You Are Never Too Young To Start Producing Shows

So given the context of all the deserved gushing over a North Bergen, NJ’s stage version of the movie Aliens with a $5,000 budget and recycled materials,  Ken Davenport’s suggestion that high school productions have general managers and press agents doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable.

Davenport’s  motivation is to get as many kids involved in a production as possible. Everyone knows the larger cast you have on stage, the larger an audience you are likely to have as friends and family show up to support students. But he also notes that being involved in administrative roles opens people’s eyes to a much wider range of career opportunities than just actors and technicians. (his emphasis)

Because whether a student decides to pursue a career in the theater or decides to be a lawyer, I firmly believe that there is no endeavor in the world that teaches collaboration better than putting up a musical.

[…]

They’re probably the type that thinks putting on a musical is just a hobby.  Because no one has told them any different. But you and I know it’s a business . . . just like any other.  And that businesses need all sorts of talents to make a show a success.

He outlines the following as tasks students could pursue in the different roles.  Davenport encourages everyone to pass the post link on to any high school teachers who might be interested in pursuing this. He says he will even write up the job description and list of duties so the teacher doesn’t have to.

The Producer would be in charge of overseeing the production, of course, as well as fundraising.  Yep, give him or her a goal of raising $X and let them find a way to do it (car washes, bake sales, Kickstarter and more).

The General Manager would learn how to put a budget together for the show and keep everyone on a budget.

The Press Agent would try to get articles written in the newspapers, online, and even invite people like me to come to see it.

The Advertising and Marketing Director would get the word out to sell tickets, get a logo designed, manage the social media, and more.

The Casting Directors would schedule the auditions, run them, put out the offers and maybe even convince the high school quarterback that he’d make a great Teyve.

In Order Have Social Impact, They Had To Kill The Social Impact Statement

If you haven’t seen it already, it is worth reading Joanna Jones’ piece on Medium about how the Oakland Museum of California developed and then abandoned their social impact statement.

One of the central identity problems non-profits face is generating statements of mission, goals, etc that are meaningful and alive for the organization. Creating these statements is seen as a necessary evil for strategic plans, grant applications, etc and are filed away until it comes time to revise them for the new strategic plan or copy it down on a grant application.

But people join non-profit organizations with the hope that they can make a difference. Even if it is contrary to whatever is written on the reference document gathering dust in the filing cabinet, every organization should have some aspirational statement of purpose they are telling new hires that actually aligns with the organizational practice.  (Making enough money to meet payroll doesn’t count.)

Now, the thing that everyone thinks they are doing that keeps them coming to work every morning still may not be the most practical and realistic. That was the issue that Jones says the Oakland Museum quickly came to recognize. In 2017, they created a social impact statement that, “OMCA makes Oakland a more equitable and caring city.”

Focus groups asked whether a museum could really solve the problems contributing to the lack of equity and caring in the city. The museum’s internal stakeholders also questioned the viability of the statement.

The museum invited six experts on social impact to spend two days participating in convenings and museum activities. While these experts were excited and energized by the reach and inclusion of museum events, they too were skeptical about the social impact statement. They wondered how the museum could ever meet the myriad concepts people would have about what equity and caring looked like.

After a lot of work, conversation and introspection, Jones writes that they realized they didn’t actually need a social impact statement,

Rather, we simply needed to articulate the problem our community is facing that we are uniquely suited to address, the best solution we believe exists for that problem, and the concrete and tangible outcomes we’re going to measure that will demonstrate our positive social impact.

The problem we’re trying to solve is social fragmentation.

The community of Oakland is presently undergoing significant fallout from inequities within institutions, the state, and civil society resulting in a decline in social cohesion and an increase in social exclusion.

Our contribution is facilitating greater social cohesion.

[…]

We will know that we are achieving that impact–creating greater social cohesion–when our Museum visitors say that they:

  • feel welcome at OMCA
  • see their stories reflected at OMCA
  • connect with other people at OMCA, and
  • feel comfortable expressing their own ideas and are open to the ideas of others at OMCA

What I valued about this piece was the discussion of the process they went through to come to this realization. There are statements of purpose non-profit organizations are obligated to have. There are some statements/actions organizations may feel self-obligated to enact in order to adhere to trends or to remain relevant. But these may not be relevant or constructive to the developing organizational identity. I was glad to see they recognized that while it was valuable to enunciate a clear purpose, their statement didn’t necessarily need to conform to a specific definition.

Don’t Solicit Ads For Your Program Book

Thanks to Drew McManus for remembering that Butts In The Seats turned 15 this weekend. Hard to believe I have been writing for 15 years now. Hopefully readers have found the content worthwhile.

Speaking of which….

Over on ArtsHacker today, I had a post on a very worthwhile subject– Unrelated Business Taxable Income.

