AACT Town Hall: Community Theatres come together

AACT American Association of Community TheatreLast Saturday I attended the AACT (American Association of Community Theatres) Town Hall held here in Portland.  Arts People has been a sponsor of a number of AACT events over the years and we consider ourselves a partner to them as well as a deep connection to community theatres all over the country and in Canada.  The Arts People system has always been a great fit for these organizations who have big goals and complex needs, but often small staffs with little time to accomplish tasks.

It was great to hear these groups sharing so openly their stories of successes and challenges so that other organizations might benefit from their experiences.  The performing arts are a small voice in our culture, it seems, struggling to be heard, to find support, to advocate for the importance of what they do, and to even survive.  I’ve unfortunately seen this struggle too often divide organizations and individuals from each other in what can often be seen as a competitive atmosphere, instead of supporting and uplifting each other. This discussion was clearly the opposite.  With AACT bringing together these organizations toward sharing (and it was a great turnout), they can glean valuable insight into how different organizations are benefitting from presenting different types of programs such as staged readings, educational offerings, new types of social marketing and more.

The meeting was held just down the street from our Arts People offices at Twilight Theatre, one of our clients.  I was able to introduce myself and see a number of our clients in attendance, which is always a pleasure.  Arts People was founded on a goal of working with and assisting performing arts organizations to succeed and thrive.  We’ve worked very hard over the years to maintain close relationships with our clients on a first name basis, so whenever we get the chance to get face to face we take it.  To see the generous sharing going on at this meeting was a complete pleasure.

I started my own career in theatre in high school, and then went immediately to community theatre. I learned SO much from performing, directing, and design, to what it means to serve on a board of directors, what level of professionalism in the work I came to expect in myself and others, and how I wanted to work in the creation of theatre, including my own personal style and voice.  It is a place for joy, creativity, learning, sharing, collaboration, teamwork, accomplishment and self worth.  I’ve carried all that experience and knowledge forward into my work in professional theatres and sometimes returned to guest direct in community theatres I have a connection with.

Thank  you AACT for all you do to bring these theatres together in meetings like this, to the theatres who generously share their knowledge and experiences to help others, and to the individuals who keep these organizations alive in your communities.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

“Magic If”… for the audience

As an actor, there are many tools from many different schools of acting for us to utilize, play with, keep in our toolbox or leave alone if that tool doesn’t resonate with us.  These tools help us to discover deeper aspects of the character, to tap into emotions needed to play the scenes, relate in appropriate ways with the other characters, to play the period of the piece, to find the physical characteristics of our character and much more.

One of the grandfathers of acting who’s tools and methods still are referred to and used widely today is Stanislavski.  His “Magic If” was a simple, elegant way to discover or create nuances for the character based on possible past experiences and more.  We analyze a script first to find all the detail about our character that we can, but the script only gives us so much.  We need to fill in more detail based on clues, or simply out of our own imagination.

Example:  I’m playing a working class man in the 1930’s who is deciding to leave his family.

What if… Our character was abused as a child.  How might that past affect his present relations and his decision?

What if… His father died before he was born, so he never knew him.  How might that lack of a father example cause him to struggle in the role of father himself?

By imagining these possible back stories and history, it can color the performance I give providing depth, layers, nuances to the struggle he feels.  Things the audience is not directly aware of, but will greatly enrich the performance.

 

As an audience member, the work being done by the actors and the production team is intended to draw you into this story so you might feel the struggles, empathize with the characters, consider the dilemmas they face and wonder how you might handle the same situation.  This is the work of the audience when watching a performance.

In order to really feel the impact of a story, we need to be able to imagine ourselves in their situation.  No we don’t live in the 1930’s. Maybe you’re a woman instead of our a working class man like our character, so your situation and choices in his dilemma would be different.  But you can consider the “Magic If” of it.  What if you were faced with the same challenges he is?  Or what would you feel if you were his wife witnessing his emotional breakdown and wondering what to do.  By considering how you might feel or what choices you might make given yourself in a similar situation, we more deeply enjoy the experience of the performance.  This hopefully will lead to further consideration and discussions afterward.  It helps us all to be able to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes to relate to them better.

