If someone would ask me what is the biggest problem facing the South Florida Theatre Community -- I wouldn't say a lack of strategic planning or diminishing funding (though both are major issues), I would say scarcity thinking. Scarcity thinking is when we get into the trap that there is only a limited amount of resources (audience, money, time, etc) and that we're all competing for the same pie. And I really believe that most of our problems with fundraising, marketing, etc come from a scarcity thinking perspective. So we're all competing for the same audience, instead of looking to develop a new, untapped audience. Or we're all competing for the same twenty donors, instead of trying to reach out to new funding sources.
Last week, I went to a presentation at the Broward Center by the executive director of the Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company in Boise, ID, who achieved the ambitious goal of making their dance company as well-known and vital to their city as a local major sports team. They danced in bars and on the street. They went into hospitals and worked with patients. They commissioned local artists to paint pictures of each of the dancers and then auctioned those paintings, splitting the proceeds 50/50 with the artists. They talked a local bar into creating a drink for each of dancers. And now they're at the point that even if you're not one of their patrons -- you're aware of the Trey McIntyre Project the same way that local citizens are aware of the Miami Heat.
And I think the biggest obstacle keeping our local theatres from working in the community like the Trey McIntyre Project is black magical thinking. We're so caught up on the problems of the diminishing funding, traditional audience, and mainstream news coverage that we're not doing the work needed to make the arts as vital as the Miami Heat.
And I'm not immune to it. My biggest issue with scarcity thinking is time -- "I don't have time to do that." And while time is a finite resource, instead of getting bogged down into the minutia, I could look at ways of rationing time better and finding ways that others can help.
But over all, we need to stop thinking that there is only one pie and we all get a sliver of it. Instead of bemoaning that certain people get all the pie; we can focus on getting another pie.
A Good Example of Changing the Paradigm
Victory Gardens Theater recently announced that it was cutting back its season from five plays a year to three plays a year in order to better manage its finances, which have been unstable in recent years. When they are not producing, they are hosting four other smaller theatres in a resident theatre program. This way Victory Gardens saves money by cutting down on the number of productions, continues to earn a portion of box office income while they are dark, and gains to a new audience that might not have ever been to their traditional offerings. The resident company gains access to more resources for production, a new audience that might not have been to their smaller rental spaces, and the guidance that comes from with a larger institution.
Chicago already has a great example of a similar program at Steppenwolf, but it's interesting to see Victory Gardens adapt this model during a stress period, as a way to reduce costs.
Let Them Drink Beer
Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin of the Off-Center @ The Jones talk about how they developed a new audience by embracing ALL the aspects of a theatre going experience.
Each show is created with the full experience in mind. Artistic, marketing, development, audience engagement, and production are all equal players in the creation of a show. What’s going on in the lobby? What’s happening online? What happens once the performance ends? What community partnerships can we develop to strengthen the experience and broaden our reach?And they list some really great examples of how they engage younger audiences right as they walk in through the door. What message does your lobby send to your patrons? And does that message fit with both the art you're creating and your patron base?
In my experience, the theatre company that embraces this concept the most is the House Theatre of Chicago, though less so at the Arsht than in Chicago. The link goes to an older blog post of mine on how excited I was about The Sparrow two years ago, but I talk about what makes their shows stand out -- and a lot of it goes back to the idea that the show doesn't start when the house lights go down.
But embracing the idea of the whole theatre going experience doesn't just have to be about getting younger people in the audience -- TimeLine Theatre in Chicago, which does plays about history and how the past effects us today, have really intricate, museum quality dramaturgy displays on the historical event or person that the play surrounds. It's thinking about how to engage your audience in the entire experience and making theatre going memorable and exciting.
Trying New Things
The Royal Shakespeare Company and Google have partnered to do A Midsummer Night's Dream in real time, over a variety of online formats. Audiences will be able to interact with the characters via social media.
Practical Stuff for (Playwrights and Other) Theatre Artists
Gwydion Suilebhan has seven tips for playwrights to be successful on twitter. I think the advice is broad enough so that everyone can find it useful.
And then I wrote the following piece for the Dramatist Magazine on why EVERYONE should apply for Creative Capital.