Go To The Theatre, Smell Like A Man!

A little fun speculative post today.

It has been widely recognized that women generally initiate the decision to attend an arts and cultural event. Now given that the vast majority of playwrights, composers, visual artists, choreographers, etc have been Caucasian males and most audiences are comprised of Caucasians, I wonder what it is in their work that seems to speak to Caucasian women more than any other group.

As much as you can point out that it is no longer true that Caucasian male creative artists are  responsible for as large a percentage of creative output as they once were, I can link to tons of blog posts and articles that note that the ratio is still too large. I am sure there will be many who will suggest that an even larger number of women would attend if the creative content was actually geared to them.

So I ask, albeit with a little tongue in cheek, how have Caucasian male artists failed Caucasian male audiences and how can we get those men back?

This is where I want to play my speculative little game. I am not going to advocate for more White male centric art. I think its good that what is out there appeals to a wider spectrum of the community. Given that people have shown the capacity to identify with art created by those who are unlike them and that doesn’t speak directly to their experiences, I think there is room for more to be created by artists of diverse backgrounds.

But in fact, I am not going to really argue directly for artistic content at all but rather suggest maybe we need to think about how the experience is positioned.

Earlier this month, Smithsonian.com had a piece about how the United States was sold on using deodorant. It an interesting story about how deodorants and antiperspirants were formulated and ultimately advertised to the American people by playing on their insecurities about smelling bad.

However, the earliest efforts were aimed at women which resulted in deodorant use being regarded as feminine. A man was supposed to possess a manly odor!

But with half the population not buying the toiletries, manufacturers felt they were missing out on untapped potential. Early attempts were made to get women to buy deodorant for their husbands but it was still largely seen as a female product.

Comments in a 1928 survey read:

““I consider a body deodorant for masculine use to be sissified,” notes one responder. “I like to rub my body in pure grain alcohol after a bath but do not do so regularly,” asserts another.”

Now if rubbing your whole body with pure grain alcohol isn’t manly, I don’t know what is. I feel less of a man for only splashing it on my face after shaving.

Later attempts were aimed at male insecurity as well.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s men were worried about losing their job. Advertisements focused on the embarrassment of being stinky in the office, and how unprofessional grooming could foil your career, she says.

“The Depression shifted the roles of men,” Casteel says. “Men who had been farmers or laborers had lost their masculinity by losing their jobs. Top Flite offered a way to become masculine instantly—or so the advertisement said.” To do so, the products had to distance themselves from their origins as a female toiletry.

For example, Sea-Forth, a deodorant sold in ceramic whiskey jugs starting in the 1940s, “because the company owner Alfred McKelvy said he ‘couldn’t think of anything more manly than whiskey,’” Casteel says.

At this juncture, I think it is pretty much a moral imperative that I insert the following:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE&w=560&h=315]


I think if the arts and culture industry is going to take its cues from deodorant advertisers, (and why wouldn’t you?), it is going to need to move beyond depending on women buying tickets for husbands and boyfriends and reframe the experience in some way.

While I am not necessarily above using someone’s insecurities to motivate them into action, I think I would rather take a more constructive approach to making men believe initiating a trip to an arts and cultural event is socially acceptable and perhaps even expected.

Obviously, the arts and culture industry needs to replace the word “men” in the previous sentence with other segments of their community in an effort to serve a greater portion of their potential audience.

And while we no longer get our deodorant packaged in whiskey jugs, (pity), reformulating and packaging the product for wider audience segments is still going to be required. Can’t get away selling the same old stuff.

While it is a lot of fun equating theatre and deodorant, I have to confess I don’t really have a lot of ideas in regard to what an effective approach might be. Anyone have any thoughts?

Info You Can Use: Various Things Arts Orgs Are Doing To Connect

This past weekend the students held their annual fund raiser for the Fall Mainstage production in our Lab Theatre. The event is entirely student generated and produced. Basically my only involvement over the summer is to unlock the door for them. Our technical director ensures nothing will burst into flames and everything is generally safe, but the work is largely done by the students.

