Babes In Arms

Came across an article today reporting the Rhode Island legislature is considering a bill requiring that breast feeding infants be admitted to theatres for free. The impetus for the bill was a mother who told her representative that “she was required to pay an additional $75 to take her child to a show.”

I found the link to the story when I came across a debate of the story on Broadsheet. The debate is interesting to read simply because the commenters aren’t necessarily those who visit arts sites and thus offer insight into the minds of potential patrons.

And it turns out that…most of the responses are pretty much what you would find on an arts related site. Generally the responses fall into a handful of categories. Some feel that if you are going to an event costing $75, you should know that audience members will insist on having no potential disturbances at all. There is also the view that exposing babies to loud noises, foul language and adult subject matter is inappropriate.

Some feel that mothers need to escape from home from time to time and should be trusted to handle interruptions are they arise. In opposition to this view were people who said they had never considered even tempting fate and did not ever attempt to bring their children to shows. And there were a couple people who pointed out that parents increasingly seem to show bad/lack of judgement about reining in their children’s behavior.

A couple people suggested that theatres build little baby rooms like churches have. The first thing that came to mind was that I didn’t know too many venues with the flexibility to knock out seats in a place appropriate for new mothers (not up a lot of stairs). They would have to be non-prime seats with fair sightlines where the room wouldn’t obstruct other seats (and was soundproofed like nobody’s business). The second thing that occurred to me was that if you have to watch a show through a window frame with the audio piped in, you might as well be watching television for all the experience of live performance you are getting. Of course, that is a matter of an individual’s perception.

A related thought that came to mind- I was wondering if there were any venues out there that charged people for bringing “babes in arms” for any reason other than to provide an incentive to leave the child home. Other than that and insuring the child that was supposed to occupy a lap doesn’t end up in a seat you sold to someone else, I can’t think of any other reason. I imagine that there might be other reasons so I am curious to hear some.

Finally, for those who hate cell phones going off during performances, Marc-Andre Hamelin has created the “Irritation Waltz” which you can hear here courtesy of NPR. (I believe it requires RealPlayer to play.)

Mea Culpa

I do a lot of talking about what arts organizations should do and what policies they should adopt. People probably correctly assume the truth of the matter but I want to make it clear that if you were to walk into my theatre after reading my entries, you won’t see half of what I suggest being implemented.

Some of my ideas aren’t appropriate in this situation and others we lack the resources to effect. A few are gradually being developed. This year I managed to grow the volunteer corps large enough that I didn’t have to worry if enough would show up for the performances. Our first volunteer thank you event is this weekend. Next year I start my plan to arm them with info about the performances and instill the confidence to employ the material to answer patron questions.

I am not trying to fool myself or anyone else that I am completely walking the walk that I talk. I was clearly reminded of that this past Friday. As I noted earlier, the weekend before last essentially ended the presenting phase of our season. We spent last week changing the website and box office voicemail to reflect our current state. In the process, I had forgotten to mention the student production in the lab theatre on the ticket line voicemail.

A gentleman called my office to complain that if we had performances in the lab, we should have information about it and not have a message saying the season is over. While I know better, there was something about his tone that put me on the defensive and before I knew it, I was saying “But that show isn’t part of the season.”

While this is technically true, I obviously should have listed the performance and would have had I remembered to. The guy on the other end gave a grunt and was silent. I thought he hung up and as I started to hang up myself, I said damn if he isn’t right and I am a stubborn idiot.

Fortunately this was an inner dialogue because I suddenly heard a voice from the receiver. I raised it to my ear and beg his pardon and the gentleman says he will see us the next night and then actually does hang up.

I know it sounds like a 12 step program to say it is okay to make mistakes and try to do better one day at time, but you know it is true. Better to recognize it, develop a thicker skin and give the right answer the next time.

To give credit where credit is due, I thought that the inspiration for this mea culpa entry came from within as I drove home Friday night. I believe, rather, that it was planted subconsciously in my mind. As I made my daily visit to read The Artful Manager, I noticed last week’s entry on The Power of Flaws staring right at me. I didn’t remember reading it, but apparently something sunk in.