As a society, I think we currently struggle with a crippling lack of this ability.  Many people don’t know how, or don’t try to imagine what life is like for others.  It’s easier to dismiss them, to blame them, to label them as “bad”.  We also have powerful people trying to convince us that certain groups of people are the enemy in order to forward political or other agendas.  If we could better imagine and empathize with the struggles of others it can help us all to be kinder, to be more generous, to try to help uplift others who need help.

Imagine if this was something we actively taught in our schools.  I remember as a child going to live theatre performances as a “field trip”.  We were taught how to behave in a theatre, how to show our appreciation, etc.  Sometimes we did followup assignments analyzing the play we’d seen or sharing our experience watching it.  If this work regularly included discussion about the “Magic If” of empathy; of imagining ourselves in their lives, just think how powerful this could be in developing our children’s ability to see past differences of color, gender, orientation, religion, nationality and more.

The arts can teach us so much and expose us to lives and situations we might never be part of otherwise.  Perhaps we could be using them as a platform for teaching empathy as well as a great form of entertainment.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

Here and gone – plus or minus, the ephemeral performing arts

In my work in theatre, I’ve often considered and discussed with colleagues the fundamental nature of live performing arts… the fact that it is so temporary.  It is live, in the moment, often different from performance to performance; either by design, spontaneity, inspiration or accident.

So unlike film or audio recordings produced as a product that will last potentially forever, is the fixed lasting quality of those a benefit over live performances that exist only in the moment?  Or is that live aspect, the fragility of the performance have its own intrinsic value that is preferred over the recording?

When discussing their work creating a film, directors and actors speak about their preference to rehearse or not.  The fact that you can leap into shooting a moment of the story without knowing exactly what the actors will do in front of the lens means that you can sometimes capture pure magic that may never happen again.  That true spontaneity might be more true, or genuine, than a scene on a stage that was rehearsed for weeks and now is trying to appear to be happening only in the moment, relying on the talents of the actors to re-enact it night after night for new audiences trying to make it fresh every time.  This skill is not something that film actors need rely on in most cases.  Out of as many takes of shooting a scene, the magic only needs to happen once, recorded by the camera, then onto the next moment of the story.  Now you have that one ephemeral

moment, a moment of pure magic between actors, captured forever, to be enjoyed by countless people the world over.  But, while it was live at the moment it was captured, it now is fixed.  Every person sees that exact same performance.  There is no energy passed from the audience to the actors and back as they watch it.

With theatre and other live performances, the magic is immediate. I

t’s happening right now, in front of you, and can take your breath away, when it works.  But it likely won’t be as powerful every night.  It may not hold up over weeks and months of performances.  The actors must work very hard to make it seems brand new each time, and an off night means that an audience, likely seeing it for the first and only time, may not see your best performance.

So which is better?  Or is it merely a difference?  Do you have a preference?

I’ve personally worked for many years creating theatre, and I’ve also done some work in films.  I enjoy both.  The energy of embodying a character, creating emotions in front of an appreciative audience and telling a wonderful story is powerful, electric, exhilarating and unlike any other experience.  However, I am often sad for that to end.  A show runs for a limited time. Some people see it, others don’t and never will, and when that show ends all that hard creative work you did is gone to soon be forgotten.  With film friends and family anywhere can see it, now or in the future.

Here and gone.  For the appreciative audience members out there.  Keep this in mind the next time you see a live performance.  Weeks, even months of preparation went into creating the work you’ll see.  Sets were built, costumes sewn and fitted, countless hours of rehearsals have happened and more, all leading to this moment when you’ll see the show.  It’s monumental.  It’s sometimes magical.  It’s the work of many passionate individuals expressing themselves, telling a story, for you to enjoy.  When the show ends and the cast steps out for a bow… they are thanking you for coming and enjoying their hard work, as much as you are thanking them for presenting it to you.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts PeoplePatrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

Get creative for board fundraising engagement

For those of us who have served on arts boards, or have been staff in an organization with a board, we all know the typical responses to the idea of fundraising: fear, rejection, refusal, discomfort… Yet your board’s primary responsibilities to the organization are fiscal oversight and making deeper connections into the community that include contacts with deep pockets.

