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

 

 

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.

Admit one - free tickets

Give away FREE tickets to high school students

A theatre I’ve worked with over the years built a very successful program that had clear benefits both for high school students, as well as for the theatre itself, by giving away tickets to the students… for FREE.

Called originally their “10 for 1” program, this is how it worked.

First, they would collect donations from individuals, businesses and granters to support the program.  For every $10 dollars donated, they would then give away a free ticket to a high school student in their area.

Usher with empty seatsIn their case, they were performing in venues that had plenty of seats, where they rarely sold out. So the seats they gave away for a given performance likely would have gone empty without the high school students occupying them.  With this in mind, this program would likely not work well for performing arts groups that do not have the extra inventory.

Obviously for the students, this was a wonderful offer, especially since the arts programs in their own schools had been cut back to the bone.  Their theatre programs were mostly extra curricular in nature, and the school did not have funding to bring theatre, English or humanities (or any) students to shows on field trip type of arrangements.

For a few years the theatre struggled to facilitate the students coming to the theatre.  They tried to work with the principals of the schools, with the school districts and even with the individual teachers.  They also tried advertising in the school newspapers, and tried placing posters on the grounds.  They even tried booking school buses on a weekend to bring the students from a meeting place at the school Each of those efforts proved mostly ineffectual, relied on overworked school personnel, or were taking too much manpower to be sustainable.  The board of directors discussed ideas and finally decided to try using social media to spread the word.  Instead of requiring a reservation, they communicated that students could just come to the theatre, show their active student ID, and get a ticket as long as seats were available.  The word spread via social media from student to student, parent to parent, was shared on the school pages and others, and it finally worked.  Students began taking advantage of program more and more, to the happiness of the theatre board and staff.

As for the funding, the donations that came in required really no special handling.  Again, since the inventory was readily available, the funding simply went into the general operating budget, helping the theatre to fund their season productions and everyone wins.

grantsThe program is imminently fund-able by granters and sponsors, since it falls under the category of arts education, and helps the schools with their clear desire to include the arts in the lives of their students.  They would do occasional asks of their patrons to contribute, would have businesses help underwrite the program, and grantors who favor arts education loved to help.  A paddle raise at their gala event also would add to the funding as well.  If they ever needed evidence of the effect of the program, they could call up the ticket counts in their Arts People system, flagged with a comp ticket code.

The theatre also prepared a study guide with accompanying teacher lesson plans in pdf form for those who might want to use them for a specific show. Unfortunately they found that in most cases the teachers didn’t have the budget to even photocopy them.  So for organizations who might want to try this type of program, you may need to take some of the funding that comes in to help the teachers with these.  In some cases the students were also given a coupon code on a flyer to take home to their patrons that would give them a discount off tickets to the show, creating some additional sales revenue, and possible new patrons for the theatre.

High school students, seeing outstanding theatre for free, gaining an appreciation of the art form, or encouraging their existing passion for it, and the theatre gaining much needed capital toward funding their season expenses.  The program has been a huge success!

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director for Arts PeoplePatrick Spike is the Marketing Director, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. His work with clients has helped them to increase their revenue while streamlining their box office and back office operations. www.patrickspike.com.   He is the former Audience Development Director for Bag&Baggage Productions, and is a current board member of PATA – The Portland Area Theatre Alliance.

Arts People, software for the performing arts, serves theatres, music and dance groups, choirs and opera, high school, college and university programs, performing arts center facilities and more.

Flight picture from the production.

Podcast: Spike speaks with Eric Guerin about the stagecraft of flying actors, and the safety concerns involved

I sat down today to talk with Eric Guerin, who’s a new member of our Client Services staff here at Arts People.  Eric comes to us from the Brighton Center where he was Theatre Director.  In his role there, he recently was part of the creative team of a production with high school students that involved flying two of the actors on stage.  In this podcast we discuss the challenges, concerns and intricacies of flying actors on a theatre stage, and also the overall challenges of creating highly theatrical and exciting productions, while still maintaining strict control over safety.

