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Author Archive | Joe Patti

Shakespeare on a Boat

I am sure by this late hour of 6:00 pm EDT, everyone must be aware that today is the observed 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. This morning I caught a story on NPR about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London embarking on a 2 year odyssey to perform Hamlet in every country in the world. There was discussion in the story about the hazards they may face in places like Syria, Central African Republic and Ukraine where there has been either recent or ongoing unrest.

My first reaction upon hearing they were going to perform Hamlet was wondering why they chose to present the longest of the plays. Sure there is a lot of exciting action, but there is also a lot of brooding.

But it appears that they have trimmed the show down to 2:40 and perform on a bare bones stage with 12 actors. I thought about this in connection with Shakespeare’s Globe Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole’s comment that,

“We’re going to be very free and open. The set is basically the suitcases that the whole thing travels around in, so it spills out of its own suitcases. And we’re going to be playing in some very prestigious national theaters in some countries, but we’re also going to be playing on beaches on Pacific islands. The idea is that it’s infinitely adaptable to wherever we want to put it up.”
 

I actually hoped that their plans were to set up in front of or in the parking lots of some of those prestigious national theaters instead of inside them. Dromgoole talked about how a tour of Hamlet was performed on a boat off the coast of Yemen in 1608, noting that the play was always meant to be performed on tour in the manner they are undertaking.

My thought was that it would be a pity if they were performing on beaches and village squares only when there was a lack of a “proper” facility. Looking at the schedule it does appear that they are performing inside the bulk of the time.

As a person who has worked outdoor Shakespeare festivals and music events, I can understand the desire for a stable environment to perform in as you try to keep your world tour on schedule. You can’t perform in places like the Copan Ruins in Honduras every night.

As we have often discussed, the thing that has allowed Shakespeare to endure for 450 years, and will allow the arts to remain relevant, is to bring it to where the people live. I had hoped there would be more of that.

I will admit to being a little self-centered. When I saw that they would be performing around the world on a rudimentary stage, I hoped they would keep a detailed blog so that I could gain insight into how different peoples interacted with the show when it appeared on their streets, without a lot of effort on my part. I was interested to learn where people would stay to watch; where they might wander in and out of the audience; where they might actually wander around curiously behind the stage.

These observations might provide ideas for how to make the attendance experience more interesting for our own audiences. I don’t know that we would get as much of that in the more controlled theatre environment.

On the other hand, thanks to the Globe tour, I have become more aware of the existence of Shakespeare focused theaters in places like Bremer, Germany and Gdansk, Poland.

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What Is Best In The Arts?

The Spring Issue of Arts Presenters’ Inside the Arts is out. When I first got the hard copy version, I quickly scanned through to see if there was any mention of my former colleague, Lehua Simon’s talk. At first, I only saw the picture on the back cover.

I started to get a little miffed when it didn’t appear like any mention was going to be made in the recap of the conference. How could they ignore an event that made such an impact!? Finally, I saw the coverage in a few paragraphs on the last page of the recap article.

I excitedly reported this to Lehua and other former colleagues who later informed me I missed probably the most prominent mention of all, APAP President Mario Garcia Durham’s lengthy discussion of Lehua’s impact upon the conference in his letter.

I have mentioned before that walking into a conference and quickly achieving recognition seems to becoming Lehua’s forte. The fact that people are able to come from relative obscurity and in 5 minutes energize others by presenting themselves is what excites me about the arts. There was no invocation of politics or attempts to elevate one group to the detriment of another. Lehua just talked about experiences that made her passionate about the arts and it resonated with a large group of people.

While those five minutes are longer, (though less bloody minded), than Conan the Barbarian’s famous statement about what is best in life, it can be helpful to remember that it doesn’t take long to inspire passion in others, be it other arts people or audiences.

What I appreciated most from Mario Garcia Durham’s letter was when he wrote:

“When Simon walked on to stage, she represented leadership activated in the moment. She embraced the risk, took up the challenge and succeeded.

Simon is a fine example of individual leadership that makes an impact through personal creativity, determination and empowerment. She didn’t get to APAP on her own, but she took all the steps to get there and was ready in real time to participate in ways she hadn’t imagined.”

