Monday, August 15, 2011

Public Relations and Fundraising

I haven't written a post here in a long time.  My apologies.  After my first year of grad school in which I ate, slept and breathed Performing Arts Management 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I was kind of burnt out.  Not that I haven't been working in theater management all summer and LOVING it, I just wanted to stop writing about it for a minute.  If you're interested in reading about my journey to my first marathon, you can read about that here, but for all you arts junkies, I'm going to try to be more consistent on this front.

One thing that's been nagging at me ever since I started doing some work for an independent PR professional is how similar Public Relations is to Development.  A good Marketer will get you to buy a product.  His job is to convince you that you should purchase sometime. A good PR Pro and Fundraiser won't sell you anything.  She will give you the facts about a compelling story.  If she pitches to the right audience, that will be enough.

In this vein, even more than in marketing, it is important to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE in pr and development.  The most crucial step is identifying who will be interested in your pitch.  Step two is to cultivate the relationship.  Date your donor or journalist, so to speak.  Once the relationship is formed, most of your job should be done.  All of the foundation work has been set in place. 

Now all you have to do is give them the facts.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hey Ladies!

Thomas Cott's "You've Cott Mail" for today boasts a bulk of articles about the lack of women on Broadway (and in film) in major creative roles.  This isn't a new conversation, but it makes me crazy.  The ubermajority of Broadway ticket buyers are in fact WOMEN, so why is it so difficult for a female playwright to get her work produced?

We know there's a problem, so what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are Revivals Killing Theatre?

cover bands are far less exciting than the real thing
I recently had a conversation with my boyfriend,who is decidedly not a theater fan, about what makes the experience of going to see a band better than going to a show.  I was surprised to hear his answer.  I fully expected something along the lines of, the atmosphere at a live music performance is different, or they serve beer and let you talk to your friends, but that was not the case.

He said (loosely quoted), "When you go to see a musician or a band play, you're seeing the artist perform something they wrote, something that's original and creative.  A play is just a bunch of performers rehashing something some dead guy wrote fifty years ago, or something that's based on a movie."

Ouch.  I argued that there were lots of new plays and musicals, and there's really exciting work that happens off-Broadway and around the country.  Unfortunately however, the majority of non-theater fans only know theater through Broadway, and Broadway's churned out a lot of revivals, and a lot of derivative works in the past decade.  Add to that the fact that it's often easier to get a star on board for a proven show title as opposed to a risky new project, and we're sending a message that revivals are king.  To add insult to injury, many of our regional theaters around the country stopped producing original works, or drastically cut back, in exchange for big Broadway tours that fill houses.  Most people just aren't seeing new theater, because we haven't made it a priority.

I'm not knocking revivals, it's important to pay tribute to great works of our past from time to time, but, when old material is getting in the way of new works, we're choking our art form to death.  If we don't provide more opportunities for living writers, composers and lyricists to put their work on stage, there won't be any living theater artists for long.  They will find other careers where they can get their work produced.  Additionally, what's cooler for an audience than being able to see the artist in person?  We can't provide that opportunity for many of the shows that are produced today.  One of the "wow" factors of live performance is lost.

We're failing our artists and our audiences.  What are we going to do about it?

Monday, June 13, 2011

What is Spiderman, Turn off the Dark?

I had the opportunity to see Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark last week.  I fully expected it to be awful, and in some ways, I wasn't disappointed; however, I don't think its quite the train wreck the media would have us believe.  The truth is, it's not exactly a musical.  It's something else.

If The Book of Mormon is a five star restuarant, then Spiderman is Dave and Busters.  The food's not great, the service is meh, but it's still pretty cool.  You don't go there for an exquisite restuarant (or musical) experience, you go because it's a whole lot of fun.  It's flashy and cheesy and totally indulgent.  Because of this, I think this show just might have a chance. 

The show opens on Tuesday... do you think you'll go to see it?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Year One: Check!

So I just finished my first year of grad school (MFA: Performing Arts Management), and while I could never communicate everything I've learned this year, I'd like to mention a few lessons that have become invaluable to me.

