Little Polish on the Skills

So it has been a busy week already. I have had so many meetings that I got that feeling that I ain’t getting anything done and considering I have a lot to do before going to the WAA Conference next week, that ain’t good.

But I have been learning some new things…

Monday I had a meeting with the head of Human Resources. I am on a committee to hire an assistant for myself. The Human Resource department has to look over the questions we are going to ask and approve of them. This is partially to make sure that we aren’t asking any questions connected with the forbidden topics like race, martial status, creed, political affiliation, religion, etc. We didn’t have any of those type of questions, but the head of HR wouldn’t sign off on them because he didn’t feel they would elicit effective answers.

I have to admit, he did have a point. Some of the questions other committee members had submitted dealt with how a person felt about certain situations like meeting new people or their philosophy on customer service. Part of the problem he had was that none of these things were part of the KSAs (knowledge, skills, abilities) of the job description. He encouraged us to rephrase the questions as situationals–what have you done in such a situation or what would you do?

He said that it doesn’t matter how people feel about a certain job as much as how they would act in a situation. His point was that people often hate to do certain aspects of their jobs, but they recognize the value of doing it and doing it well so dismissing them for how they feel might result in you discarding a valuable person.

On the other hand, if they mention they ignored a customer’s complaint because they were incessant whiners when you ask about their experiences, you know how they feel and how they would act.

I never thought of these issues before. So even though it was rather annoying to have to rewrite the questions and couch them in a manner that would satisfy the head of HR and still serve to get the information about the candidate’s personality, I have to admit his way can prove to be more valuable.

Yesterday I attended a meeting of the Performing Arts Presenters of Hawai’i (earlier mention of what they are all about here). We were discussing what our plans were when we attended the Western Arts Alliance Conference in Spokane next week. Not everyone was going so we were making a list of the groups everyone might be interested in presenting so we could check them out and approach agents, etc.

I had been warned to bring an extra suitcase so I could carry presskits and other materials back from the conference. A few weeks after I return, we will all meet again for a marathon review of videos, etc of likely prospects.

Then today I met with a representative of a local hotel chain with whom I am hoping to house most of my visiting performers. I was really reminded of the power of good customer service. I had contacted representatives of a number of chains, but she was the only one that decided that she could better serve me by having me come out and see her properties and treat me to lunch. Of all the others I contacted, only one other has even responded with the information I requested.

The thing is, none of them need my business, especially the woman who took me out. Right now tourism is excellent and there are hardly any rooms to be had on O’ahu. Even though I am bringing a fair bit of business, the hotels can make better use of their time wooing tour operators and travel agents than me. This is especially true because I am asking for kama aina rates (discounts for locals) in order to help me stay on budget.

This woman spoke to me, assessed my needs and then picked the mix of properties of the 20 or so her company manages on my island that would best suit my needs. She stayed away from the really economical places that might prevent jet lagged artists getting off a 5+ hour flight from getting rest and also avoided the ones that were too upscale. My time wasn’t wasted looking at the wrong places.

Every hotel we went to, the general manager came out and met me like I was an important account. They showed me around the rooms personally, offered me water and wet towels to refresh myself. The woman showing me around took me out to lunch at their flagship property where my car was valet parked and returned to me swiftly with my A/C and radio set to create a welcoming environment in my own vehicle. Now perhaps they do much more for travel agents, but they could have done far less for me.

I still have to be conscious of price, but if they end up being a few bucks more a night than another quote I get, they will certainly be getting my business. They know that good customer service means good service to everyone and they know that it is the little touches like the way the valet delivers your car that matters. They also probably know that good word of mouth is the best advertising. Not only will I speak well of them on my island, but because they have properties on the other islands, I will be saying great things about them to the other members of the consortium.

It just verifies my feelings about the importance of customer service and underscores how important it will be for me to rectify all the impediments to customer service at my theatre.

Musta Been Saving It Up

I was looking over some of my old entries and realized I actually never wrote down some good ideas I had connected with my earlier ideas on Drew McManus’ docent program. I have a vague recollection that I was going to mention my ideas in an interview so perhaps that is why I never wrote it here–I didn’t want provide other interviewees with my good ideas. (Hey, given that one place had 300 applicants for the same job, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility someone who read my blog had applied.)

In any case, it is actually a simple extension of my earlier thoughts and philosophies. I think it would be great to train art/drama/music, etc students in a docent program so they learn how to talk about what they do in an manner that doesn’t alienate audience. You don’t want a student standing in your lobby talking to an audience member saying “Well, clearly the dance was inspired by pointillism.” The implication being–if you don’t know what I am talking about, you are an idiot.

