Right Brain/Left Brain

I am not usually star struck or more impressed by celebrities I meet than I am of people I meet in the general course of my life, but for about 10-15 years now, I have sincerely admired one person– Danica McKellar. Most people know her as Winnie from The Wonder Years, though she has been in quite a number of shows and movies since then.

What earned my admiration was the fact that she did not define herself as a person by her celebrity and has earned laurels in other areas upon which she can rest her reputation. In addition to her on screen involvement, she has a BA in Math from UCLA and has a math proof named after her. For a long time now, she has devoted time on her website to helping kids with math problems and has been the spokesperson for Figure This!, a website that provides math challenges for families to work on together.

Given that I was so awful at math in school, her involvement helping other people in this field of study has been enough to make her my hero for a long time now.

I found a very interesting Studio 360 session with her as a guest that discusses the right brain/left brain connection between the Arts and Math. Her segment begins about 11 minutes into the show, but her comments intertwine with other interviews. The first is Eve Beglarian, a composer who explores the use of math in music. There is also a story on David Galenson, an economist who is using quantitative measures like regression analysis and statistics to figure out what artists are trying to say and at what time in artists lives do they produce the most creative works.

There are some interesting commentary by Danica and Eve about how their math lives/mindset and artistic lives/mindset were almost violently in conflict with each other socially and internally. In some cases, they say their right brain and left brain activities are often mutually exclusive. At the same time, they discuss the aesthetic beauty inherent to pure math and the fact that the solutions to right brain activities lay in left and vice versa.

The third story on Studio 360 addresses the right/left conflict pointing out that usually those skilled in math are usually portrayed in movies and television as abnormal- they are borderline insane or anti-social or idiot-savants. McKellar acknowledges that mathematicians can tend to become absorbed in their work and seem a little flighty at times, but in general, the characterization is more of a caricature than reality.

A pretty interesting series of stories all in all. The program is rather long to listen to in its entirety, but fortunately the individual interview segments are broken out as separate links so one can return to the webpage to listen to each section separately without having to scroll through to the appropriate time stamp.

Inservice for Teachers

As promised, I am going to tackle the idea of arts groups doing inservice days for teachers. I could have sworn I wrote on this topic before, but a search of the site using different terminology says no.

The idea is pretty simple really. Arts organizations should leverage their expertise and create inservice day programs for teachers. Every so many days a year, teachers usually have days where they have to go to work and the students don’t. Usually there are sessions about how they can sharpen their teaching skills.

One place I worked, in cooperation with the local school districts, helped bring artists and teachers together to teach them new skills and activities for their students. The teachers loved it because instead of trying to learn from handouts, they were engaged in practical activities squishing clay between their fingers and doing other fun stuff.

Usually high school visual art teachers have a degree or a number of classes in their field so they know what they are doing to some extent. High School drama teachers on the other hand tend to be English or History teachers who are drafted into running the drama club so they need a lot of help! (I think this practice diminished the value of the arts in schools because it perpetuates the idea that anyone can fake their way through the creation of art. Of course, the lackluster results just convince people there isn’t much worth to it.)

Anyway, these poor part time drama teachers can always use a quick basic class in lighting design theory, use of a light/sound board, costuming, acting exercises, cheap, but impressive looking set construction techniques, etc.

It is stuff like that I hope to offer teachers under the next phase of the strategic plan. Of course, I will also be looking to have the sessions resonate with the Dept of Ed. Fine Arts Curriculum.

Primer in Presenting

I thought I would do a quick run through of common terminology, features and expectations of the presenting business for those folks who aren’t familiar with them. I had done an article some time ago on how misunderstanding about common expectations can lead to uncomfortable cancelation situations. I thought it might be good to talk about some contractual features as well.

Deposit It is common for performers to require you to send a 50% deposit to them or their agent about a month or so before they are set to perform as a security. They usually require the balance in their hands right before or right after the performance.