I guess I try to do a little practicing of some of the smart thing other people preach, too.

B.i.t.S Shaping/Warping Young Minds

It has recently come to my attention that there is a college course called Audience Connections at Drury University in which my blog is required weekly reading.

After considering the grave danger inherent in my ramblings being used to shape the nascent minds of artists, I was rather pleased and honored.

Ron Spigelman who teaches the class and is also the music director of the Springfield (MO) Symphony, has graciously granted me permission to post some of his thoughts from correspondence we had following his comments on my blog entry.

The purpose and goals of the Audience Connections Class are:

The Audience Connection:
Music, the organic art form that can give a life purpose and fulfillment for the performer and the listener. Right now, little more than about 1 in 10 people in America listens to Classical music, and even less attend live Classical Music performances. This class is an attempt to address this problem directly.

1. For students to begin to be able to reach out to audiences of all ages with music in a way that makes the art form accessible, fulfilling, visceral, and most importantly, relevant.

2. To understand and implement advocacy and activism through performance and explanation, to audiences who are on the whole without musical training.

3. To learn skills by which to encourage individuals or groups to attend a fine arts performance who have rarely or never done so.

So how does my blog come in? As you might imagine, it is because blogs like mine deal with current events and influences. (They also apparently read Adaptistration and Greg Sandow’s blogs, but I am sure mine is their favorite since it deals with something more than just classical music. And I am sure this little shout out to them won’t hurt either.)

I heartily approve of his integration of blogs and news from into class discussions. Of course, it is easy to admire his technique because it is exactly what I would be doing if I were teaching right now.

The way he is conducting class sounds really productive, if only to get students thinking issues inherent to their art and trying to apply it in a manner that will facilitate a relationship with the audience.

We range from arts funding, politics, the argument over the intrinsic versus the instrumental and thanks to the internet our examples are global and most importantly …are happening now!

The students each perform to the class and are coached on connecting. They have to justify their favorite works of art whether they be Pop songs or Paintings and do it from an audience perspective focusing on the personal rather than the analytical.

After Spring break one of them is actually going to cold call some elementary schools and play to the students and interact before he does his jury performance. I am of the firm belief that if all music students did this…then they would appreciate and learn the art of true communication instead of playing 4 years of juries to professors…

The next big challenge for his students is to practice what they have learned in the real world. It is one thing to discuss these subjects among people with whom you have a shared vocabulary and set of values and another to do it with anxious patrons who may loudly declare that classical music sucks because they resent mom for dragging them along.

Ron didn’t mention it, but I would imagine with all my references to Drew McManus’ docent program, (I mean, I mention it so much do I even have to provide a link anymore?), he may decide to have students gain some real life experience and fill a similar role at some Springfield Symphony or the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra performances.

To Affinity and Beyond!

My thanks to Brendan Glynn Marketing and Communication Director of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for his comments on my affinity entry from last week.

I had emailed a list of questions to the communications coordinator at the center last week. I don’t know if he passed them on to Brendan or if Brendan just happened upon the entry since he says he is jumping in to the conversation. In any case, he answered all my questions an more. His outline of the plans for the new position in affinity marketing are very interesting.

What was really unexpected were his plans to adopt the approach Santa presented Macys in Miracle on 34th Street and send patrons to his competitors.

“If they are lovers of modern dance, traditional thinking would say not to let our patrons know about something going on at another venue. I disagree. We cannot stand in the way of an enthusiast finding out about a performance in another venue, so why don’t we take the high road and be the first to deliver that message to them. If there is a way we can bring value by offering up their interests to the table, it just helps to build our relationship with those patrons even further. Eventually, some can look to us as the source of information for their theater and entertainment interests.”

Is this sort of idealism foolish or is it going to work like it did in the movie and endear the center to the public? If I am a philanthropist living in Miami, I don’t know if I couldn’t help but be impressed by their boldness.

Also, if other performing groups start sending their seasons to the center for dissemination, it gives the center a better sense of what is out there so they can plan their offerings accordingly.

I will try to remember to check back in a year once they have an affinity person in place and see how things turned out and what changes they are planning to effect. It’ll be interesting to see.