I know, you are fighting to keep your brain from shutting down right now.

What that translates to for non-profit arts organizations is, among other things, any advertising you may have in publications, playbills, social media and web posts, etc., is considered an activity unrelated to your organizational purpose which means you need to pay taxes on it.

Now before you panic too much, placement of sponsors logos and contact information is permitted within the scope of your non-profit status. While advertising versus sponsorship may sound like a distinction without a difference, there are strict guidelines you need to follow.  There can’t be comparative or qualitative language, no pricing, no inducements/endorsements to use/purchase a product/service.

If this sounds like something you have run into trying to promote an event on a public radio station, that is exactly what it is. At one time I thought it was a characteristic of public broadcasting charters so they didn’t compete with commercial broadcasting. In fact it is a characteristic of non-profit status so it also includes school yearbooks, neighborhood sports leagues, community newsletters, etc.

The post I made isn’t a comprehensive discussion of the matter. I didn’t even try to tackle the recent change that made providing employee parking something non-profits need to pay taxes on. It is a good place to start before following up with an accountant or attorney.

On a semi-related topic, I also made a post about the detail to which a non-profit needs to go when valuing and acknowledging a gift from a donor.   Even if you think you know a lot about this subject, it is worth checking about because money from donor advised funds are viewed differently than those received directly from the donor. Given the growing popularity of donor advised funds, there are likely things you will want to learn more about from an accountant or lawyer.

You Need To Pay Taxes On Program Book Ads

Valuing and Acknowledging Donations

Ticket Reseller War Stories

About three years ago I wrote about the problem of ticket resellers creating website names that approximate that of performance venues or using names that imply they are the central ticketing source for your city. At the time, my venue saw people who had bought tickets at a big mark up or for events that weren’t actually happening once a year or so. Now that I have moved to new position in a new city, I see it happening ALL THE TIME.

Perhaps one of the reasons this issue is coming to light regularly is that we changed our seating configuration about two years ago resulting in the removal of two rows and various individual seats. The resellers are selling people tickets to those non-existent seats so the problems is very evident very quickly. I just attended a meeting of colleagues around the state and many of them are reporting similar issues with ticket resellers.

Right around Christmas this year, we had a show cancel and in the process of issuing refunds, we had to tell a gentleman that we couldn’t process a refund to his credit card because it wasn’t the card that purchased the tickets–it was the ticket resller’s. He was irate to say the least, especially since he paid about triple the actual cost of the tickets. He demanded we call the company and tell them the show was cancelled since he felt, perhaps correctly, that they wouldn’t believe him.

Much to my surprise, after waiting on hold for quite some time, I was able to get the company to process a refund for him.

We include a warning in all our email newsletters encouraging people to only purchase from us–but that only reaches people who have already successfully purchased tickets from us, not those wishing to attend for the first time.

If you are running into this, there are a couple things you can do. First is to do an online search using various terms like “tickets venuename theater yourtown,” varying the order and removing your venue name and only using generic terms like theater, dance, music. See what sites come up and see what they are selling your tickets for.

Contacting them to tell them to stop probably won’t work, but at least you will be aware of what customers might be seeing.  I don’t know if Google is doing a better job fighting  SEO attempts by these sites, but when I ran a search before writing this post, there were far fewer reseller sites appearing as results before my venue or even on the first page than there were in December.

However, the one that did come up before us is offering tickets in rows that no longer exist to a show that sold out in October.

Something we have done is worked with our ticket vendor to disallow credit card sales from out of state ZIP codes. We are smack in the middle of a state so it isn’t a big deal. Even if you are on a border, you may be able to do this for a significant geographic region across borders. Most ticket reseller purchases we have encountered are from the West Coast or Mountain West.

Be aware though that resellers get around this by using Visa/MasterCard branded gift cards which don’t require ZIP codes.

Another thing to watch out for is people posting on your Facebook events page saying they bought tickets but can’t make the show, encouraging people to send them a direct message and they will sell them cheaply.

Generally what these people, as well as many of the reseller sites will do, is place an order with you after people have contacted them about their “extra tickets.”  I would encourage you to delete these messages when you come across them. One of the big giveaways is that the Facebook account has been created in the last couple months and the person doesn’t live anywhere near you. They probably won’t have a record of purchasing tickets from you either. They may populate their page with pictures and friends connections to add some verisimilitude, but if you look carefully there are some clues.

Today we had a guy offering tickets for an event tonight that was born in Canada, apparently lives 300 miles or so away from us in Florida and is the CEO of a company in Poland.

I am sure there are much more sophisticated techniques other groups are using on larger venues where the return on investment makes it worth it, but I figure this will provide people with a general sense of what to watch out for.

Anyone got any stories or tips they want to share?

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