Do You Need To Feel Transcendent Or Sleep Better Right Now?

Ruth Hartt got a bit of a kick from the post I made last week where I termed her use of stock video footage and other clips to create an video marketing piece as a “Franken-Ad.” She tagged me and others about another set of Franken-ads she made more along the lines of print or social media pieces.

She uses these ads to address the pretty much cliched use of terms like “joyful,” “nostalgic,” “rhapsodic,” “timeless,” “refined,” and “sumptuous” to suggest that people will have a transcendent experience.  She associates this with Maslow’s hierarchy of need and raises the point that during current times especially, most people are focused on solving challenges related to health and safety rather than self-actualization.

Recent studies reveal that the benefits of a peak experience don’t end at self transcendence. Science tells us that awe increases pro-social behavior and has an integral part to play in health and happiness. In fact, people who report experiencing awe regularly have remarkably stronger immune systems and better mental health. Why aren’t arts organizations touting these benefits?

“Come for the classical music; stay for the lowered levels of inflammatory cytokines!” We chuckle at this imaginary tagline, but I’m confident that there are swaths of consumers who would be intrigued by this value proposition.

Frequent readers will know that I am not a proponent of arguing the instrumental value of the arts or positioning it as a prescription for ills,  especially since so much of the research on the benefits of the arts have had questionable results. So I am not entirely on board with all the claims her mocked up ads make. However, since it is true that any pro-social behavior contributes to health and happiness, an arts experience is just as valid an option as many others.

Tolerance for uncertainty and inspiring creative risk-taking may not roll off the tongue as easily as sumptuous and transcendent, but after years exposure to those latter terms, any alternative will catch the eye and intrigue people.

I am not really suggesting listing all the terms she uses in her ads, but I do like Hartt’s choice of an image of a woman who looks like she might be poised at the edge of anticipation or anxiety juxtaposed with “Warning this concert may cause: Lowered Stress, …Improved Mood, …Decreased Pain…Increased Alertness.” There is a sense that things could go either way.

I don’t know that I would use those exact terms, but an ad that communicated these general concepts instead of suggesting transcendence presents the experience as more relatable to the viewer.  If you are a new attendee still processing your experience, you might think you did something went wrong if you aren’t experiencing the promised ecstasy.

I also appreciated that one of her ads targeted businesses. While again I would be worried about companies seeing arts experiences as another tool to be used alongside nap lounges and ping pong tables to get the best work product from employees, the general idea that the presence of these experiences makes the community more attractive and liveable for employees is as beneficial as having sincerely motivated employees.

What’s Been Learned So Far About Offering Virtual Theatre

American Theatre released results of a survey about virtual theatre offerings during Covid this week. Respondents represent 64 organizations from 25 states.

As you might already imagine, the bad news is that virtual programming was not financially viable for nearly all organizations.

Many experienced a promising initial swell of audience interest in the early months of 2020, but also a disappointing and steady subsequent decline in interest over the past year or so. Companies that sold tickets at pre-pandemic prices almost uniformly experienced a significant dip both in number of tickets sold and box-office revenue compared to the outcomes of similar in-person plays produced during previous seasons; some companies experienced only moderate drops, while for others, the change was drastic.


Theatres that conducted their own surveys to gauge audience feedback on virtual offerings found that while the quality of the work was typically quite appreciated, audiences consistently expressed a strong preference for live, in-person theatre and saw the virtual version as a better-than-nothing alternative to no theatre at all.

Some theatres found their production costs were less than live performances, mostly due to having smaller casts, production and support crews. Others found it was actually more expensive to create virtual content.

There were some upsides reported, including expanded and increased access:

Many noted that virtual offerings served as an important way to engage their core audience base and maintain donor interest during a time when this would not be possible without the internet, producing ripple effects that cannot always easily be quantified: Most theatre companies reported increased donor support in the early months of the pandemic, and it’s possible though hard to measure whether a sustained virtual presence may have bolstered donor interest. Other companies who may not have seen an overall increase in ticket sales nonetheless reported a promising increase in viewership from younger virtual audiences.

…more than a third of respondents praised virtual theatre for increasing accessibility for those not able to attend in person, whether due to disability, health issues, transportation barriers, or living in rural areas far from the nearest theatre company. As Liz Lisle (she/her), managing director of Shotgun Players in San Francisco, put it, “For us, it is not an economic question—it is an accessibility and engagement question.” Measuring by revenue is “the wrong frame. Virtual theatre brings greater engagement.”

There is a great deal more detailed observation discussed in the article that can offer insight to organizations of multiple disciplines. One thing that seemed to be clear to most respondents is that providing virtual content isn’t simply a matter of putting cameras and sound equipment near a performance executed in a generally conventional way. The quality often compares unfavorably with professional video & film production.

Many respondents seemed to feel the best course was to provide content which supplemented or complemented a live performance. The value added element seemed more suited to achieving goals and fulfilling expectations.