So how do you get your board engaged in fundraising without running up against a wall of refusal, or worse yet, setting up for failure?

One creative way is to tap their contacts without them feeling pushed to cold call for donations. Consider creating a list of businesses in your area that are currently NOT supporters of the organization.  Group them into business categories and put them on big paper sheets that you can tape around the room.  At the board meeting, put up the lists and give each board member a sheet of colored dots, recording who got what color.  Then ask your board to take 10 minutes and put a colored dot next to every business that they have any association with… a contact, have done business there, family connection, etc.  At some point, have them detail for you the specific contact name and title for you to write to.  Once done, you’ll have a list of board contacts at these businesses.

Now, have your staff prepare introductory letters written from the board member to the contact at the business that they know, explaining that they are on the board of this arts organization and how they value the work it does and its contribution to the local economy, education and more.  When completed, contact the board member to stop by the office and sign the letters, adding a short personal note if they wish.  Then send the letters.

About a week later, the board member should call those contacts to verify they received the letter and invite them to come see a show at your venue.  Give them a couple comp tickets and the board member should followup after to see if they’d be interested in supporting the organization, as they do, through a sponsorship, a donation, a company volunteer program or other possibilities.

So, during this process, you have helped that board member through the beginnings of making connections with potential donor businesses and made in roads with personal connections.  Hopefully the result will be increased business contributions and support.

This is just one idea for board fundraising engagement.  Obviously the possibilities are endless.  Build on this idea for other possible ways to utilize their support.  And remember, every board member should be a donor as well.  They should be giving at a level that is significant to them and their budget.  No one can comfortably explain their investment in your organization if they aren’t actually investing in it themselves.

Disappearing is one act your arts organization should avoid

“Out of sight is out of mind” as the old adage goes. This is especially true now, in our digital age where social media posts fly by and news cycles last minutes instead of days.

It is important to keep your organization in the minds of your patrons, even between your events, or between your seasons.  As soon as you stop communicating, even for a short period, it’s as if you vanished from the public sphere.  If you were to ask your patrons what your organization is up to a few weeks after your season has ended, what might they say?  Or what event or show is coming up next?  As media splashes onto the eyes and ears of the public constantly, it washes away things formerly seen or heard, even if the patron cares about the other details more.

So what do you do to keep your organization present in the zeitgeist of your community?

It’s really pretty simple.  You communicate, with fun and frequency.

Between projects or seasons, you need to have regular social media postings, blog posts, email newsletters and even press releases going out about what you are up to, how you are working toward the next project, and more.  How can you share insider information with your followers to excite them about things to come?  Consider doing a feature story or series of posts about the costume staff and their advance work on upcoming shows.  What about changes in your organization’s methods and procedures that patrons might find of interest?  Might some upcoming guest performers offer a blog post about their excitement and preparation for things to come?  Of course, coverage of special events and fundraisers is great content as well.  Include pictures and videos where possible, and keep it all coming.

For the most loyal and invested patrons, they will find plenty of detail and interest to dig into.  For those less attached but still wanting to know what’s coming up, they can scan the content or even just look at a well crafted subject or headline giving them enough to remember you’re still out there working on the next thing to entertain and enlighten them.

Bottom line,  your communication system needs to remain active and engaged with your digital community even if the rest of the company is taking some down time, or only working behind the scenes.  Don’t let your loyal patrons or community forget you.  Keep up the fun and anticipation of what’s coming next!

 

Are you penalizing your patrons for making your life easier?

As we work with various clients, coming to us from various other systems, we see numerous former cases of patrons being charged high fees when they buy their tickets online.

Many ticketing systems don’t give you, the customer, the ability to set what fees you want to charge to your patrons.  They often try to make this sound like you get to their system for “free,” since the patron is paying their high fees.  But also it usually means that your organization has no option of how you want to apply fees to patron ticket orders. Thankfully, the Arts People system allows you to set fees in a number of ways; per ticket, per order, box office vs online vs door sales, per subscription package, with a maximum per order, etc.