Listen to podcast (approximately 18 minutes)

 

Photo:  Actor in fly rigging with cable wrapped in nylon rope to appear he was parachuting down to the stage.  (c) 2017 Blue Heron Photo

 

Visit them online:
Brighton Center:  Brightonperformingarts.com
Brighton Musical Company: Brightonmusical.com
ZFX Flying:  http://www.zfxflying.com/

 

 

Three words for every performing arts organization – Know Your Niche


I regularly speak to performing arts organizations that try to do all and be all to their community.  The result?

  • They struggle to find their audience.
  • They burn out, barely hang on, and slowly decline.
  • They wonder why the community doesn’t come out en masse to support them.

Ask yourself…

  1. “What would your loyal patrons say draws them to you and keeps them coming back?”
  2. “If you surveyed patrons who have attended only one of your events in the past but have not returned. What would be the reason?”
  3. “Of patrons who attend other arts organizations but have chosen NOT to attend yours, what caused them to make that choice?”
  4. “Of all the people working with your organization, what would they say is your artistic focus, that also makes them want to work with you?  Would they have an immediate and concise answer?”

If you don’t have a clear idea of what the above responses would be, it’s probably time to hone your niche.

It’s a pretty commonly held concept that no single arts organization can be all things to all people. Otherwise said, we can’t please everyone all the time. It’s also can be said that when we think of a region or population area that “has a great arts scene” or “is culturally rich” that one contributing factor is that there’s a great variety of cultural or arts options available; that there is something for everyone. So we obviously value diversity in arts options, which also translates to a variety of arts organizations.  We love choices; different audiences, different tastes, different interests.

 

Now, let’s imagine.  If one organization were to try to be that variety for their community, and if they hope to achieve it with a degree of quality and consistency, some of the challenges might be

  1. How to attract talent interested in doing your work. While an artist might be interested in one project in your season, they might find no interest in the rest. How do you build and cultivate relationships with a core group of artists and technicians when their interests vary one project to the next?
  2. Audiences also may be divided over your work. They might be drawn to buy tickets to one show that peaks their interests. If they enjoy it they may want to come back. But the next show isn’t their taste at all and then they are disappointed, alienated, and often won’t be back.

So what does this mean for developing relationships with both the artists who create the work, and audiences who want to come see it?  Generally will mean that you’re working to gather talent and audience for each of your projects individually, with greater challenges developing a loyal group interested in your work as a whole.  

So is the model of trying to do something for everyone within a single arts organization sustainable? I think if we look historically at these types of organizations, and to the groups trying to please their community with palatable shows that offend no one and try to please everyone, that this just isn’t the case. These groups struggle year after year in their marketing and communications, their ticketing and fundraising, and to sustain without much growth, and often with a gradual decline in their attendance. Without loyalty in your audience, they are also much more at risk of catastrophe if specific projects miss the mark for audience satisfaction.  A single ticket audience is far less forgiving than the audience that enjoys your body of work over time.

 

So, what is the alternative? It is to find and hone your niche and stick to it.

What is it your organization is really about?  What is the type of work that the collective members of your organization agree on as their primary interest?  Do you focus on classical theatre with a fresh approach?  Do you focus on contemporary dance, including a commitment to new work each season?  Is it non-narrative musical performance art, or tried and true standards done remarkably well?  Dig deep. Find what it is that excites you as a group and that you are accomplished at creating.  Make the big decision and agree to stick to it and do it better than anyone else in your area.  Become the experts on that particular form.  You may find that some of your members don’t agree.  If so, it may be time for them to move on as you clarify what your niche is.  

 

Once that is decided, and the quality and passion shows through, you will work to find the audience who loves it as well.  Artists interested in that pursuit will seek you out.  News will spread and reach other organizations that are passionate about that type of work.  You’ll be able to better cultivate relationships and build loyalty in your audience, graduate them to donor support, membership and greater participation.

You must stick to the work you love, so the passion comes through with every project, every performance, every moment.  Communicate this clearly in every message.  Those who love that work will find you, and will be as passionate about it as you are.  They will be your advocates, your army, your cheering section.  

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts PeoplePatrick Spike is Marketing Director of Arts People, with the company for over 10 years. He has 30 years in performing arts administration, marketing and creation. www.patrickspike.com