This encapsulates a lot of what we say about being leaders in the arts- embracing risk and being agile and open enough to participate in whatever possibilities present themselves.

 

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Care and Feeding of Arts Workers

There was a good example of the importance of good leadership and management in the context of orchestras in a recent post on The Drucker Exchange.

Although the post starts out using the example of basketball teams, it ends up citing Peter Drucker’s observation that as a knowledge based institution,

“A great orchestra is not composed of great instrumentalists but of adequate ones who produce at their peak,” he wrote in Managing in the Next Society. “When a new conductor is hired to turn around an orchestra that has suffered years of drifting and neglect, he cannot, as a rule, fire any but a few of the sloppiest of most superannuated players. He also cannot as a rule hire many new orchestra members. He has to make productive what he has inherited.”

The passage in Managing the Next Society that is quoted is preceded a few paragraphs earlier with “In a traditional workforce, the worker serves the system; in a knowledge workforce, the system must serve the worker.”

Orchestra musicians may not appreciate being characterized as “adequate,” but they all know that their ensemble thrives as a group, not on the specific talents of each individual. It is the music director or similar leader who often creates the environment which allows the whole to thrive.

This is much the case in arts administration staffs. There are very few superstars that multiple organizations engage in a bidding war to woo away. (Though I grant it might be helpful to have more exemplars people strive to be. Drew McManus can’t bear the adulation by himself.)

Most arts organizations are staffed by adequately skilled employees who are on the cusp of becoming great with the help of the right management of their talents and work environment. Some of that management is probably going to require better pay and professional development opportunities. It may also require scrutinizing organizational culture, shifting job responsibilities and revamping the physical work environment.

While the focus of all this seems to be on identifying good leaders and managers who will point the way to success, recall that Drucker points out that the workforce has to generally be left intact. They are the core resource of the organization with which the leader must work.

Knowledge workers aren’t like gold fish which will thrive if fed and put in a bigger, cleaner fish bowl. Dealing with them is far more complicated. It is by their will and agreement that success occurs.

A good leader or manager is merely one who perceives how to best structure the system to serve the workers. A leader shouldn’t conflate their ability with the value of the organization. Ultimately, audiences will come to see a bad orchestra before they come to see a music director in an empty room.

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Info You Can Use: Evidence vs. Emotion In Fundraising

This week Marginal Revolution blog linked to a study addressing the claim of many donors that they are motivated to give by the effectiveness of the charity.

The researchers worked with the charity, Freedom from Hunger, to send out two nearly identical letters.

In the first experimental wave, the control group received an emotional appeal focused on a specific beneficiary, along with a narrative explaining how FFH ultimately helped the individual. The treatment group received a similar emotional appeal (trimmed by one paragraph), with an added paragraph about scientific research on FFH’s impact. The second wave was identical in design, except that the treatment group narrative included more specifics on the research, and briefly discussed randomized trials and their value as impact assessment tools.

They found that adding the scientific data didn’t have an impact on whether someone donated and how much they donated in the full sample. However, the full sample includes previous donors as well as those who had never donated before.

There was a significant difference when they looked at just those who had previously made a donation. (I have inserted a paragraph break to the original text to provide easier reading)

We find that presenting positive information about charitable effectiveness increases the likelihood of giving to a major U.S. charity for large prior donors, but turned off small prior donors. This heterogeneity is important, we believe, and is consistent with a model in which large donors (holding all else equal, including income and wealth) are more driven by altruism and small donors more driven by warm glow motives.

Altruistic donors, we posit, are more driven by the actual impact of their donation, and thus information to reinforce or enhance perceived impacts will drive higher donations. On the other hand, for warm glow donors, information on impacts may actually deter giving by distracting the letter recipient from the emotionally powerful messages that typically trigger warm glow and instead put forward a more deliberative, analytical appeal which simply does not work for such individuals.

Now whether the results for a large national human services charity will be consistent for a smaller, regional cultural charity, is uncertain. The fact that larger donors may be motivated by evidence of effectiveness and smaller donors by emotional appeal and turned off by effectiveness data is definitely something to think about.

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