Escapism Over Escape

Historically, theater fires have been among some of the worst in terms of loss of life and property damage. Improvements in firefighting equipment and building design and construction have fortunately made most of those tragic tales infrequent, relative to the situation in the late 19th and early 20th century. An article on New York City theatre fires in Lapham’s Quarterly during this time period illustrates what significantly increased the hazard and opportunity for loss of life were gross misrepresentations of the safety of theaters coupled with a lack of effort to improve the conditions.

To combat the growing reputation of theaters as death traps, New York City impresarios began to advertise their venues by stressing just how safe they were—without changing the actual structures. In 1901 the top of the Broadway Theater’s playbills, above the production information, read “Safest theater in the world—34 exits.” That same year, the Knickerbocker’s playbills stated that it was “Absolutely Fireproof.” By 1904 the Majestic was billing itself as “New York’s finest—the world’s safest theater—positively fireproof—42 exits,” and by 1906 the Colonial was claiming it was “absolutely fireproof—this theater has the lowest insurance rate issued to any theater in the world.”

…According to Gerhard’s report, as of 1899 New York’s Fifth Avenue Theater could hold 1,400 people but be emptied in 2.5 minutes, while the Abbey Theater could hold 1,450 people and be emptied in 1.5 minutes. The enormous Madison Square Garden, which could hold 17,000 people, apparently required only 4.5 minutes for complete evacuation.

These hypothetically efficient evacuations were impossible to execute, however. Theaters and movie theaters often were illegally packed to standing-room-only capacity, with additional bodies blocking potential routes of egress. Furthermore, Gerhard found that the doors were locked in many of the buildings, and many of the exits first wound through basements or alleyways. Some exits even led to wooden staircases. Families and young children were frequently given permission to be seated in the highest galleries, which made their top-priority exits more difficult.

What is interesting is reading about how much the theater owners and managers resisted safety procedures fearing the optics of making people aware of fire exits would make people consider other diversions. A good number of the bad choices were preserved in the name of maintaining the escapist environment of the theater.

Among the reforms that had been suggested were having firemen walk out on stage at the start of the evening holding placards directing people’s attention to the nearest exits. It was pretty much exactly what flight attendants do on a plane today. When it was brought up in a meeting of theater managers, there was a great deal of push back out of fear of panicking audience members or souring the experience by suggesting the theater was unsafe. According to the article, actors would see a fire but would continue performing in order to maintain the facade they had constructed. In at least one case, opening a door caused a cross draft sending the fire the actors were observing flaring into the seating area.

It is something to think about as live performances try to compete with digital forms of entertainment. What lengths are people willing to go in order to provide the immersive experience they believe is required. What corners will be cut? I have already seen hints of this where occasionally contracts request/require no pre-show announcements or stipulate they occur so early only half the audience sees them. I don’t imagine any of this would expose current audiences to the dangers looming silently over 19th & early 20th century audiences, but the lessons of those times bear consideration.

We Can Never Beat Overhead By Ourselves, It’s Time To Merge!

When I saw a story on Non-Profit Quarterly about four Kalamazoo, MI non-profits entering a shared-services partnership, I immediately assumed it was confined to back office functions as I had written about before. However, that isn’t entirely the case. Moreover, the impetus for their partnership isn’t so much driven by a desire to save money as it is by the fact that funding entities won’t allow grants and donations to be used for administrative overhead.

The four non-profits, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, Prevention Works, Urban Alliance and Big Brothers Big Sisters, didn’t form the shared entity, Hub ONE, just to handle their back office functions, Hub ONE staff will help people navigate the services offered by each of these groups. “With each organization working to combat an aspect of generational poverty, the partnership appears to be a natural fit.”

A three year, $8.3 million grant from the Stryker Johnston Foundation will largely support developing the infrastructure of this new shared services entity. Some of the money will also go toward staff development and retention–something that is actually the long term goal of the shared services model.

…Gail Pico notes that overhead caps stifle social progress by restricting funding for use in effective management (e.g. professional development, evaluation, and strategic planning), keeps direct-service employees in poverty, and discourages innovation by not permitting organizations to take risks in trying new methods.

Each member of Hub ONE has been negatively impacted in some way by overhead myths. For instance, many of their employees are eligible for the programs they offer. Consequently, the group asserts that much of their time is spent trying to hire and retain employees who are driven to leave the sector for better pay. Sielatycki hopes the new collaborative will free resources for member nonprofits to pay employees more competitive wages, thereby helping reduce turnover and its associated retraining and onboarding costs.

The title of this post is a reference to the merging robot motifs of cartoons like Voltron

Of course, what can be a threat to the folks in Kalamazoo and other places is when one organization prioritizes themselves over the whole. (offered more for entertainment than caveat)

Fine Line Between Collaboration And Exploitation

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic this past July about how the Navy was working on crewing ships with a few generalists who would handle many jobs rather than many experts focusing on a narrower range of functions.

At first, when they were talking about everyone being cross-trained to fill a number of different functions, I started thinking it was a good example for a post about eliminating siloed job functions in arts organizations. Basically the idea that everyone has some role in promoting shows, interacting with audiences and donors, etc., rather operating as if these things were solely marketing, front of house and development department jobs.

