Johnson argues that classical music, fundamentally, is discursive in nature and requires careful and complete listening in order to be fully appreciated. Instead, he says, most consumers ‘use’ (or misuse) classical music to alter or underscore their mood, or just to fill empty time.2 Mass culture’s appropriation of classical music may be good or bad, depending on your point of view, but there is a larger idea here. Much of music’s allure derives from the relative ease with which it can be selected and programmed by the listener. In focus groups, music lovers describe how they listen to one kind of music for vacuuming, another kind of music for cooking, another kind of music for exercising, and so forth. Consumers understand what it means to be your own curator, and derive great satisfaction from arranging art around them to the satisfaction of their own aesthetic – especially music and visual art.

I really appreciate Julian Johnson’s views. The last artistic director I worked for wouldn’t recommend musicians to people who wanted live background music at parties and receptions. His feeling was that a musician works too hard at his/her craft to be ignored and spoken over. And it reinforces the idea that their product is worthless and disposable. He felt that it was better to get a good CD player and sound system.

I also like the idea though that consumers know the value of being their own curator. I am not quite sure how to execute it, but I sense there would be great value to an arts organization in a program that validated this sentiment and empowered patrons in some manner.

The four tactics that Brown says are being employed by orchestras are: contextual programming, dramatization of music, visual enhancements and embedded interpretation. Of these, I would imagine that dramatization and visual enhancement might be considered most sacreligious by long time concert goers.

Dramatization is “theatrically produced in service of a larger concept or purpose using some combination of narration, drama, dance, scenery, lighting and video. But the music remains the main attraction.

Visual enhancement, which he describes as the most controversial, “…can be divided into two categories: visual enhancements that add an artistic element to the concert, and visual enhancements that (literally) magnify the performers. It is not unusual for orchestras to introduce visual elements such as banners, flags, projections and ambient lighting to the stage, sometimes in service of a theme or special occasion.”

Since these programs try to “sex” the music up by adding new elements rather than allowing the music to stand on its own merits, I can understand why people might be upset.

Contextual programming he defines as “contextual programming as the practice of selecting programs, series and even whole seasons around unifying ideas – topics, themes, genres, idioms, artists and other constructs – however focused or oblique. Contextual programs have more conceptual glue holding them together.”

One thing he points out is that unless you are a long time attendee or a musician, you might be hard pressed to understand why a particular mix of music from different composers was chosen for performance. (Lord knows, I have always wondered) Contextual programming offers some sort of narrative that explains this. As noted, it could also be oriented to a theme like The San Diego Symphony’s Light Bulb Series program, “Can Classical Music Be Funny?” (Lord knows I have wondered that as well.)

Embedded Interpretation encompasses elements which are part of the performance itself, such as the Minnesota Orchestra where the conductor provided some explanation about why the pieces were put together (many loved it, some booed) and the Philadelphia Orchestra where the musicians share insights about music during their summer programs. Of course, there is also the Concert Companion which provides commentary synchronized to the music broadcast to a handheld PDA.

The whole article is worth reading because I only touch on some of the examples given and I think many of them can inspire programs for other organizations.

Theatre Blogs

I talk a lot about the power of blogs for theatre, but other than the ones at artsjournal.com, I haven’t seen too many.

Well, thanks to the power of google, I found a handful. The first I found was an entry appropriately entitled “Where Are The Theatre Blogs?” People who made comments to the entry actually pointed out a few to look at which was lucky because I never saw them listed on Google.

One of the best examples of what I championed in earlier entries about artists blogging about the process they go through can be found on my London life. The blog is currently following Paul Miller, a London based director (and author) who is in the process of directing a play in Japan. He has been blogging since August and has been really regular in his writing about his process and artistic experiences. Clicking back to November, one finds he had flown out then to cast the show, flew back to the UK and then back to Japan in January to direct. Guy has to be exhausted!

One of the most surprising links I came across was a story on Elisa Camahort who is not only a professional blogger–paid to blog for a company–but she is being paid to blog for 3 theatre companies in the San Francisco Bay Area! I haven’t really read the different blogs in their entireity. The recent focus seems to be on news about the theatres’ current and upcoming seasons and theories about acting, marketing, etc. I will be reading a bit more as I have time. (One of the best things about writing a blog–you can follow your own links to do additional research!)

I also found a person with a blog connected to Shakespeare Magazine. The blog covers stories about Shakespeare productions and projects in the US and UK. It also lists stories about the Bard himself, including recent articles about the writer having syphilis (and stories refuting that theory)

There are some interesting discussions about art coming from Canadian sources as well on a website called The Flying Monkey. While the author admits that the discussion is dying down (though there is apparently more occuring on a message board), what was really interesting is the stated purpose of the blog–“An online discussion, from the point of view of the performing arts, about the audience: who they are, what they want and what we can give them. Excerpts from this discussion will be reprinted in Ruby Slippers Theatre’s annual publication, The Flying Monkey, at the discretion of Guest Editor Adrienne Wong.”
(06/09- The old blog is gone, replaced by a new one which does not have any of the old conversations.)

I thought it was really interesting that they would include the discussion in a print publication as well. As many people as there are reading blogs, etc online, it is good to remember that there are a lot of passionate supporters out there who aren’t online and they deserve to be included in the dialogue in some fashion from time to time.

Last theatre blog I wanted to direct folks to is not for live performance, but actually a movie theatre. Some intrepid folks apparently quit their high paying corporate jobs right around Christmas and moved to Springfield, MO to renovate and open a small movie house. They basically discuss every step of the project from applying to get a Small Business Administration loan to deciding how what type of soda to serve and the size seats to put in the theatre. (You want a lesson in economics, check out the Jan 8 entry –unfortunately they don’t have a way to link directly to the entry)

Art 21

I just came across a PBS program I was briefly introduced to when I was interviewing around for my current job. Art:21 Art in the 21st Century is a PBS program that, as you might imagine, looks at art in the 21st century.

I have actually not seen the program. Unfortunately, as Drew McManus learned in regard to the Keeping Score program featuring the San Francisco Symphony, the program doesn’t get much air time. It seems like another of those great gems that gets hidden under a rock.

The website however does have a lot of resources and allows you to see snippets of the programs. It offers lesson plans and other educational resources for teachers. It also presents student art projects that were created in conjuction with the program themes.

This is sort of a nice guide for teachers I think because it gives concrete examples of projects that have emerged from the lesson plans PBS provided. Even if the lesson plans were generated after the fact by the teachers who lead classes to create the projects, I know that teachers often like to have concrete examples to go along with their lesson plans. It is interesting to see the directions different schools went with different projects.

Although PBS doesn’t play the show that often, the website does offer the opportunity for people to have screenings and residencies and even provides materials to publicize the event. If an organization is interested, they can use these materials to support/complement projects of their own.