Bring Your Own

I wasn’t aware until recently that airlines have started to strip all the video equipment from their planes and have begun requiring people to bring their own personal devices and headphones in order to enjoy some form of entertainment during a flight.

Passengers on United can tap into the Wifi for a price if they want to go online or into the onboard entertainment system signal for free.

While the onboard system offers a fairly large library of videos, this development requires people to bring a personal viewing device with a full charge and manage the power so they can watch something for the duration of the travel.

As much as this situation depresses me from the perspective of how much enjoyment is disappearing from air travel, it occurs to me that if airlines normalize this practice for the public at large, it may be possible for arts organizations to extend the “bring your own…” trend for its own uses.

The benefit to the airlines is that they don’t have to place television screens on the backs of seats along with all the wiring to serve them. All that is needed is wifi transmitters.

In the same way, arts organizations can provide different “channels” of ancillary material in support of a program within their walls. This might be especially useful for museums which may want to provide visitors with a choice of a video talking about the artist, the subject of the painting, the historical period and artistic period in which a painting falls—or the history of the entire museum for those who suddenly find themselves curious in the middle of a gallery.

Instead of physically displaying text or a video screen which all those standing before a work must share, the museum can offer any of these immediately upon demand and at the speed the visitor requests. Granted, many museums already offer something similar, but there is always opportunity for refinement and scaling things up.

A performing arts organization might offer similar supporting materials during a pre or post show event or on demand as the audience files in prior to the show.

However, there might be a bigger benefit to performing arts venues. As I was thinking about possible opportunities, I recalled something Alan Brown said about how a venue might need five or more rooms to meet the different expectations people how about what their experience would be.

He said he asked them to describe what they would envision as a perfect jazz club. They said it would be a coffee house during the day but a bar at night with a separate room where those who wanted to be full immersed in the music could go. However, there would also be an anteroom where people could talk with friends and still listen to the music and still another anteroom where people could interact with friends more and listen less.

It seems like a tall order to design a building to provide this experience. However the impression I took away from what Brown had to say was that people at every age really desire an experience at an intermediate stage between listening to a recording and fully attending a formal concert. He described this as a place to drop in and hang out and get more information.

That was from a post I wrote seven years ago. Since then, technology has advanced to the point where a venue need not provide five different rooms to cover all expectations.

If people got used to the idea of bringing a personal device with them they could sit in a single additional room with friends and simply chat with the music coming faintly from the performance space. They would have the option of turning part or full attention to the video and audio feed coming from the other room via their personal devices without leaving their friends.

This provides a fair bit of flexibility to a performing arts entity because they can provide a performance in a number of venues without needing to bring video monitors or audio equipment to create a listening experience where the visibility and volume suit everyone equally. They might still have to haul wifi nodes around with them, but it can be easier to set up and there is a fair possibility a venue may already have an in-house system.

The thing I don’t like about this idea is that it validates experiencing a performance through a meditating device over the value of attending live. The way live performance attendance becomes valuable is when the accompanying materials or information stream being provided is only available during the live performance.

For example, a simulcast from backstage where the audience can witness every entrance and exit, set change, interaction. Though there is a danger that knowing you are always “on” might inspire more interesting performances backstage than on stage.

Sometimes They Just Want To Go Home

I was perusing the tweets of those at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC) while thinking about a comment made by the director of the local arts museum wondering why people were leaving a fundraiser so early.

This was the exact opposite situation from one apparently expressed by Alan Brown at the NAMP Conference who wondered why arts organizations were so quick to chase people out after the event was over.

The live and silent auction were over and no one was going to be asked to donate more money. There was plenty of food and alcohol to consume, a cigar and brandy station had been set up in the newly renovated alley for those who wanted to parttake. There was plenty of art to look at, including an amazing new installation and the artist was on hand to chat with.

They had only expected about 75 people to attend and more than 130 showed up so there were plenty of people with whom to mix and mingle. (And one of the other attendees remarked to me that there were a lot of new faces at the event so it wasn’t as if the conversation topics dried up.)

And it was only 8:30 pm on the Saturday night of a three day weekend.

By 8:45 except for the staff and volunteers, the place had pretty much cleared out.

So when I saw Sara Leonard tweet quoting a speaker at the conference saying, “Create the value your audience craves,” I wondered what might have been lacking that might have kept everyone hanging around a little longer.

The auctioneer had to ask for quiet a couple times during the auction because people were too boisterous so they were clearly having a good time.

Perhaps what the audience valued was an organization that ran an efficient fundraiser that showed them a good time and got them out before 9:00.

Maybe as Alan Brown suggests, everyone was used to being chased out and left of their own accord. Or maybe, as one off the museum staff suggested, the community likes to get to bed early.

