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Ride With The Valkyries

Last week I was thinking about alternative category names for giving levels because our current names lean heavily toward classical music while that is only a small portion of our programming.

As I got to thinking about it, I wondered if anyone had thought about changing the names of their giving levels from season to season both as a way to do some A/B testing on what types of category names might inspire people to give more and to appeal to a younger generation of donors.

People who are used to giving through Kickstarter with all the exciting images and rewards at different support levels might not be motivated by a static list of giving levels like: Donor, Supporter and Benefactor.

Category titles that changed every year and aligned with the season might be more engaging. If you were going to give $450, would you increase it to $500 to be listed in a category employing Henry V’s “We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers” as a giving level? Or the aforementioned “Riding With the Valkyries”?

Unless you were being tongue in cheek, you would probably want to stay away from a The Merchant of Venice “Pound of Flesh” as a category. Though “As You Like It” might be a good category for a giving level that garners many perks.

If you are clever about it, you might actually have people opening their donor solicitation letter to see what names you came up with as eagerly as they flip through the season brochure to see what shows are being offered.

While there is no guarantee they will give, they will at least be a little more engaged with the process.

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On Your Mark…Get Set…Sketch!

Just as an interesting look at how things are done elsewhere, here is a picture of prospective students taking an entrance exam for art school in Hainan.

Clicking on the image below will take you to the China Daily site where there are more pictures of the 1901 students taking the sketching exam. That is indeed a lot of butts in the seats.

 

hainan

I confess, my first reaction upon seeing the pictures was that it was a little dehumanizing. However, having seen hundreds of auditions for both performances and academic programs, I am not sure there is a lot about the process of evaluating the work of hundreds of people that doesn’t have an alienating effect, even if it is done individually.

I am not sure how many of the 1900 students were admitted. I believe this is the national exam being administered to residents of the province rather than for admission to a single university.  I am not sure how this factors into the admission process since the fabled gaokao (National Higher Education Entrance Examination) which nearly all high school students have to take is usually administered in June rather than January.

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Toward A System Of Organizational Critiques

In a Guardian article last summer talking about the intersections between art and science, “scientist with one foot in the arts” Simon Kirby noted of culture of peer review in the sciences:

(“It’s all about surviving the gauntlet of people trying to tear your ideas apart – that doesn’t happen with an arts audience”)

That one line got me to bookmark the article and think about whether a structured peer review process might be beneficial in the arts.

Let me state from the outset that I am in no way proposing any sort of scenario where a panel snickers behind their hands that what was exciting in NYC Dance seven years ago is just becoming hot in Madison, WI. Nor would I desire a situation where an arts organization with a $20 million budget smiles condescendingly at the excitement expressed by an organization with a $20,000 who got 1000 people to attend their event.

At the same time, we could all use some advice about what we could be doing better outside of anonymous posts on the internet.

With many funding organizations inviting applicants to attend panel reviews of their funding requests or streaming the proceedings of the panels and their process online, it might be logical to offer reviews and critiques of other aspects of organizational operations.

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival has a long running program of having adjudicators travel to productions in each of the 8 regions to provide critiques of performances. Some of the productions and actors are nominated to perform at each of the regional conferences.

Perhaps a similar system might be set up to review and critique different aspects of an arts organization’s operations from the customer experience to board relations. This wouldn’t involve any element of competition that would get you invited to a conference outside of presenting interesting case studies and discussing best practices.

However, it would give arts organizations an objective view of their practices and procedures without the stakes of accreditation hanging over the experience. Adjudicators would gain the ability to apply the same critical eye to their own organization as well as have an opportunity to observe and learn from peer organizations.

Ideally, an adjudication team would include at least one person from a discipline unrelated to the organizational activities so that theater people are learning a little from visual artists, visual artists from classical musicians, musicians from dancers and so forth.

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It’s All In How They Play The Game

I have been keeping a Createquity post about gamification and arts events bookmarked on my web brower for while now. I liked some of the ideas suggested there and hoped to refer back to the entry for inspiration in the future. I was surprised to realize the post was actually created nearly two years ago. It seems so much more recent.

I came across another article recently that underscored the necessity of paying close attention to the design of any experience you may gamify. As with any game, some times people get a little more competitive than we might like.

In a post recounting the different experiences she and her friends experienced attending Sleep No More, Megan Reilly talks about how some of the repeat attendees have been using their knowledge to try to force certain outcomes. This tends to negatively impact the experience of other attendees, especially first timers.

My other friend, Amanda, got to have the same Hecate experience that I described above – having the ring put on her finger, and going through “Is That All There Is?” When Hecate turned to choose someone else for her 1:1, however, that selected person apparently tried to take the ring off my friend’s finger! I really want to know what was going on in that person’s head, to make him think that this behavior was ok. And this is not the worst behavior I’ve heard of on the part of the audience – just the worst that has happened to someone I know

and later

Many people by now have had so much experience visiting and revisiting “Sleep No More” that they are becoming like gamers, saving and restoring and attempting something new to experience something they KNOW is there but has so far been hidden from them. They try to find the secret combination of moves that unlocks the 1:1 with Hecate, and get visibly frustrated when they are not the chosen ones. They don’t care that someone else next to them might be experiencing the show for the first time – they want their experience/interaction/hidden secret scene, dammit. After all, they paid roughly $90 to play this game (or more, if like me you are not in NYC) and they want to win.

I love the parallels between “Sleep No More” and games, I really do. I love being responsible for my own journey through a story, and having to do some work in order to discover a narrative. I love that there are little errands and quests within the show that are given to different lucky audience members. I don’t want the 1:1 experiences to be removed. But how do you let the audience of 400 something people a night know that the experience of the show doesn’t have to include any one of these things? That their ticket price does not entitle them to a specific experience? And that the other audience members and the performers are not non-playable characters?

I would encourage people to read the whole thing, even if you have no intention of ever gamifying your experience. Megan Reilly’s discussion of what elements work and why it is so exciting might change your mind.

In some respects, what she talks about are the hazards of attending a public performance writ large. The person who pulls out their cellphone in the middle of a conventional performance and starts talking may be the same person who pushes you aside at Sleep No More. The percentage of the general population who will impinge upon the enjoyment of others is probably going to remain constant.

Another issue one of Reilly’s friends faced seemed to simply be a function of letting the audience interact with each other. There was a lot of non-verbal signalling that something was going to happen when experienced audience members watched the rest of the audience for their reaction or all started rushing in a certain direction.

When people are all seated quietly in a theater facing in one direction, the anticipation of those who have seen the show before is less apparent. But that experience is certainly also less interesting and probably doesn’t encourage as much return business as the Sleep No More experience, even at $90 a pop.

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