We also see cases where clients have set up to charge higher fees for online buyers vs box office buyers.  While the industry has taught us that this makes sense, due to the fact that so many systems started out as online only, so the fees your organization had been paying to use the system also linked to online orders.  But now this model is contrary to the goal of online ticket sales, which is to provide convenience to your patrons and to alleviate workload from your staff in your box office.  By shopping online, printing their tickets at home, the patron is making things easier for your organization, so why not give them an incentive to do so?  Orders processed on the phone or in person are where you’re spending the time and money to serve them personally, so it makes more sense that they should pay a small fee to help cover those staff and office expenses.

Box Office

All the above, of course, is provided for your consideration based on your circumstances and only if you wish to offset your costs by charging fees to your patrons.  Many organizations charge no fees on top of ticket purchases.  They embed costs in their ticket prices, or they simple absorb the costs knowing that it’s simply a budget item as part of a performing arts organization’s expenses.  Just as we have seen online shopping go more and more to free shipping, the performing arts industry has also been moving more and more to not adding fees on top of ticket purchases in order to attract more customers, to keep them happy, and to keep them coming back.  Just one of the benefits of the Arts People system is that it gives you the control and options you need, and we’re here to help you set things up as you wish.

Fees are a strategic element in the overall structure of your income budgeting and in the image you are projecting to the public.  These are important choices for you to consider, and therefore it’s important that you have a system that supports you in making them.  CONTACT US if you have any questions.

 

DID YOU KNOW? Automated emails should be branded and recognizable

When you send a brochure, letter, postcard, you’re certain to pay attention to the look of that item, ensuring that it is branded and recognizable at a glance as coming from your organization, representing your style and professionalism.

Email communications should be the same… even if sent from your automated systems.

The Arts People system sends out notices and reminders to patrons automatically, when they make a purchase or donation, schedule a reservation, when their membership is coming due for renewal, reminding them of their upcoming performance, and more.  These emails are important for good customer service and communication with your patrons. They instill confidence and build loyalty among your customers and ultimately can help you to build on relationships to step those patrons up the ladder from ticket buyer to subscriber to donor and more.

Of course, these emails only have these benefits if they look professional and solidify your brand in the recipient’s mind.

In Arts People, all of these emails are customizable, allowing you to tailor the language to your typical tone of voice, using terminology that your patrons are accustomed to, with your logo and styling to reflect your brand.  Easy to configure, or with assistance from our friendly Client Services staff, you can make great impressions with your patrons through all your communication, even automated confirmations and reminders.

To learn more about the Arts People system and how it can help your organization in many ways, CONTACT US, or visit our website for more details.

SETC 2018 Conference – Congratulations and Thanks

Arts People representatives Marc Ross and Jon Bailey recently attendedSETC Southeastern Theatre Conference the SETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference) in Mobile, AL.  They met theatre lovers and creators from high school to adults, shared in the camaraderie of support held by all as participants performed, competed, auditioned, shared and explored.

“We’ve always had a great affinity for the SETC and the great people of the organization and the groups that attend” said Marc Ross, Sales Manager.  “Meeting our clients, consulting with groups to see if we might be of help to them, and joining in the fun had by all, Arts People is proud to be a supporting part of the event each year.”

We want to congratulate all those that were honored at the event.

We also are proud to share the three winners of our daily drawing for $100 donations to their organization:

These very worthy organizations are doing great work in theatre and we’re very happy to support them.

Thank you to SETC and all those who stopped by our booth to say hello or chat about their needs.

DID YOU KNOW? Subscription sales and the needs of a ticketing system

For many performing arts organizations, subscription package sales are one of the key components of their overall earned income plan, their season ticket sales goals, and they’re audience development and loyalty targets and measures. By bundling together a season of events for a discounted price, your most loyal patrons can purchase the package before the season begins, secure they’re favorite seats for the entire season, and be sure to enjoy all your organization has to offer.

From an administration standpoint, subscriptions can be complex to manage, service and account for through the year, and can be even more tricky when it comes time to sell the next season to existing subscribers, ensuring they have the ability to retain their seats and tracking the income from packages correctly to the proper show income lines.