Plan early and evaluate often.  The best way to guarantee success in any endeavor is to carefully plan and strategize, what you are going to do, when you're going to do it, and how you are going to evaluate the efficacy of your efforts.  Most importantly, planning forces you to ask WHY you're taking a specific action or following a specific model and gives you room to adjust before you take action.

2. ASK
You are not an expert at everything.  Never be afraid to ask questions, to ask for advice, or to ask for help.  Two minds are almost always better than one, and lifelong bonds can be built through teamwork.  Know who to ask, because there is such a thing as bad advice, but always ask.

Possibly the most important thing my mother ever taught me was to say thank you, to write thank you notes, and to always be grateful.  This, above everything else, has been invaluable in building my career and pursuing my education.  It truly does matter. 

All the best!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Perfect Storm, my take on the Spiderman debacle

I wrote this article as part of "Spiderman Tuesday" for  Check out other opinions on the infamous Broadway musical here.

There’s no denying that Spiderman, Turn off the Dark is a budget blowing whirlwind of epic proportions, but exactly what spun Broadway’s super mega musical into a vortex of disaster is less obvious. Let’s look at some of the details that contributed to the perfect storm.

Producer Tony Adams originally got the rights to do the show from Marvel. He got Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge on Board. Then he died.

Problem # 1: Your big picture guy, the one who has the vision for the project, is now out of the picture.

The production became the project of a number of other producers, unable to gather the necessary (and exhorbitant) capitalization, until it fell to the current ringmaster of this “rock and roll circus drama” (as Julie Taymor has coined it), Michael Cohl. Michael Cohl’s background is as a rock promoter.

Problem # 2: The savior of your show (and Mr.Cohl did save this show from the brink of not being), isn’t a seasoned lead Broadway producer.

Reportedly, Ms. Taymor is an uncompromising director, who has a vision that will be fulfilled at any cost. Given the already significant demands of the content (umm flying, sky high battles, mutant –like bad guys), Ms. Taymor’s rigid pursuit of her vision likely added to the financial demands of the show. In addition, the nature of the show made it too expensive to hold an out of town tryout. The Foxwoods Theatre underwent some serious renovations, just to accommodate the production.

Problem # 3: Every element of developing this show was expensive.

While Ms. Taymor is indubitably a talented and seasoned director, she is not a seasoned playwright, and she most certainly is not a seasoned musical book writer. While her collaborator, Glen Berger, while an accomplished playwright, doesn’t have any hit Broadway musicals to his credit.

Problem # 4: When launching an unprecedented project, it might be a good idea to hire someone who has Green/Comden-like success to write your book.

Finally, the safety issue that has been much discussed by my fellow bloggers, is a little more complicated than it may seem. Although it seems unconscionable that the production didn’t have the safety procedures it established after a stuntman plummeted to the ground FROM THE BEGINNING, hindsight is 20/20. Regardless, there were absolutely oversights in this department, as it seems there were at every step of this production, and safety is an issue that should be covering all bases. It’s not however, just an issue of not enough preparation. While the stunts involved are not unprecedented in a circus environment, they are unprecedented in a Broadway environment. What does that mean exactly? It means that Broadway actors, who are trained to sing, dance and act are suddenly flying, fighting, and performing acrobatic feats. That is dangerous in and of itself. Circus performers, like those who safely and magnificently perform with Cirque du Soleil, train for years to do what they do. Unfortunately, you can’t hire circus performers to do what a Broadway actor does, and you can’t afford to train a Broadway actor for years to do what a circus performer does just for one show.

Problem # 5: In reality, the concept is flawed. The only completely safe way to have done this production is not economically viable in the Broadway market.