Force Majeure-Better definition than I can give found here. Pretty much every contract has them. They are about as ubiquitous as a Miranda warning on a police/lawyer show. It doesn’t take long before you can recite the clause in your sleep.

Insurance– One thing I see quite a bit is the expectation that the presenter carries about $1 million in insurance to protect performers and crew from any mishaps. If you are renting a space, it will most certainly be included as a requirement for space use. In many cases, it is included in the performers contract as well to protect them.

Advancing the Show – Usually the road manager or the artist does this a few weeks to a month before a performance to discuss details of the technical rider, transportation, sound check times, food, accomodations–basically anything they are concerned about.

Backline – Essentially any sound equipment and instruments that the performers aren’t bringing with them that they expect the presenting venue to supply. It makes a tour a lot cheaper if they don’t have to haul pianos, extra guitars, amps, drum kits, etc across the country. Pay very close attention to this because many performers are very particular about the name brand of the equipment that they use.

Tech Rider– List of technical equipment and services that a performer requires. It includes the backline, but will also encompass lighting, special effects, stage layout, power requirements for tour buses (as well as places to park said buses and trailers), size and composition of running crews.

Hospitality– Essentially what people want to eat and when they want to eat it. It can be very simple or very complicated. They say an army travels on its stomach and so does a tour so this is very important. I recently had a guy tell me he crosses catering off contracts immediately. I have no idea how he gets away with it.

I always double check this section when advancing a show. Many times vegetarians or people with food allergies join a group and they don’t change the rider. I also order more than I need–girlfriends, best friends, surprise visitors, etc tend to show up in the dressing room unannounced and are invited to chow down. If you do your checking and pad the order in advance, it saves a lot of hassle on the performance day.

Hospitality will also encompass other aspects of how performers are treated. Some people will want irons and garment steamers and towels both backstage on on stage. This section might also specify that the performers want food served on real plates rather than paper or paper is okay, but styrofoam is not.

Transportation– Another big variable in the presenting calculation. Sometimes you have to pay airfare, sometimes cab (or limo) fare, other times the performer is driving themselves and absorbing all the costs. Sometimes you have to do the driving yourself. This is actually the reason I decided to do this entry. I had a slight disagreement with an artist’s manager over this recently.

When I worked in New Jersey, we would drive people to and from the airport one time in 20 to 25 instances. Here in Hawaii, we generally arrange for cars for people to drive around. A contract I got recently specifies that we pay for their ground transportation and provide a map and directions to them. A similar contract for their opening act specifies having a sedan for him. My assumption then is that we are providing cars for them, especially since they are coming early with wives and girlfriends so they can see the sights.

The group manager tells me that he reads the contract to mean that we have to pay to have them driven around and haven’t I ever done a concert before. Now I am thinking he means we are to pay to have them driving around the island sightseeing and shopping and I tell him we can’t do that. He actually meant that he wanted a ride from the airport to hotel, hotel to venue and back and then to airport again. (My mistake was telling him we couldn’t do it before I understood exactly what he was asking for. One of my prime rules is to never worry travelers to unknown places unnecessarily.) It was an easy mistake to make, but also illustrates why you should read over a contract carefully and discuss any gray areas during the advancing calls.

Security– This can be a sticky area. I have almost never had to use professional security people for backstage and front of stage security. Actually, it is never. The only professionals I have used were for gate security to screen for alcohol. On the other hand, the volunteers I have used were people I knew I could trust and looked as if they were keeping an eye on things and weren’t going to let someone by unchallenged. Yes, some were big and tough looking, but most were just determined looking.

Because we had the right looking dependable people, no tour manager, etc ever really questioned our security measures whether they had asked for professional shirted security folks or not. We always made it clear that we had a volunteer security force back when we signed the contracts as well.

Whether you can get away with it is another thing altogether. My advice is, as it is for all things, cultivate a good group of volunteers and note which ones might be trusted for special positions for future events.

That is about all I can think of as a summary of the major points of a presenting contract. These are just basic generalizations. Your milage may vary.