I am very proud of the student who has essentially acted as the producer for the last 4 years because he keeps upping his game every year. Last Spring a new instructor introduced him to a different approach to developing a show and to the credit of all the students, they dedicated themselves to following the approach even though it meant a longer, more involved rehearsal process.

A fair segment of the audience tends to be students and for many of them, this is their first experience in a theatre of any kind. In some respects, it is a great introduction for them because it provides a less orthodox attendance experience and reveals the potential inherent in live performance. (Speaking of which, check out this baby by Great Canadian Theatre Company) On the other hand, it can make a more orthodox attendance experience seem all the more boring and disappointing by comparison.

Typically the entrance, stairway and hall to the lab theatre are heavily decorated. A woman in front of me on the ticket line who takes dance classes across the hall from theatre wondered aloud where the dance studios went. The performers also do a pre-show where they move about interacting with other performers and the audience members according to the backstory of their particular character.

My aim is to try to infuse a little more interesting and interactive experience to our mainstage space. There the expectations and context of the space creates a wholly different environment. We have added some new experiences and are continuing to think of others.

So in that vein, I wanted to point out some interesting programs I have been reading about lately that aim to change the experiences people have at arts and cultural events.

A Wall Street Journal this week had a story about silent disco parties that are being held at zoos in England and the US. It is something of an after hours party at the zoo where people are given headphone receivers. Attendees can dance to the same music without actually disturbing the animals with loud noise (though since many dress up as animals, it may make some of the predators hungry for a midnight snack as they flail silently about).

Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History seems to be so dedicated to providing participatory experiences in her museum, she even has opportunities in her restrooms. Reading her blog, Museum 2.0 provides a trove of great ideas and reflections on how they worked.

Back in May, ArtsFwd featured a number of audio postcards from arts organizations around Cleveland. I confess I only recently got around to listening to them after having bookmarked it all those months ago but I am glad I did. There are some great stories being told by the arts leaders in Cleveland. One related to this topic that caught my attention was told about the Great Lakes Theater.

The artistic and executive directors talks about how they designed the Hanna Theater to facilitate social interaction between the audience and performers. The bar is in the seating area and they have different seating areas- traditional seating along with loose club chairs and lounge and bar seating.

The theatre is open 90 minutes before the show and stays open until up to 90 minutes after to provide a place for people to gather and interact rather than simply showing up a half hour in advance, watching and leaving.

A few years ago, I wrote about Alan Brown talking about Gen Y’s vision of an ideal performance venue:

He said he asked them to describe what they would envision as a perfect jazz club. They said it would be a coffee house during the day but a bar at night with a separate room where those who wanted to be full immersed in the music could go. However, there would also be an anteroom where people could talk with friends and still listen to the music and still another anteroom where people could interact with friends more and listen less.

Though this sort of arrangement is highly unlikely, Great Lakes Theater seems to get pretty close. I am curious to know if anyone has attended at the Hanna Theater and what the experience is like. There aren’t a lot of review on Yelp that I have seen. My biggest fear is that someone would knock over their glass at the bar during a highly dramatic scene or there would be some other disturbing occurrence.

Arts & Job Crafting

Apropos to yesterday’s Labor Day holiday there was a blog post on the Harvard Business Review site back in June about job crafting, basically changing aspects of your daily activity to make your job more enjoyable.

I thought many of the suggestions cited by the author, Amy Gallo, were particularly applicable to arts organizations. Arts employees are apt to feeling burned out and unfulfilled due to wearing many hats and having a large workload.

But compared to many other types of businesses, employees of arts organizations generally have a fair bit of freedom about how they accomplish tasks. Employing a little creativity in the process isn’t likely to be viewed as disruptive and might even be applauded.

One of the first suggestions Gallo mentions is examining oneself to assess whether the problem might be that you are simply prone to being dissatisfied all the time. Another is to think about ways to change your outlook about your job and perhaps form emotional connections with colleagues and co-workers.

