Sometimes I Feel Like A Fatherless Color

I don’t know how it found its way to my backstage, but I came across a booklet from Apollo Design that really show the company has a sense of their customer’s needs and seek to add value to their products. They have what they term Playbooks which provide a scene by scene break down with gel and pattern suggestions of some of the most popular plays high schools and community theatres perform.

They admit that the options they offer are among the safest choices a lighting designer can make. They also can’t offer guidance about placement of instruments and intensity of light since they can’t know the needs of every theatre. But for the high school teacher who has volunteered to direct the fall play and knows nothing about choosing gel colors, the booklets can remove quite a bit of anxiety. Even if you aren’t directing any of the plays they cover, you can get a sense of how the design theory you might read in a text book has been put into practice in specific instances.

You can download pdf versions of specific Playbook sections here. As an example of the general guidance they offer, for The Glass Menagerie, the notes state:

“Smoky, red glow” – mentioned in the Amanda and Tom argument scene. The colors should not be malevolent or suggest violence. It should be a subtle indication of frustration and tension”

Another example is in scene 3 the booklet provides guidance for different colors on the fire escape, living room, bedrooms and dance hall.

Although their skills far outstrip those of the people who would use these booklets, my technical crew thought the booklets were a great idea and have been thumbing through them for the last week.

We did get a little chuckle though from their political correct renaming of Bastard Amber, one of the most often used gel colors around. It was created by mistake when a guy was trying to create a batch of regular amber. Bastard Amber ended up being generally a better color choice and more widely used than regular Amber. The two leading gel manufacturers, Rosco and Lee both have the color in their swatch books.

Apollo on the other hand calls the color Fatherless Amber. Given that they have a Dominant and Submissive Lavender, we can’t imagine they are complete prudes.

If you want to have a bit of fun, ask your tech director if you can see their gel swatch books. You can find some amusing names for colors in there. Given that Rosco and Lee have created proprietary colors that the other hasn’t been able to reproduce, you can have fun looking through both. Like some famous painters who have created their own paint shades, lighting designers have asked that unique colors be created for them and so you will find some colors named after notable theatrical folks. Be warned that there are also a lot of mundane boring colors in there as well though you will probably wonder at the contradiction of shades like No Color Blue.

All The Kids Know It Is More Fun To Sit In the Back

There is a great illustration (in my mind as least) for why arts people need to value learning and be cognizant of what is happening elsewhere in a story out of Orlando. It seems the Orlando Opera Company and Orlando Ballet have decided to try to bump their subscribers out of the balcony and into the more expensive floor seats in an attempt to make that area look fuller and increase revenue.

The subscribers are none to happy and are resisting. Just like the subscribers at the Honolulu Symphony did when the balcony seating prices were both raised and that section closed until the floor section was filled. Just like the subscribers at the Boston Symphony Orchestra did when that organization increased balcony seating prices by 80% in one year. Both Honolulu and Boston backpedaled and admitted the increases were ill advised. I suspect the opera and ballet in Orlando may end up doing the same.

Fortunately, the Orlando Philharmonic hadn’t received the advice the opera and ballet did about changing the pricing structure or this entry would make it seem like orchestras were the only ones making this poor decision. Or at the very least, weren’t doing a good job presenting this new policy to their audiences. I am not sure there is a good way of making such a large change in one year’s time palatable without investing a whole lot of time and money in the campaign.

The Orlando Sentinel article mentions that the opera and ballet had received the results of a study. I wonder who did the study and how they came to the conclusion that subscribers would tolerate this in acceptable numbers. I could believe a study that found people would tolerate a price increase of X amount over what they are paying now. Likewise, I could foresee people grumbling but generally acceding to moving their seats to the floor for the same price if they were told it was a cost saving measure. (Don’t have to pay the ushers for the balconies, perhaps.) It would be a sneaky way to get people out of the seats and raise the prices the following season when you reopen the balcony due to demand. People would probably be rather angered at such a move when it emerged a couple years hence.

