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Author Archive | Joe Patti

Flyover, USA, Broadway Needs You!

One of the reasons why I like reading Broadway producer Ken Davenport’s blog, The Producer’s Perspective, is that like a lot of non-profit arts managers, (though he isn’t one), he is constantly asking how the experience of attending a Broadway show can be made better.

It may interest you to learn that this examination extends to the national tours of  Broadway shows. Back in March, he took a look at a study the Broadway League did on the demographics of people who attend Broadway touring performances.

It may come as no surprise that audiences for the tours are older, whiter and trend more slightly more female than audiences on Broadway. Among his insights that caught my eye were the following:

 

    • In the 2013-2014 season, Broadway shows touring across North America drew 13.8 million attendances.  (NOTE FROM KEN:  Broadway saw only 12.21 million attendees.  The Road Audience is 13% larger than the Broadway Audience.  Now do you see how important The Road is?)

[…]

    • The most commonly cited sources for show selection (other than being part of the subscription) were: the music, personal recommendation, Tony Awards and articles written about the show.  (NOTE FROM KEN:  This is all the same as in NYC, with a little less dependency on advertising, because shows aren’t in these towns long enough to have big advertising budgets.  Want to be big on The Road?  You better be big in NY first.)
    • The reported influence of Tony Awards in deciding to see a show continued to grow.  Twenty-four percent of respondents said that Tony Awards or nominations were a reason they attended the show, compared in 8% in the 2005-2006 season.

[…]

    • Theatregoers said that the most effective type of advertising was an email from the show or presenter.  (NOTE FROM KEN:  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Everyone should look to double their email list every year.)

[…]

    • Advance sales to single-ticket buyers have been steadily increasing over the past 10 years.Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that different performance times would encourage more frequent attendance.

He makes many other observations, but these were most interesting to me in terms of providing some insight into how best to promote performances to audiences.

In his commentary on the study’s final finding, he suggests touring productions may be important to the health of shows on Broadway by getting people interested in visiting NYC.

    • Thirty percent of respondents said they made a visit to New York City in the past year.  Of those, 81% attended a Broadway show while in town.  (NOTE FROM KEN:  And this is the stat I was looking for.  81%.  That’s huge.  Like 3.35 million huge.)

For me, the last stat is what says it all.  See a lot of people think Broadway begets The Road.  But I think we should focus on the reverse.  See, it’s much easier for a person in Dallas to see a show in Dallas, rather than NYC, right?  So perhaps Broadway would benefit from encouraging Dallas citizens to see shows in Dallas first, before trying to sell them Broadway.  Get them to buy into what’s close to them, what’s easy for them, and they’ll work their way up to Broadway.

In a different post last week, Davenport noted the importance of touring to Broadway productions. The economics of touring is different from mounting a production on Broadway. While no one knows if a Broadway show will recoup its investment, a tour nearly always does. However, you have to have invested in the Broadway production to have the opportunity to invest in the tour.

Davenport questions why people loudly announce when a Broadway show recoups, but never announce when a tour does. He suggests the following reasons:

Is it because National Tours have an unbelievably high recoupment rate?… So since it’s more of a “given,” do we just not think it’s special enough to put out there?

Or are we afraid of putting it out there for the public for fear of getting the attention of unions and vendors who want a bigger piece? (If so, I think we have plenty of losses on Broadway to point to that balance the equation.)

Or are we afraid of putting it out there because the Presenters of the tours might be losing money, while the tours themselves are making money?

That final point resonates a bit with me. Due to the economics of our region and a mission to make attendance affordable, we lose much more on a sold out Broadway show than we do on a chamber music concert with 1/3 of the seats filled.

Setting that aside, it is very interesting to learn just how important venues in the fly over country between the coasts are to the continued economic well-being of productions in NYC.  As it is, looking at the cast bios for these shows, they are certainly dependent on artists migrating from those parts of the country to NYC in order to mount the Broadway productions and tours.

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Checking You Out Is Just Too Overwhelming

Earlier this month, Seth Godin made a post about discovery fatigue that makes me think that recommendations from trusted sources are going to play an ever larger role in getting people to initiate some sort of relationship with an arts organization.

Advertising, social media posts and other marketing efforts will still play a large role in informing and maintaining awareness in those who are already interested, but reading Godin’s post makes me think the initial impetus to investigate is likely to come from a trusted source.

Godin gives examples of how when new technologies first emerged, people consumed broadly, reveling in the chance to discover something new. But as time progressed, everyone felt overwhelmed by the number of opportunities afforded them and essentially retrenched and began focusing only on what they felt was manageable.