Next is to look at restructuring the job itself:

“Spreitzer and Wrzesniewski suggest using a job crafting exercise to redesign your job to better fit your motives, strengths, and passions. “Some people make radical moves; others make small changes” in how they delegate or schedule their day,…For example, if your most enjoyable task is talking with clients, but you feel buried in paperwork, you might decide to always speak with clients in the morning, so you’re energized to get through the drudge work for the rest of the day. Or you might save talking with your clients until the end of the day as a reward.

If it’s not the work you dislike but the people you work with, you may be able to change that too. Wrzesniewski says she has seen people successfully alter who they interact with on a daily basis to increase job satisfaction. Focus on forging relationships that give you energy, rather than sapping it. Seek out people who can help you do your job better”

In some respects, the fact that just about everyone performs multiple functions in an arts organization can be an asset to job crafting efforts. Lacking concrete job boundaries, people can swap some of their duties a little bit. What is mind numbing to one might provide a refreshing respite to someone else. One thing I have appreciated about the arts jobs I have had has been the ability to get up and away from one task to do essentially all of the things Gallo mentions.

I have been able to attend artist outreaches to see the impact of our work on people in the community. I can talk with colleagues and patrons and develop connections with them. I have been able to get up from my desk to stick my nose in on rehearsals and classes to get some inspiration. Walking around to inspect facilities and equipment or setting my hand to some physical task often provides the distraction my mind needs to find a solution that wasn’t coming sitting in front of my computer.

If You Meet Mozart On The Road, Kill Mozart

Back in June there was an interesting piece on The Creativity Post about the Mozart Myth.

The Mozart myth goes something like this. Some people are born with talent so tremendous that music and other cultural products spring from their minds fully-fledged, as if by magic. Mozart, so the myth goes, would compose his symphonies in one sitting with nary a revision through a single act of inspiration. The more generalized myth, popularized by writers such as Arthur Koestler, is that all creative people work this way.

The authors, Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, recount a story about a student they had who had made it big with a rock song in his first year of college, but when it came time to do a follow up, he felt his creativity was blocked. He took their class in the hope they could unlock his creativity again.

They had this student examine his creative process and he eventually came to realize he had actually worked on his first big hit over the course of 6 months. Finally, he had a eureka moment where everything gelled. The reason he felt like he was blocked was because he was waiting for another eureka moment to drop the next masterpiece in his lap, not recognizing the first hadn’t done so.

This story is a good reminder not to mistake the frisson experienced during that eureka moment as the whole creative process. How many times have we heard that genius is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration but continue to value only the inspiration part?

We may be able to dash off some inspired prose or music in a few moments forgetting that there were years of reading, writing, listening, watching, thinking and practicing that have brought us to that moment. More to the point, there were probably long periods of mistakes, lack of comprehension and frustration involved along the road.

Having a solution come to mind so quickly can provide such a sense of relief and joy that it is easy to forget incidents like the anxiety of having to write a book report each week in third grade and the effort involved in that college paper that you still got an F on.

Yes, talent is still distinctly important and can significantly shorten the supposed 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery, but the effort and process is still required.

What is actually probably more damaging than self-recognized creatives buying into the Mozart Myth is everyone else believing it. Believing there is a hard and fast line between those who are blessed with the ability to create and those who are cursed with a lack, is what contributes and reinforces the perception of the arts as elitist.

There is not only the concept that an elite few are granted the talent and inspiration to create, frequently there is a message that there is only a select group that can understand it all, too. It can be difficult to understand that the ability to create and to appreciate are both cultivated over time.

As Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein note, we really only ever focus on the results rather than the process. Bands tell stories in interviews about how they completely wrote a song on the tour bus between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, but no one credits the 15 years spent in 4 different bands no one ever heard of as the incubator in which the requisite abilities were developed.

For the most part, however, our educational institutions tend to do just the opposite: we hold up for scrutiny only finished products, strip them of the processes, tools, skills, histories and personal stories that gave them birth and, intentionally or not, discard and erase creative know-how.