I would be rather incredulous at a study that found it would be productive to both displace subscribers and place them in a situation where they were paying more than the previous year. (If anyone knows of a case of the decision succeeding, I would love to know!) I would ask to see the research that back that up and if it didn’t include a fair sampling of my ticket purchasing base, I would be rather skeptical. In other words, I am wondering if they even talked to anyone in those seats. (Or researched how similar decisions played out.) I don’t expect any of them would have answered yes to a question that flat out asked if they would be willing to give up their seats so some extensive communication of the rationale would need to transpire. Which would be a pretty good opportunity to gauge the most effective way to communicate the rationale.

There are obviously too many factors of which I am unaware to make a real judgment about why the decision was made. I feel secure though in stating that their case doesn’t appear to have been communicated well.

Art, The Government Prescription Program

There is a piece on the online journal, Spiked from Frank Furedi decrying the English government’s prescriptive use of music in their sponsorship of the Music Manifesto. My first thoughts were that this is what comes from positioning the arts as having all these benefits when asking for money. This is further evidence that the authors of Gifts of the Muse in saying the arts were ill served emphasizing these elements over the intrinsic value of the arts. I also thought that it should come as no surprise that governments would be employing music to advance an agenda. This has been happening for centuries from the Medicis to the current day where popular music is used to sell everything from cars to presidential candidates.

Perhaps I have been exposed too much to commercially motivated music, but I had a difficult time envisioning music as a vehicle for seeking and serving Truth. Perhaps it is the lack of this connection to Truth or my inability to see it that can be attributed to what he cites as “impersonal force of the market impinged on the development of art and culture.”

My initial cynicism about his complaints aside, there were a number of observations he made that I hadn’t really considered. For instance, he notes that by valuing who will be attracted by the experience over the art itself, “what really matters is the audience rather than the music that the audience listens to. The question of who sits in the audience, rather then what they hear, shapes official thinking on music today.”

I have seen this myself. Every final grant report I fill out regardless of whether it is privately or publicly funded asks me how many K-12 students were served. Many ask about the racial make up of the audience and if my program was designed to serve specific races or K-12 students. Some ask how the programs reinforce family values and self-sufficiency. I am occasionally tempted to ask how a particular government policy is actually reinforcing these things. The arts shouldn’t necessarily be looked to in order to patch what has been rent.

I do think that arts organizations should be paying attention to who is attending. I am happy not to have to break down my audience into all sorts of demographics for my grant reports. One should always be assessing who is attending and how they are receiving it. Though the identity and number of people attending shouldn’t form the sole measure of success.

One of the toughest parts of Furedi’s complaint to tackle is the idea of accessibility equating to dumbing down. He criticizes music classes.

“Instead of providing an opportunity for pupils to study and learn about music, ‘music-making opportunities’ are often about involving kids in playing around with digital media and pretending to be djs…But frequently the ‘music-making’ approach is praised because it allegedly removes the ‘barriers’ that prevent children from ‘making music’.”

and suggests that the real elitists are,

“the educational and cultural establishment who have so little faith in the ability of children to appreciate and learn about classical music. Their anti-elitism is a populist gesture designed to flatter ordinary folk and reassure them that not much is expected of them.”

The question that emerges in my mind is how to structure an introduction to theatre, music, dance and art to people whose experience with these disciplines has come from movies, television, MTV and Photoshop? Are the activities you intend as a bridge between these experiences and the creative/performing arts underestimating your audience or does it provide necessary context? A contributing factor to activities that do indeed dumb an experience down is the receipents may not view the relevance in the same manner you do. So the bridging activities become the whole program rather than just the initial steps of a larger plan.

For example, does all the art and literature about the transitory nature of life have the same poignancy for people who can create and destroy a visual representation with a touch of a button? How do you cultivate an appreciation for an artist’s technique in mixing colors or composing music when there is software that will correct those flaws? How do you instill a desire for preservation in someone whose criteria for doing so is based on the amount of room left on a memory card rather than what ever quality of composition is apparent on the tiny digital camera or cell phone screen?