But as I looked at some of the examples they were providing, I realized there was a pretty thin line between eliminating silos and trying to get fewer employees to juggle more responsibility.

The article mentions Zappos

…famously did away with job titles a few years back, employees are encouraged to take on multiple roles by joining “circles” that tackle different responsibilities.

Which sounded to me like an attempt to cross-train people and eliminate silos. But in the same paragraph used the example of SkyWest airlines:

…looking for “cross utilized agents” capable of ticketing, marshaling and servicing aircraft, and handling luggage.

Which sounds more like trying to hire one person to do four jobs. Granted, Zappos may be doing the exact same thing and just found better framing language to describe it.

This is not to say there isn’t some validity for this to increasingly become a model for employment in the future, whether it feels collaborative or exploitative. The article notes that automation is causing the list of what skills are important for future employees to acquire to be revised at increasingly shorter intervals.

Testing conducted by the Navy seemed to indicate that people who were able to quickly notice a change in situation and re-prioritize tasks were better suited for their plan to crew ships with generalists than people who contentiously completed their tasks.

This group, Hambrick found, was high in “conscientiousness”—a trait that’s normally an overwhelming predictor of positive job performance. We like conscientious people because they can be trusted to show up early, double-check the math, fill the gap in the presentation, … What struck Hambrick as counterintuitive and interesting was that conscientiousness here seemed to correlate with poor performance.

[…]

The people who did best tended to score high on “openness to new experience”—a personality trait that is normally not a major job-performance predictor and that, in certain contexts, roughly translates to “distractibility.” To borrow the management expert Peter Drucker’s formulation, people with this trait are less focused on doing things right, and more likely to wonder whether they’re doing the right things.

High in fluid intelligence, low in experience, not terribly conscientious, open to potential distraction—this is not the classic profile of a winning job candidate. But what if it is the profile of the winning job candidate of the future? If that’s the case, some important implications would arise.

The concept that short attention spans and lack of follow through are a winning combination for employability may depress a lot of readers. You may be interested to learn that quite a bit of stuff broke down on Navy ships that were crewed in this manner, requiring repairs by civilian contractors or adding about 20 people to the ship crews.

However, this doesn’t mean that the idea is unworkable. There is a good chance the concept will become viable with a revised design of the ship operating environments and crew training.

What is interesting about the article is that it presents adaptability and contentiousness as complementary skillsets, at least for the moment. Which is good because our mental capacity to juggle distinct streams of information and make decisions diminishes as we age.

IMPORTANT: Changes To Music Licensing May Impact Any Performance At Your Venue

Some important information about changes to music performance rights came to my attention today and I wanted to share it with readers.

Apparently the consent decrees under which ASCAP & BMI operate are up for review by the Department of Justice. The public comment phase is ending on Friday, August 9.  You can find out more about the consent decrees on the MIC Coalition website.

Basically, because ASCAP & BMI operate akin to monopolies, they and other performing rights organizations (PRO) are limited as to what they are able to do when licensing performing rights. They want these limits loosened. You can provide feedback to the Department of Justice here.

Even with these limits, dealing with these companies is often confusing and criteria seems inconsistent. Many have felt they were forced into purchasing broader licenses than they needed.

Today I received a huge flurry of emails urging myself and others to oppose the loosening. I was confused about why there was this sudden urgency when the public comment phase opened at the start of June. I started to wonder if there was an effort to create a huge sense of urgency by rallying support at a late date. Especially since there were initially few details provided about why one should voice their opposition.

Come to find out, the reason is that a large number of organizations across the country received revised licensing agreements from BMI this week containing some alarming changes. There is some suspicion they timed the mailing to hit toward the end of the public comment phase.

Here is a page of the agreement that is causing the biggest uproar.

In section 1 (g), terminology has been changed from “Gross Ticket Revenue” to “Gross Revenue.”  According to the new definition, in addition to ticket sales, calculation of a fee will now be based upon revenue from sales on the secondary ticket market, service charges, handling charges, VIP packages, advertising revenue, box suites, sponsorships, merchandise, concessions and parking.

So essentially, if you have a sponsor for your show; sell VIP packages, merchandise, food, and charge for parking, all that gets factored in to what you pay BMI rather than just ticket sales as was the case in the past.

From what I am told, the definition of “licensee” has been expanded to include a wider range of activities.

For events without an admission charge, the definition of what is included in the fee calculation has been expanded from a flat fee based on seating capacity to one based on entertainment expenses like room, board and transportation costs for the artist.

There are other problematic issues which are a little difficult to explain in a blog post and might not apply widely to many venues. I suspect there are problems that people have yet to discover.  If you do any sort of licensing with folks like BMI and ASCAP or if you have been trying to fly under the radar, you want to pay attention to this.

If you don’t think this applies to you at all, but you have live music performance, you may find that it does. That band that plays at your museum during First Fridays is probably subject to music licensing.

With more opportunities for revenue available, especially if the strictures of the consent decrees are loosened, there is more incentive find the places that have been trying to slide under the radar.

If you have concerns, check out the MIC Coalition website to learn more or provide feedback to the DOJ.  Also –read any new licensing agreements you get very, very carefully.

 

Send this to a friend