Though that approach leaves people who have difficultly accessing physical spaces without the option of experience the full production. There is certainly an opportunity for those with the resources and expertise to meet an unmet need of providing virtual performances to this segment of the population nationally and perhaps internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are already pursuing further experimentation with the virtual theatre form.

The American Theatre piece bears the title “The Jury Is In on Virtual Theatre,” but I think it is a little too early in the process of exploring virtual theatre offerings to make that claim.

Does This Franken-Ad Have More Emotional Resonance With Audiences Than The Highly Produced One You Are Using?

Last month, Trevor O’Donnell directed his readers to a post by Ruth Hartt discussing how to market the arts in a way that focuses on solving the “problems” people have rather than focusing on selling a performance.

” Because no matter the industry, customers don’t want products, or services, or concert tickets. Their purchases are caused by deeper motivations: they want solutions to their problems. Take, for example, the young businessman who wants to impress his sophisticated date, so he “hires” the orchestra concert to help him. Or the busy working mom who wants to get her elderly mother something other than the usual flowers for her birthday, so she “hires” the orchestra concert as an experience they can share together.”

Hartt cobbles together an ad out of “some stock footage, added some clips from a popular Mommy YouTuber, layered in a few royalty-free tracks” to create an appeal to stay-at-home mothers. Because it is assembled from disparate sources, things don’t mesh exactly right. As she notes, the refreshed woman on a beach at the end should be in a theater in order to make sense.

Her goal was to create a work with an emotional pull in response to the problem of: (her emphasis)

“Help me escape from the grime and chaos of mom life with an evening of dressing up and feeling fancy so that I can feel rejuvenated and be a better mom and wife.”

Check out her ad below, read more of her thoughts, and see symphony ad she is contrasting this to-

When It Comes To Work, What Is The Cost-Benefit Between Lethargy And A Sense Of Belonging

Dan Pink pointed to a study (warning, ad heavy page) that suggests while office interruptions may be disruptive to one’s workflow, it ultimately creates a sense of worth and belonging for people. This is something to be considered both in terms of the conversation about shifting to working remotely and digital vs. in-person arts experiences. There seems to be an indication that as social creatures, the negatives of in-person work and play interactions may be outweighed by the positive.

The study which appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology was conducted at the University of Cincinnati:

Study authors surveyed a group of 111 employees twice per day for three full weeks. Each time, employees answered questions about their experiences at the office that day. More specifically, participants recorded if they had endured any interruptions, how mentally tired they felt, their sense of belonging, and their overall job satisfaction.

Those polls led the research team to conclude that while work interruptions in a vacuum can certainly lead to feeling more lethargic and dissatisfied, the social interactions that usually accompany those intrusions produce feelings of belonging and increased job satisfaction.

“Our study revealed that by providing this avenue for social interaction with one’s colleagues, work interruptions led to a greater sense of belonging. This sense of belonging, in turn, led to higher job satisfaction,” Dr. Puranik adds.

I am not necessarily advocating for returning to the office-centric work environment of yore. I felt like this was a relatively honest discussion of the dynamics of in-person office work. It would be interesting to see a similar study conducted with a larger sample size in a year or so when remote work has a chance to exist as a norm that (hopefully) is not necessitated by the existence of a pandemic. (It didn’t escape my notice that the researchers apparently interrupted people at work twice a day to ask them how they felt being interrupted at work.)

What I fear is that people will become acclimated to a lack of social contact and not value it as much as they do now. The lethargy and dissatisfaction people may experience when interrupted shouldn’t be discounted because a sense of belonging and job satisfaction are somehow more important or valuable. People may find the working from home uninterrupted raises their energy level and satisfaction and that is a good trade off for feeling disconnected.

It also bears considering that a work environment can be created where it isn’t a zero-sum between feeling a sense of belonging and lethargy. Those options haven’t really been explored.

But ultimately people feeling that a lack of social contact is an acceptable trade off is a bad situation for museums and live performing arts events. Digital offerings can prove a good substitute and keep people engaged when they are in a situation where they can’t be present in person, but it flattens the experience. It provides too much latitude to avoid and look away from even the least inconvenient, unchallenging situations.

I have discussed how I am definitely an introvert and have no problem being alone. There are times I don’t really want to go forth from my house, but am grateful I did after having an experience.

On Sunday, after locking up the building at 9:30 pm after our visual and performing arts event, I stood outside for 90 minutes talking to a kid that had been energized by the experience. I had already worked 8 days straight and done two 12+ hour days and had to be back at work the next morning, but I realized interacting with this 22 year old was going to be valuable for both of us. Even as I was talking to him, I was thinking that had we had this conversation in a Zoom meeting, it would have been so easy to open up other websites and watch videos/read other things or just sign off from the conversation rather than devote attention to each other for 1.5 hours.

While I would certainly be comfortable in a world absent of demands for me to be personally present, I can recognize that isn’t wholly constructive in the long run.

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