Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Off Stage Conversations

Hey Everyone, it's Andie Arthur again with this week's installment of Off Stage Conversations, where I gather articles on issues facing the national and international theatre community and relate how they can provide insight to what's happening in South Florida.

Before we get into this week, I want to acknowledge that I'm deeply saddened by the loss of Mosaic Theatre Company. Normally Chris covers local issues in Mondays are Dark, but Florida Theater On Stage had a follow up article on the closing, with some insight from the board's point of view. Most of the articles I gathered for this week relate to fundraising, board development, and artistic succession -- primarily gathered before I knew about the closing, but now seen in a different light.

Fundraising and the Fiscal Cliff

Steve Maclaughlin looks at the current state of non-profit fundraising in the United States, addressing common myths with data and ideas to continue building a donor base.

And Clayton Lord has a piece on re-framing the conversation on tax deductions for charities, which is a part of the larger fiscal cliff discussion. Lord's piece also has some great data on how vital individual giving is for the arts -- it accounts for 50% of contributed revenue according to Grantmakers in the Arts -- which is a great talking point when you call your senators and congress people to tell them that you support keeping tax deductions for charities.

Engaging Audiences from the Board Perspective

Last week, Pete Miller (on the board of Woolly Mammoth Theatre, which is one of the major theatres in DC) stated that he wanted to triple audience attendance by 2020. He's followed up that idea with a bunch of concepts on how the American theatre can reach that goal: getting audiences involved in their own readings, working with arts service organizations to do promotional events, recognizing readings as an opportunity for audience development, have the cast interact with the audience before and after the show, and create an online platform that supports the community of audiences, similar to other hobby communities online. Some of these I support, some I'm more skeptical about -- but either way, it's really great to see a board member so incredibly engaged with the field as a whole. Are South Florida boards asking these types of questions and thinking about the field in this way?

Victory Gardens Theater: An Artistic Transition Case Study

The New York Times wrote a piece on the recent artistic transition at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago and how it's become an incredibly bitter one for many of the people involved. Victory Gardens is a Tony Award winning theatre in Chicago dedicated to new work, originally by an ensemble of twelve local playwrights. The New Artistic Director, Chay Yew ended the old playwrights ensemble, bringing in a new ensemble and changed the artistic bent of the theatre company, still keeping the focus on new plays. The Chicago reader has an in-depth follow-up article and a statement from Jeffrey Sweet on why members of the former playwrights ensemble are speaking out now.

I was leery of posting these articles in the wake of Mosaic Theatre's closing. The articles are sympathetic to the old guard at Victory Gardens Theater and support the view that an institution can't live past its founder, which is not the case for many artistic institutions. Some of the conversation on twitter points out that Yew inherited a financial deficit and had to make serious changes in order.

however, the problems at Victory Gardens provide outside context to the conversations I've been having ever since Florida Stage closed a year and a half ago. Where does mission and an artistic director's personality overlap? How does a mission live in an institution after an artistic transition? What I'm getting from these articles is that Yew and the board believed the mission of Victory Gardens was strictly new work, while those with ties to the institution before the change-over saw the mission as something much more specific.

South Florida is a community of young, founder driven theatre companies. We currently only have one major theatre that has gone through an artistic transition. Because what happened with Mosaic is so very unfortunate, it highlights the need to start having conversations about transitions and how to make them happen as smoothly as possible.

Holiday Plays

And because there are so many questions raised on artistic succession, I'm rounding out today's articles with some fluff on holiday plays.

TCG has a new article on alternatives to the annual A Christmas Carol productions that populate the county (along with countless Nutcrackers) this season.

And the LA Times writes on why theatres bank on Holiday plays. While we have more holiday plays this season than we have in seasons' past, holiday plays don't seen to be as ubiquitous here as they are elsewhere. Perhaps this is another way a new audience can be reached.

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