I don’t doubt that you can cultivate appreciation and understanding of art in people amid all of these influences. But if they don’t feel it to the same degree or manner as you and your contemporaries do, you may never move beyond a certain point and allow them to develop a more sophisticated understanding. On the other hand, if you don’t take into account that people experience the world differently than when you were their age and proceed to present the discipline in the same manner it was presented to you, you risk alienating people with your insensitivity and general cluelessness.

What is the balance then between presenting an accessible context that is intellectually challenging? It is easy to say that is your goal and just as easy to be diverted from the plan by what seems to be a general atmosphere of anti-intellectualism.

Hey You, Why Aren’t You At The Concert!?

I came across a link last week to a study the League of American Orchestras did. The freshness of the referring page and the fact that my monitor resolution didn’t require me to enlarge the pages too much initially hid the fact that the story came out in January 2004. Thinking it had been published in 2008, I was wondering why Drew McManus and the other bloggers at Inside the Arts hadn’t picked up on it already. For awhile there, I was excited that I might actually be scooping them on their segment of the arts.

Even given the time that has actually transpired since the publication date, the article, Stalking the Culturally Aware Non-Attender, is quite pertinent. One of the toughest groups to survey is the non-attender so the results of any survey of these people are highly valued. And they should be given that it is difficult to find people who don’t attend who are willing to respond. It isn’t as simple a matter as going out during a performance and asking why people aren’t at the show. (Though that does seem like a good place to start now doesn’t it?)

While the results of the survey the story covers are in relation to orchestras, the lessons learned can be applied universally. The median age of these smart, aware people tends to be lower than those actually attending which makes them valuable for that reason alone. They believe they would enjoy attending a concert, but never get around to doing so. Some of the reasons are advertising design which is intimidating to those not in the know (though theatre advertising gets higher points.) Though to be fair, some of the most accessible methods of communication suffered from perception. Said one person who didn’t know orchestra’s had websites, “I mean, they’re playing 18th-century music. I guess I never thought they’d need
a web site.”

In addition to being uneasy about how to dress and act, the Non Attenders are also concerned about not understanding the performance. It isn’t just a matter of not having the experience and vocabulary to comprehend what appears to be a dense, complex work, but also not being as enraptured by the work as everyone else seems to be.

I think this is an important distinction especially in relation to music. In most people’s general experience, not understanding music is not an impediment to enjoyment. Getting lyrics wrong is practically a rite of passage. Listening to music in a foreign language is quite commonplace and the unfamiliarity of the tongue not terribly distressing. Perhaps it is the attendance format combined with lack of reference points, but it appears people tend to feel more at sea attending a symphony. I cite the format as a contributing factor because even if a contemporary foreign language music performance is in a concert hall, there is often an opportunity to groove along with the music and establish a connection that is pretty much not an option in the presence of an orchestra. Or at least the glares will be quick in coming if are feelin’ it enough to roll your shoulders and wiggle a little in your seat.

The article notes that one of the most important groups to an orchestra are the people who initiate the excursion. Though the percentages may be different, this is true for all the arts disciplines. There are always a few who get the ball rolling and organize the outing for rest of their group, even if it is only one other. Making this task easy for that person can go a long way toward filling the seats.

A sidebar that appeared within the article directed me to a website the League has set up to make people more comfortable with the attendance experience. This is something I have been a proponent of so I was glad to see it. Meet the Music helps you find a League orchestra near you. It also offers advice about approaching your first attendance experience. Among the things I appreciated about the site was that while they instructed you not to clap between movements, they also tell you to ignore the people who shush you if you do and acknowledge it is only recently that the practice of not clapping at that point has emerged. I also liked their advice about how to listen to the activity while the musicians warmed up.

The biggest fault I would find with the website is that it’s existence isn’t widely promoted. It has been around 4 years and this is the first I have heard of it. I took a look around at the websites of the members in 15 states and few people include a link to it or anything like it in their education or ticket purchasing sections of the site. In some cases, it is the less prominent orchestras in a state which do a better job linking to the site or have a similar FAQ that is easy to find. The NY Phil and San Francisco Symphony though both have FAQs that were either modeled after or the models for the guide on the League site. (I am having a real hard time finding something on the Philly site though.)