Converting the Faithful?

Way back in my second entry I pointed out that I had a letter posted on Artsjournal.com’s letter section and in the Artful Manager blog. One of my suggestions was that arts audiences and church audiences share some commonalities–faithfully joining a communal activity on a regular basis being one.

Well, I actually have a church doing services in my theatre which you would think would combine the best of both worlds. I have a large group of people coming to my theatre, moving my display about our 30th anniversary and staring at our large set filled with water during their services. (Yes, they wanted to do baptisms, but we wouldn’t let them.)

Thus far when we ask people how they heard about the show, no one has mentioned that they attend services there. Somewhat disappointing, but we still have a lot of time to seduce them.

One thing they have been doing is providing us with volunteers to clean up our backstage and usher during the shows. They have been really dependable and efficient. One thing that is sort of disquieting to me though is that many of them are doing it as part of their service to the church and not because they enjoy live events.

I love having the resource of volunteers, but I guess as a person who has his own “religious” experience in the arts, I would really like to have people coming who are doing it because they enjoy an arts experience. I don’t want to convert them into subscribers or arts lovers. This is certainly an opportunity to expose people to the arts who never thought of it as an experience to be included in their lives and maybe they will ultimately benefit from it.

It is just a strange experience for me telling the church volunteer coordinator that I appreciate the help and don’t want to put anyone out so she should only include people who have a genuine interest in participating. She talks about how volunteering is important for rounding out their spiritual lives. The people who do help out may very well be curious and interested in the arts, but that doesn’t seem to be an important criteria in their selection when I talk to the volunteer coordinator.

On the other hand, they aren’t compelled into service either. Apparently, people aren’t allowed to commit themselves to volunteering unless their personal lives are in shape (and there is a support network that helps them get to that point.) I am sort of envious that they have such an organized volunteer network.

That is another problem for me. I really want to build a corps of volunteers so I don’t have to ask the church for help. Since the church has the contact information for their volunteers and I don’t, this makes it hard for me to solicit their services on my own behalf. I don’t aim to poach volunteers, but it would be great if some were interested in the arts because it would increase the likelihood they would approach me independently of their church association to volunteer.

Guess I am going to have to do it the old fashion way and build the volunteer group one person at a time.

Ladder Against the Wrong Wall?

So if you have read my recent entries (and lets face it, there haven’t been many) you will know that my theatre is currently working on a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses.

The director has been trying to assuage my concerns about the money we are spending to keep the water separate from the wood floor and the electrical lines by confidently telling me that if we can’t sell a show with a 30’x25′ pool of water, we can’t sell anything.

Problem is, I fear he is right.

We certainly have “a gimmick” that the musical Gypsy informs you that you must have. Two separate news stations have come out to film the show and the entertainment writer from the largest newspaper on the islands wrote a feature story. When one of the news anchors was editing the story, women were looking over his shoulder with interest because the clips featured very good looking bare chested men engaging in a spectacular water battle. The anchor of the most watched 6 o’clock news commented on air at the end of the segment that ticket sales would probably skyrocket after that clip.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. First performance we didn’t even fill half the house, the second performance we filled fewer seats and the third performance we slightly out sold the second. The next three performances have less than 40 seats sold between them. I expect sales will pick up as we approach the dates, but I don’t foresee any problem getting tickets.

It is difficult to blame the small audiences on lack of exposure. I did quite a bit of paid advertising along with the free coverage we got. My thoughts turn to three tough questions Ben Cameron (Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group) posed that the Artful Manager reprinted
“-What is the value of having my organization in my community?

-Harder: What is the value my group alone offers, or that my group offers better than anyone else? Duplicative or second-rate value will not stand in this economy.

-Hardest: How will my community be damaged if we close our doors and move away tomorrow? ”

I am in a position to do a lot of good in the community and a new window of opportunity opened just today. However, there seems to be a bit of mounting evidence that paying a lot of money to fly and house people from the Mainland and other countries is not providing value for the community.

By the same token, for the last three years, there hasn’t been anyone really concentrating on educating people about the value of the theatre in the community. I am not talking about convincing people they ought to love us because we are illuminating them in their ignorance. Rather, I mean giving us the same value in the community as the corner store, the firehouse and the Little League field. Become a place were people gather and look back at it as a cornerstone of their lives.

I am already seeing the possibilities as members of niche communities are coming forward offering their assistance to spread the word about upcoming performances.

Like everything else I write about in this blog that is a work in progress…we shall see.

Art 21

I just came across a PBS program I was briefly introduced to when I was interviewing around for my current job. Art:21 Art in the 21st Century is a PBS program that, as you might imagine, looks at art in the 21st century.

I have actually not seen the program. Unfortunately, as Drew McManus learned in regard to the Keeping Score program featuring the San Francisco Symphony, the program doesn’t get much air time. It seems like another of those great gems that gets hidden under a rock.

The website however does have a lot of resources and allows you to see snippets of the programs. It offers lesson plans and other educational resources for teachers. It also presents student art projects that were created in conjuction with the program themes.

This is sort of a nice guide for teachers I think because it gives concrete examples of projects that have emerged from the lesson plans PBS provided. Even if the lesson plans were generated after the fact by the teachers who lead classes to create the projects, I know that teachers often like to have concrete examples to go along with their lesson plans. It is interesting to see the directions different schools went with different projects.

Although PBS doesn’t play the show that often, the website does offer the opportunity for people to have screenings and residencies and even provides materials to publicize the event. If an organization is interested, they can use these materials to support/complement projects of their own.

Water, Water Everywhere

So my next production is an in-house show, Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman. She adapts Ovid, not Kafka so there are no giant cockroaches on stage. There is, however, a giant pool of water. Water being a great metaphor for change is really appropriate for the production.

The technical worries on the other hand…

The set is essentially a 30′ wide by 25′ long pool of water on two levels. The depth ranges anywhere between 6″-9″ to 24″ in one spot. Water is interesting to work with for a number of reasons, the fact that it is pretty damned heavy, being one of them. The weight bearing capacity of the stage was a real concern.

Of course, another concern is that water will find any opening it can and leak out. The pool liner is one continuous piece which prevents that problem. However, since the change of depth of the pool is fairly extreme and localized to a small area, the aesthetics of a heavily creased liner is a little bit of a concern design wise.

Another discovery we made was that despite our best guesses about how far water would fly during the fight scenes and how much would be displaced when people entered, the water flew farther and ran over the edges and splash guards we had in place. Fortunately, because it was designed to overflow on to the lower level anyway, there wasn’t a big flood. Unfortunately, because the pump hadn’t been installed, the rehearsals had to stop while the water was bucketed up to the top level again.

Needless to say, the show really lends itself to exciting press releases given that there are Greek gods and heroes as well as the Greeks’ very definition of spectacle in the form of the big ole pool of water.

I am just dreading 2-3 years from now when things start warping and rusting…

Some people will say that this retreading of stories is an indicator of how desperate Broadway is to stay alive.

But from my point of view, this is what was always exciting about Greek myths when I first discovered them as a boy. And it also seems better to retread the classics which have the potential of being rediscovered whereas a successful retread of a Disney movie just encourages that company to push for extensions of copyright. (And a really creative adaptation of an out of copyright work like Ovid’s just goes to show how extensive copyright protection may indeed stifle creativity!)

I will let folks know how it all ends up.