To put it simply, Spiderman, Turn off the Dark is a project so ambitious that it needed a singular, overarching vision from the beginning, to set up checks and balances evaluating where the show was going and looking for problems before they arose. Unfortunately, the controls were not in place for this project and it has spent its entire existence playing catch up with unforeseen challenges. Whether it succeeds or fails will depend on the current leadership’s ability to plan ahead. I hear they’ve brought on a new consultant…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Strategy, Strategy, Strategy

So I had the benefit of attending Social Media Week NYC's presentation on social media in the arts world last week, hosted by the Guggenheim.  All of the speakers were from the visual arts world, but much of what they addressed was completely applicable to those of us in the performing arts.  There wasn't anything particularly groundbreaking, but there were some key points worth passing along.

1. Organizational buy-in
It's important to educate the rest of your organization about social media, how you're utilizing it, and why its important.  Create advocates in each department that can act as ambassadors for any social media campaigns you engage in.

2. Content is King
As arts orgs, what we bring to the table is content, the art, and the artists for that matter.  Providing access to the artists and the art is what will engage people in your networks.  If you're giving them the inside scoop, they have a reason to continue to connect.

3. Strategize
You have to PLAN your social media campaign.  Objectives are vital, then you want to find connections and points of integration for the projects you embark on at your organization.  (Hashtags for each production anyone?) 

And with that, I leave you with this genius video some consultant put together that, I feel, is a great visual breakdown of social media to share with your organization:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Who Are You?

Photo from
So I've been lucky enough to be working with a great theater company based in Brooklyn that's embarking on a huge challenge: becoming an organization.

For those of you who have started companies or businesses you know that involves a lot of paperwork, a lot of record-keeping, too much time, and some serious energy.  However, it's also a pretty exciting process that enables you to establish something that can stand the test of time and have an impact larger than your own.  One of the toughest elements of "going official" is establishing organizational culture.

We've all heard about the Google offices with their kegeraters, slides, and multicolored cubicles (all heresay, I have no credibility here), but what is organizational culture really, and why does it matter?

Organizational culture is a set of values and norms that establish how you carry out business on a day to day basis.  For nonprofits, it's often influenced by the mission and vision.  For theater companies, this means the kind of work you do should be reflected in the way you run your organization. 

For example, if your company is producing classical opera on a grand scale with a mission of fulfilling the original visions of the composer, you will probably adopt more formal and traditional business practices.  In an effective organization events must appeal to the audience that your art appeals to, in order to create a sense of continuity and cohesion.

So where do you start in building your organizational culture?  Look at the art you are making and the artists you work with.  Sit down and establish your core values, things that are most important to your company, and from them build a mission statement: a statement of purpose.  Why do you exist and what are you trying to accomplish with your work?  Integrate best business practices into the "feel" of your organization by adjusting them to work for you.  Don't jump on every trend that runs by marketing and fundraising, but be choosy.  Take the things that fit into your culture and leave the things that don't. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tweeting in Rhyme

Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts is presenting Seussical this month, so what are they doing to promote the show?  Rhyming of course!  Here's a few:

@BrklynCtr If you rhyme when you tweet, if you're tweeting in rhyme, Then you're certain to have a most Seussical time!

@BrklynCtr To rhymingly waste the rest of your day, head to this site without delay!  Seussical on Jan 30 at Brooklyn Center.

@BrklynCtr On Jan 30, have a Dr. Seuss day. Green Eggs & Ham for b'fast (  and then Seussical the play!

You can get more rhyming goodness @BrklynCtr on twitter :)

Is it cheesy? Absolutely.  Does it work? Totally.

One thing that I regret about a number of theater companies twitter accounts is that they don't take advantage of the voice of the organization, nor the feel of each show they present or produce.  There are ample opportunities for theaters to juice up their twitter presence with show appropriate material.  Another great example of this, Bridgeport Theatre Company's cast of RENT took turns tweeting in character:


@BportTheatreCo Anyone know a good place from which to buy a digital delay line? Maureen's is pretty unreliable.

@BportTheatreCo can't wait for the next Life Support meeting, then I Gotta sell some more T-shirts on the LES so i can pay my RENT

Granted, this doesn't work for EVERY show, and it's not appropriate for EVERY company, but it's important to get creative with your social media, and these guys sure are keeping me entertained!