We come up with all sorts of excuses about our fatigue, most of them have to do with the fact that there’s nothing good on, nothing new happening, or we’re just too busy. I don’t think those hold water…

I think there are actually three reasons:

First, once you’re busy with what you’ve got, it diminishes the desire to get more.

Second, discovery is exhausting. Putting on a new pair of glasses, seeing the world or hearing the world or understanding the world in a new way is a lot more work than merely cruising through a typical day.

And third, infinity is daunting. A birdwatcher might be inspired to keep seeking out new birds, because she knows she’s almost got them all. But the infinity of choice that the connection economy brings with it is enough to push some people to artificially limit all that input.

In that context, I am appreciative to all those who continue to read and subscribe to this blog every week.

We have all probably heard the complaint that “there is nothing to do in this town,” and naturally thought of all our own events first and then enumerated all the other events including charity races, pancake breakfasts, antique car shows and farmers markets going on in the same weekend.

It may not be that there is nothing going on, just that there is nothing going on in the areas people have chosen to focus on. They may not be eager to look elsewhere out of fear of missing out on something that does pop up at the last minute, but it also may be a reluctance to add another area of interest to what is perceived to be too many interests.

Whatever the next big tech thing is will join crowded Netflix queues, Kindle reading lists, social media interests, family, friends and pets. If an ad or event listing manages to squeeze itself in there and pique the interest of someone who is unfamiliar with you, they may not be motivated to explore further in the absence of a recommendation of some sort.

Even then, only if it sounds like something they would enjoy enough to crowd their life up a little more. I often read comments from people visiting the U.S. from other countries that we speak in such hyperbole using terms like “awesome, fantastic, the best, amazing.” I wonder if we are essentially forced to use this level of enthusiasm as a default because anything less wouldn’t convince someone to invest their attention in something.

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Are Program Bios Adding Value To The Experience?

Earlier this week Samantha Teter had a piece on ArtsHacker about writing bios. She does a good job pointing out many important elements that should be part of a bio (including proofreading) and that one should use a different bio for different purposes.

However, recently I have been wondering if bios in a performance playbill are really effective anymore. Performers have been using the same basic format with the same basic content for decades now, but as we all know, audiences have changed during that time.

So among my questions are: Do audiences read bios any more? Is the content relevant to them? Has anyone thought to ask?

What are the purposes of bios? Do they serve the artists by providing recognition to individuals? Do they serve to strengthen a relationship with the audience? Are they effective at doing either?

Over the last decade I have often read suggestions regarding press releases and marketing content for the arts. One of the things most often criticized is the inclusion of long listings of accolades that the public has no way to judge the relevance of.

People know what the Tony Awards are, but nearly anything else is a mystery. While foreign sounding names like the Zhege Dongxi Prize and studying with Pierre Lapin at Le Jardin de M.A. Gregoire sound somewhat impressive, no one who is not an insider has any idea if this is a mark of excellence or something someone made up.

There is also the distinct possibility that even regular audience members may lack the connection to the arts field that past audiences did and do not recognize the prestige of names like Jacob’s Pillow, Tanglewood, and Stratford Festival.

If one actor lists a dozen shows they were in and another just lists a short handful, is the former more experienced than the latter? It could easily be the case that the former is just starting out and listing everything they have been in since high school and the latter is so experienced, it isn’t worth listing more than the last couple shows.

Does it help the audience feel more engaged in the event to know that the performer lives with their husband, kids and two dogs, Misty and Pepper?

I am not suggesting that bios be scrapped so that the organization can save on printing bills and relegate performers to a simple listing. Yes, I know some unions require the inclusion of bios.

Nor am I saying that all bios are useless. I spent part of today reading bios of the speakers slated for the Americans for the Arts conference in Chicago.

I am just asking, outside of tradition, do we know why we still do this? If we do, then could we do it better?

If we want audiences to be excited by our organizations and what we do, would it be better to have a big color picture in the program of the artists conducting a workshop or in rehearsals, instead of pages of text?

Perhaps QR codes with the names of the individual artists could be placed around the margins of the image so that people could scan them and learn much more than 50 words about the artist by visiting their social media page packed with images and videos.

If the purpose of listing bios is to provide artists with recognition that they wouldn’t otherwise receive and it has to be done in the traditional format, then are there any changes of content people might suggest?