A subscription package consists of individual shows built into your ticketing system with their individual performances.  Pricing is set up for single tickets and then the discounted for subscription.  Performance series then are configured for the groupings of performances across the shows in each series option, such as opening Friday, first Saturday, first Sunday, etc.  Lastly are the packages themselves, such as a 6 show season package.  From that most standard configuration, the patron then chooses first the package, then the performance series and number of tickets by person type, then the seats they want which will be the same for each performance, then they pay for their package and they are done.  They have all their seats for all performances for the season.

Alternatively, some organizations don’t have matching performance runs, different pricing for each show, different venues for different shows and more.  These add to complexity and many systems ultimately do not handle these well.

Once sold, the system must also account properly for the income, and attribute it correctly to each show, even if the price of the individual shows may differ; what percentage or portion of the package goes to a specific show, for example.

Lastly, subscription sales from last year need to be rolled over into new unpaid orders for the next year to retain the existing subscriber seats, giving them an opportunity to renew their package and make any seating change requests prior to new orders being placed.  Once renewals are completed then new orders can be processed, and when ready, tickets can be printed and sent out, held at will call, or delivered in other ways.

As can be imagined, handling all these elements together, in an efficient and secure way, with outcome reporting you can rely on, can be difficult or impossible for many ticketing systems.

Thankfully the Arts People system is designed to help you configure all these intricacies smoothly, and our staff can help you to make it all happen easily and efficiently.  From seasonal setup to pricing options, order rollover to email notices and/or mail order forms, we make the challenges of season subscription campaigns easy to overcome.  We help you make your subscriptions a success for your organization, and a pleasure for your patrons.

For details about the Arts People system and how it handles subscription package sales in accurate industry-standard methods, contact us.  We’d be happy to consult on your needs to see if you’re a right fit for the system.

Don’t let burnout drag your organization down

SETC Southeastern Theatre ConferenceThis week is the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) in Mobile, AL and as I was thinking about the theatres that participate in this fun event each year, my mind went to ways that our system can help these organizations.  One of the biggest challenges any non-profit arts organization faces is employee and volunteer burnout, and one of the best ways to combat it is through automation and organization.

The Arts People system was designed from the beginning for performing arts organizations.  It was designed by and for people working in this industry and has a huge number of combined years of experience behind the staff, all working to help these groups to thrive.

A key to helping organizations like yours to keep a handle on the business end of things, and to free up your staff to work on the creative things they love, is a system that is efficient.  You need to be able to sell your tickets, hopefully with patrons making use of the self serve simplicity of online purchase.  You need to be able to work the fundraising side of your ledger sheet, developing lasting relationships with your loyal patrons and donors.  You need fast and accurate reporting for up to the moment information and feedback on your marketing efforts to make quick decisions when needed.  You need all these things and more in a single integrated system that staff and volunteers can learn quickly and utilized cleanly so as to not make a mess of your CRM data for future mining and reference.

“Our online sales increased from 10% to 62%. [Arts People] has made my job ten times easier, and I feel like our entire organization crossed over into the 21st century!” – Keri Larsen, Ticket Office Mgr – Cache Valley Center for the Arts

Arts People is the system so many theatres and other performing arts organizations choose, and return to, because it helps with all these things.  Clients report it helping them alleviate staff stress and burnout because now they have hours freed up in their day to help their patrons and work on important things without getting bogged down in details.  They tell us how in the first year a huge percentage of sales moved to online, alleviating box office burden.  They tell us how patrons love it.

Arts People was highly recommended to us and has never disappointed. From their excellent, easy-to-use software to their hands-on personal tech support, this company continues to serve our theatre very well.“ – Sue Ellen Gerrells, Artistic Director – South City Theatre – Pelham, AL (SETC, AACT Member)

When you look for a system to handle your ticketing, marketing, fundraising, reporting, volunteer management, class enrollments and more, make sure it works fluidly, efficiently, is familiar in terminology and appearance and ready to help your team to succeed.  We’d be happy to consult with you on your specific needs.  We can give you a demonstration or even customize a test system just for you to help you see how our system can change your operation for the better.

Soon your staff will be smiling, stress reduced, burnout averted, patrons happy, with your work focused back on the creation of your art.  Let us help.

#SETC2018