Friday, May 08, 2009

SF and TCG Follow Up

Melanie Colburn, who sent me the original email about the study of San Francisco Bay Area theatre community that I wrote about here, has followed up with more information that may be helpful in this discussion. I appreciate Ms. Colburn's efforts. She writes:

After reading the interesting discussion that’s followed, I think a few clarifications are in order on the media alert and the fiscal snapshot report I sent Scott.

The “Taking Your Fiscal Pulse” snapshot provides the first comprehensive look of how the Bay Area not-for-profit theatre community is faring since the economic downturn.

Instead of scaling back on performances or staff, independent San Francisco theater companies are returning to their mission to connect with their donors and stakeholders. They are doing this both through reinvigorating time-honored methods of donor cultivation and embracing new social-networking technologies for the first time.

A few clarifications, in response to some of the posts above:

- The data represents a snapshot survey of independent not-for-profit theatre companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. So yes, smaller companies are well represented.

- The report shows companies are using more new media and social networking tools as a way to engage their supporters—and, yes, finally discovering facebook!

This is a first step in engaging stakeholders with new technology and much experimentation and learning is, no doubt, underway.

- The report also shows that the theatre community is also doing more hand holding with donors, cultivating the personal relationships that are at the heart of their mission.

- This is just a sampling of the findings and much more is contained in the full report.

Theatre Bay Area and TCG hope that other regions and theatre communities can learn from the survey. The full report is accessible for download online at:

A more comprehensive report will be released in the fall (September/October).

And my apologies to Scott for any missteps! You and your community of readers here are exactly the people whose insight and thoughts on the report we are most looking forward to.

Now, aren't you ashamed of yourself, Mr. Walters?
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Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Let art begin at home, and let it spread through the children and their parents, and through the schools and the institutions and through government. And let us start by acceptance … that the arts are important everywhere, and that they can exist and flourish in small places as well as large … according to the will of the people. Let us put firmly and permanently aside the cliché that the arts are a frill. Let us accept the goodness of art where we are now, and expand its worth in the places where people live.

—Robert Gard, “The Arts in the Small Community,” 1968

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Wanted: Small Theatre Photos

Folks -- As part of the <100K Project, I would like to start gathering information about theatre taking place in spaces not originally intended for performance. I'm particularly interested in small facilities (say, less than 100) that have solved a problem in a creative way. For instance, LaMoine MacLaughlin, founder of the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts, writes in his article "Let Art Begin at Home: The Amery Story" about their search for a place to use as the performance space for the arts center orchestra. They were looking at a 100-year-old church that had been through several owners.

"Although the acoustics were excellent, the sanctuary that we envisioned as our proscenium stage had been raised almost six feet by the Ford dealership [that had previously owned the building] so that automobiles could be driven into the building for repairs; it was too high for our performance needs. We wanted to seat 100 people for our concerts, but that seemed impossible and remodeling to that extent would be cost-prohibitive to us." Then he attended a performance of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra that took place in " the Colonial Church in Edina, one of the wealthier suburbs [of the Twin Cities]. The venue is very intimate; you can almost reach out and touch the performers and the audience is seated on three sides of the orchestra. That performance sparked a question in our minds: what if we looked at the church in Amery in a new light? What if we arranged the audience around three sides of what would be an arena stage with the fourth side as a balcony in the raised sanctuary? We measured and found we could seat 75 people around the three sides, with 25 in the balcony. We had our 100 seats! Voila! And it would be a much more interesting performance facility than the common proscenium venues found everywhere."

I'd like to collect pictures and/or descriptions of other small spaces like this. If you have something, email it to me at swalters at unca dot edu

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SF and TCG

I just received an email that reads as follows:

Theatre Bay Area (TBA) and the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) recently released new data from a snapshot of the San Francisco Bay Area’s theatre community that I thought you might want to share on your blog.


Taking Your Fiscal Pulse: A Report on the Fiscal Health of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Community” (attached as PDF)


Among other findings, the report reveals that in the face of economic adversity theatre companies are returning to their mission. Instead of scaling back, companies are embracing new social networking tools to develop personal relationships with their stakeholders.


The Snapshot report provides preliminary findings; a more comprehensive report will be coming out in the fall (September/October).

Now, there's part of me that wants to make another crack about the TCG's recent discovery of Facebook, and how this report (or at least this email about this report) apparently sees it as the savior for a failed business model. Oops! I guess I did make another crack... But seriously, does anyone else think that sentence is weird: instead of scaling back, SF theatres are using Twitter more? Wha? And does anyone really think that Twitter and Facebook really "develop personal relationships"? And "stakeholders"? Stakeholders???

Anyway, if you want the report, email me and I'll send it as an attachment. It might actually have info that is useful, who knows?

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tom Loughlin on Inertia in Theatre Education

Tom Loughlin's production of Romeo and Juliet is over, and he is back writing blog posts again. He has written one about the death of Augusto Boal, noting the media silence surrounding it (I hope to write something about Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed soon -- right after I get my grades submitted). He has also written a pointed analysis if the current situation in theatre and theatre education entitled "If It's Broke, Don't Fix It." Here's a taste, but go read the whole thing:

Theatre? As broken as anything can get.

Yet there seems to be very little will or ability to fix broken things anymore. Take educational theatre. It’s broken because it trains students for a broken profession while simultaneously breaking their personal financial situations by leaving them thousands of dollars in debt with no practical way of recovering their money. This piece of news seems not have reached theatre departments, but even if it had, theatre departments have too much invested in what they currently do to ever change.

Sometimes it’s not even a question of finding solutions. In many cases the solutions are out there just waiting to be implemented. I think it goes deeper than that. We, as a culture, seem to have a deep affinity towards inertia. We want things comfortable. We want things to be predictable. We want them to be the same. And we do not want to have to do the hard work involved in maintenance. Consensus seems harder than ever to achieve.

I might argue, as does he later in the post, that maintenance is less required than a complete reinvention,. His analogy comes from thr world of baseball:

What theatre needs is a to undergo a change something along the lines of Rick Ankeil of the St. Louis Cardinals. a big-time prospect as a pitcher who posted a record of 11 wins and 7 losses with 194 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA in his rookie year 2000. Inexplicably, he became unable to throw a strike, and after Tommy John surgery and other injuries, he re-constructed himself as an outfield and hitter. In the 2008 season he hit .264, had 25 home runs and 71 runs batted in over 413 at bats. It’s all about the adjustments.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Great Post By 99 Seats

For those of you who want to change things without burning down and starting over, and who responded to Isaac's call for practicality, 99 Seats offers a series of excellent suggestions that, if followed, could actually make a difference: "You Say You Want a Revolution? Or Seven Concrete Steps." Tell him Scott sent you...
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Think Again: Funding and Budgets in the Arts

Every once in a while, I think I'll post a link or two to posts written earlier in the life of Theatre Ideas that seem worth revisiting ...