Think about it this way. Everybody gets their name in the credits at the end of a movie, but even if people stay and try to pay attention to the list, it is nearly impossible to pick individual names out even if there is someone you are looking for.  Someone working on the movie probably has a better chance of being recognized as people scroll down on the IMDB listing than they will in the movie theater.

Teaser trailers at the end of Marvel movies keep people in the theater, but they probably don’t help improve an artist’s exposure and recognition.  By making  considered changes to program books, arts organizations might actually have the ability to raise the profile of artists, if only by a smidgen and provide a more meaningful experience for audiences.

I am just not quite sure what those changes might be. Something to consider, though.

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It’s Just Something I Was Trying

A few weeks ago I posted about an orchestra in Bremen, Germany which is based out of an elementary school. The situation has been something both the students and musicians have found to be constructive and enjoyable. In addition, the partnership has helped improve the reputation of that part of town.

In reaction to this story, there were a few “we should do that here” type of comments made in a handful of places. Recently, I was pleased to learn that a somewhat similar program exists in Cleveland where some music students of the Cleveland Institute of Music live in a retirement home.

The arrangement was born out of a lack of housing at the Cleveland Institute but has grown into a more formalized program. Students from the institute perform for, and occasionally with, residents of the retirement home. The students take their meals and interact with the other residents. On the whole, the arrangement seems to have had a positive and somewhat therapeutic impact on the lives of the regular residents.

So this is great! Music students will gain a better understanding of potential audiences!

At least that was my initial reactions until I recognized, as we often joke/bemoan, residents of a retirement community are the main demographic attending symphony halls and chamber concerts.

While these students may potentially develop insights and skills for better interacting with potential audiences, the truth is arts students live, work and play with those on the lower end of the coveted “young people” age range in university dorms and apartment complexes for years at a time and don’t necessarily develop these skills.

To a greater or lesser extent, we all live among members of our target demographics, but it doesn’t guarantee we will learn to relate with these groups and talk about our work in a way that interests and engages them.

Perhaps part of what is required is to take a page from Bremen and Cleveland and just go out and practice in plain sight.

I say practice because a performance in the park, flash mob in a train station or shopping center can have enough formality associated with it to prevent people from approaching you lest they disturb you. While being a familiar figure frequently visible in the park or other common area, pausing and restarting your practicing, can incite some curiosity and conversation.

The years one is in school probably provide the best opportunities an artist has to understand how to present themselves and interact with their peers.

Operating within the context of an educational environment may give both the performer and the observer the most permission they will ever have to ask stupid questions and give awkward answers. In other words, both get to learn to talk about the arts.

There is a lot of conversation about the need to teach arts students to be entrepreneurs, but I am thinking an important part of that might be requiring students to spend X amount of time each month practicing their discipline outside of rehearsal studios and practice rooms in places like dorm quads, university center lounges, sidewalks, green spaces etc.

During this time, they should be departing from discipline and orthodoxy of the classroom to play along with music on a boombox, create an impromptu soundtrack for actors performing a scene, paint/sketch an interpretation of the music/dance/acting piece being performed.

You know, essentially embodying the cliched movie plot of the kid who has the skills to be great, but wastes their talent rebelling and involving themselves in some expression of pop culture.

Except this time, it is instructor approved effort in experimentation, collaboration and conversation.

After a few minutes of playing with an idea, they can turn to any spectators and ask “what do you think?”

That can be the start of a conversation that can gradually contribute to the development of both performer and spectator. If the spectator says, “I don’t know,” and the performers says “I don’t know either, it was just something I was trying,” that is perfectly fine because it gives everyone involved permission to be imperfect in execution and understanding.

If spectators jump in to participate in some way, that is great because it provides the basis of a conversation between people who have a connection to the performance/interaction.

There is always the possibility that a spectator will launch into a scathing critique in an attempt to humiliate the students practicing. That is something else all artists need to learn to deal with.

Chances are, the face to face encounter won’t be as harsh as a criticism on social media. Though instructors need to recognize the potential for their students to be recorded and belittled on social media.

Really, unless they are trying something extremely ambitious, kids wiping out on their skateboards or while attempting a parkour move are much more interesting fodder for a video of Epic Fails.

Even if no great, incisive conversations ever develop from an arts student’s efforts, just the fact that it made seeing an artist perform/create as normal as seeing a skateboarder can have a long term positive effect.

There may even be a greater impact if it is a high school/college age peer performing/creating masterfully. After all, a teenage skateboarder is a lot cooler and impressive than a 45 year old skateboarder (Tony Hawk notwithstanding.)

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