Two Shows, Three Trucks

I was talking with an agent for some Broadway show tours this week in order to get a sense of what things might look like for productions in Fall 2021/Spring 2022.  I was intrigued to learn that they were considering sending out two shows in repertory.

What that means is the same cast and crew rehearse so they are capable of mounting two different shows. This was once a common practice in theatre, and is still not terribly uncommon, especially among Shakespeare festivals.

I have seen some smaller touring productions offer this option, but never heard of it on the scale of a Broadway touring show. Given that you can do so much with projections these days, they can cut down on built set pieces to allow the tour to go out with the same number of trucks a Broadway tour of a single show would.

I am not sure if this is the right solution, but this is the first group I have spoken with that seems to acknowledged that times have changed and touring productions need to adopt new approaches.

This offers an opportunity to be more responsive when it comes to routing a show. Usually the tour of Show A will have one schedule and tour of Show B will have another schedule. It doesn’t help either me or the production company if Show A is touring near me but I want to see Show B.  The repertory approach means they can send one tour out and perform one show 150 miles away and then another show in my venue.  Since they are only sending one tour out with one set of cast and crew, there is a potential to save money vs. sending the two shows out separately.

If they were particularly well-organized and a venue had the space to shift and store things, they could feasibly do one show one night and the other show the next night and have the labor costs involved in doing so be economical for the venue.

How this might impact the quality of the show and the production values people expect, I don’t know. It is absolutely possible to execute a high quality experience with the investment of enough attention.

I suspect the first year or so of post-Covid touring will be an environment that will see even tours of single productions stumbling to find their footing and how well they handle that will be the biggest factor in the success and quality of their product.

So Would That Be A Plaque of Plays?

On occasion I have conversations with co-workers and colleagues about how Covid-19 may change the general aesthetics of live performance in the future.

For example: Will lingering concerns about physical contact result in staging and blocking which places people at even greater distances from each other on stage? Will dance choreography change based on the limited visual scope of web cameras? (e.g. movement doesn’t range too far to the left or right) or under the influence of TikTok choreography which is dominated by upper torso movement?

We figured many movie and play scripts and performances in general would contain themes of estrangement and isolation or space, manifested in emotional, mental, physical and spiritual terms.

What hasn’t been mentioned, though it has sort of lurked unspoken at the fringes, is the likelihood of some pretty didactic works about the experience of Covid-19.

Fortunately, the satire site The Beaverton, feels no compunction about addressing this topic in their “story” titled “Health Canada warns of inevitable “spring wave” of terrible COVID-inspired Fringe plays.” (Apologies to whomever tweeted the story. I hadn’t made note of your identity.)

Apparently there is the potential for a pandemic just as virulent as the Covid virus itself:

Case modelling indicates that various poorly-written scripts and “workshop drafts” are currently incubating all across the country. Health Canada warned of asymptomatic carriers who may seem healthy, despite currently using their Notes app to brainstorm ideas for a painfully unfunny sketch comedy revue with premises like “Speed Dating on Zoom” and “rap song about CERB?”.

“These terrible Fringe plays will no doubt ravage the bodies and minds of previously-healthy Canadians,” explained Dr. Tam gravely. “The kind of outbreaks we face might include: amateur actors who just can’t project loud enough while wearing PPE masks; some kind of weird clown thing where they dress up as the coronavirus and force audience members to join them onstage; or even pathetically-misguided attempts to thematically suggest that the real virus all along was ‘social media’.”

Submitted for your amusement (and potentially inspiration for your own Covid-themed show)

We Are Gonna Need A Slower Elevator

There has been an ongoing conversation among the arts community that there needs to be less effort invested in selling people on an arts experience and more listening to people to find out what they are looking for.

Seth Godin made a post earlier this month that encompassed that when he suggested substituting the elevator pitch with the elevator question.

The alternative is the elevator question, not the elevator pitch. To begin a conversation–not about you, but about the person you’re hoping to connect with. If you know who they are and what they want, it’s a lot more likely you can figure out if they’re a good fit for who you are and what you want. And you can take the opportunity to help them find what they need, especially if it’s not from you.

[…]

Instead of looking at everyone as someone who could fund you or buy from you or hire you, it might help to imagine that almost no one can do those things, but there are plenty of people you might be able to help in some other way, even if it’s only to respect them enough to not make a pitch.

The truth is, unless you are in the presence of a very narrow demographic, chances are that few people you meet can fund or buy from you. Since we know that the narrow demographic most inclined to buy from us is not sufficient to support our work long term, you do need to talk to a lot of people whose general inclination toward the arts and your organization is less known. Therefore the elevator question is going to be better alternative.

Of course, the elevator part is a misnomer for this concept because there is likely no way the conversation will effectively be completed on an elevator trip between floors. It may be months or years.

Just because you aren’t practicing to deliver a frantically paced pitch between floors doesn’t mean you should neglect to provide a focused introduction of yourself and the work you and your organization does. There is so much more you can talk about if you aren’t trying to milk a sale out of precious seconds, but people will appreciate an organized, interesting self-introduction as much as they appreciate not feeling hustled to buy into something.

You Don’t Know You Are In Water

Seth Godin made a post today that addresses the current climate of Black Lives Matter, policing, statues, etc without directly naming any of these things.  (A week ago he mentioned he generally tries to write posts that were evergreen rather than specific to the times in which they were penned, but felt he had to unequivocally state Black Lives Matter.)

Today he points out that when you are part of the dominant culture, you don’t see it around you like the proverbial fish that aren’t aware they are in water. It isn’t until you go to another country that you recognize every small assumption comprising your daily routine needs to be examined closely just to cross the street to get breakfast.

This experience can be part of what is fun and engaging about your visit. But part of what makes it fun is that you know you can return to a familiar environment later where you will have many stories to tell. The prospect of living in that foreign place for a longer time can be more daunting.

When media images, policies and corporate standards tell someone that they are an outsider who needs to fit in in non-relevant ways, we’re establishing patterns of inequity and stress. We need to be clear about the job that needs to be done, the utility we’re seeking to create, but not erect irrelevant barriers, especially ones we can’t see without effort.

Good systems are resilient and designed to benefit the people who use them.

If the dominant culture makes it harder for people who don’t match the prevailing irrelevant metrics to contribute and thrive, it’s painful and wasteful and wrong.

If you think about the above quote from Godin a bit, you might see that there are a good many times when the dominant culture shows little regard about alienating its own members. We have seen it happen often in recent years in both large and small ways. Currently we are in a period where many people are realizing their membership isn’t as secure as they thought or that they are no longer in synch with the terms of membership. The result is, they are finding greater common cause with those who have felt themselves outsiders.

But also, lest it get lost in the macro level big societal questions being wrestled with on the national and international stage, Godin’s admonishment about good systems being resilient and designed to benefit the users is just as applicable on the micro level of your organizational business hours and admission practices.

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