Instead, you might want them to say. “Well, the dance was inspired by pointillism. Are you familiar with that term?” And if the person says they aren’t, perhaps the student whips out the Sunday comics and a magnifying glass to show how the print process and the post-impressionism school of painting are similar. Then they point out how the concept was executed in the dance the person just saw or perhaps will see.

The audience sees your venue as a place they can feel comfortable attending and asking questions and your student base learns how to use language that doesn’t require specialized knowledge or make people uncomfortable.

Trying to establish a program like this is going to be one of my long term goals in my current position. It may be difficult because the campus is 100% commuter and clears out about 4-5 hours before performances begin. But there is a strong continuing ed program on the campus too and this type of examination of the arts might hold an appeal for them.

Outreach to Schools

Looking back to today, I noticed they had a link to a FAQ about marketing outreach programs to schools. It is pretty informative for folks who want to do such things. It talks about who the decision makers and gatekeepers for schools are, what times of the year are bad to contact schools to set up outreach, how high school is different from elementary school.

The FAQ also discusses how to position your outreach so it will be more likely to be viewed as valuable to the educational process. It also directs groups to resources if they want to synch their offerings with teacher’s lesson plans, how to create good study guides and generally strengthen a relationship with the schools.

One of the things I was most impressed about was that the FAQ also addressed the perception by the students that the outreach was a free period where they didn’t have to learn or behave. Having gone on a number of school outreaches, I am familiar with this situation. The article encourages outreach groups to establish a protocol with the teacher prior to their arrival and also suggests finding a way to engage and involve the teacher in the process so they don’t give the impression it is an opportunity for escape themselves.

What It Means to Be Human

Okay, so I am in the middle of writing calendar listings and season brochure material trying to avoid falling into a boring writing style as pointed out by Greg Sandow and which I later commented on

I think I am doing fairly well, but time will tell and I may be too close to my own stuff. One of my other rules besides trying to avoid being boring is to also keep from quoting reviewers. I have seen so many people quoted saying “Fantastic”, “A must see”, “Best show of the season”, etc, etc, that I doubt the persuasive power of such quotes. Besides, it seems like inserting such quotes means you can’t think of enough interesting things to say about it on your own. Since I am trying to get into the practice of generating interesting things out of my own feeble brain, that is just another reason to avoid quoting folks.

On the other hand I was tempted to include a quote from a Pittsburgh paper that called a Dayton Dance Company’s performance “rollicking, lyrical, athletic and emotionally generous quartet of African-American dances” It was the emotionally generous part that caught my eye. I don’t frequently see that applied to people in reviews.

One thing I want to know though–when did being human become a selling point for a show? I constantly see (and I was guilty of it many times myself) people describe shows in terms of things that make us human or remind us of the human condition or celebrate what it is to be human. Andrew Taylor recently commented that people seldom go to the theatre simply because it will raise the SAT scores of kids in the neighborhood. Considering some pregnant women put headphones on their stomachs so that their forming child can be exposed to Mozart, I think there is a greater likelihood of folks deciding to support the arts for that reason than because they have lost touch with what it means to be human.

Now granted there are plenty of people out there who probably need to be reminded what it means to be human. However, I doubt anyone admits they need to be exposed to such stuff.

Again, I think this is a nebulous catch-all term people use out of laziness. It sounds impressive, but it really doesn’t mean much. I have seen it applied to some shows to refer to poignant moments, applied to others in connection with joy and familal bonds of love, and I have seen it applied to shows with incredible violence, hatred, pain and sorrow. You never know what you are going to get if you go to a “what it means to be human” show.

Yes, all these things are part of human existence, but it is much better to say poignant or violent. The problem is, using the term doesn’t help audiences understand art any better than they did when they arrived. It strikes me that this phrase is part of the alienating language the arts tend to use. I am not saying that language should be dumbed down–I am a big believer in people picking up dictionaries and teaching themselves. I am using phrases like “transient state” in my season brochure. Except in this case, the phrase very specifically describes a transformation which is occuring. (and I didn’t want to repeat the word transformation in the description.)

I won’t lie. This is hard. Even with all the practice I have writing about different issues, it is difficult to write something that accurately depicts a performance without falling back on newspaper quotes and important sounding, but empty phrases. This being my first weeks at a new job, there are plenty of other things I could really be spending my time on. But trying to do this well, even if I am not entirely successful, is important to developing my ability to communicate well with audiences.