I feel that I must make a bemused observation that clearly one needs to appeal to a younger audience not only to sustain support for the arts long term, but to find some people willing to stick around and keep the party going for you in the short term. (which I mean both literally and figuratively.)

Whether it be fund raisers or performances, it isn’t enough just to have a fun after-event party in order to attract younger audiences, the content of the main event has to be of some interest because there are plenty of bars and dance clubs where they can go instead and circumvent the boring part.

But the truth is, sometimes it isn’t anything you did. Audiences just want to go home and that is an enjoyable evening.

Info You Can Use: Various Things Arts Orgs Are Doing To Connect

This past weekend the students held their annual fund raiser for the Fall Mainstage production in our Lab Theatre. The event is entirely student generated and produced. Basically my only involvement over the summer is to unlock the door for them. Our technical director ensures nothing will burst into flames and everything is generally safe, but the work is largely done by the students.

I am very proud of the student who has essentially acted as the producer for the last 4 years because he keeps upping his game every year. Last Spring a new instructor introduced him to a different approach to developing a show and to the credit of all the students, they dedicated themselves to following the approach even though it meant a longer, more involved rehearsal process.

A fair segment of the audience tends to be students and for many of them, this is their first experience in a theatre of any kind. In some respects, it is a great introduction for them because it provides a less orthodox attendance experience and reveals the potential inherent in live performance. (Speaking of which, check out this baby by Great Canadian Theatre Company) On the other hand, it can make a more orthodox attendance experience seem all the more boring and disappointing by comparison.

Typically the entrance, stairway and hall to the lab theatre are heavily decorated. A woman in front of me on the ticket line who takes dance classes across the hall from theatre wondered aloud where the dance studios went. The performers also do a pre-show where they move about interacting with other performers and the audience members according to the backstory of their particular character.

My aim is to try to infuse a little more interesting and interactive experience to our mainstage space. There the expectations and context of the space creates a wholly different environment. We have added some new experiences and are continuing to think of others.

So in that vein, I wanted to point out some interesting programs I have been reading about lately that aim to change the experiences people have at arts and cultural events.

A Wall Street Journal this week had a story about silent disco parties that are being held at zoos in England and the US. It is something of an after hours party at the zoo where people are given headphone receivers. Attendees can dance to the same music without actually disturbing the animals with loud noise (though since many dress up as animals, it may make some of the predators hungry for a midnight snack as they flail silently about).

Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History seems to be so dedicated to providing participatory experiences in her museum, she even has opportunities in her restrooms. Reading her blog, Museum 2.0 provides a trove of great ideas and reflections on how they worked.

Back in May, ArtsFwd featured a number of audio postcards from arts organizations around Cleveland. I confess I only recently got around to listening to them after having bookmarked it all those months ago but I am glad I did. There are some great stories being told by the arts leaders in Cleveland. One related to this topic that caught my attention was told about the Great Lakes Theater.

The artistic and executive directors talks about how they designed the Hanna Theater to facilitate social interaction between the audience and performers. The bar is in the seating area and they have different seating areas- traditional seating along with loose club chairs and lounge and bar seating.

The theatre is open 90 minutes before the show and stays open until up to 90 minutes after to provide a place for people to gather and interact rather than simply showing up a half hour in advance, watching and leaving.

A few years ago, I wrote about Alan Brown talking about Gen Y’s vision of an ideal performance venue:

He said he asked them to describe what they would envision as a perfect jazz club. They said it would be a coffee house during the day but a bar at night with a separate room where those who wanted to be full immersed in the music could go. However, there would also be an anteroom where people could talk with friends and still listen to the music and still another anteroom where people could interact with friends more and listen less.

Though this sort of arrangement is highly unlikely, Great Lakes Theater seems to get pretty close. I am curious to know if anyone has attended at the Hanna Theater and what the experience is like. There aren’t a lot of review on Yelp that I have seen. My biggest fear is that someone would knock over their glass at the bar during a highly dramatic scene or there would be some other disturbing occurrence.

Comes The Curator

While at the Arts Presenters conference, I learned that Wesleyan University has a certificate program in Curatorial Practice in Performance. My first thought was to wonder if there was really that much of a demand for such a program. Then I recalled that many arts organizations have long been consolidating their executive and artistic director positions into one person and that there were likely quite a few people who sought the training originating from this situation alone. People hired for their ability to run the arts organization like a business might find themselves a little anxious about making the correct artistic decisions.

According to the program website, the purpose is:

“…designed so that students can learn to modify and adapt curatorial practices from one discipline to another. ICPP welcomes emerging curators as well as other arts professionals who are interested in time-based art practices in visual art, traditional arts and the performing arts. The emphasis of the program is on the how of curating and focused on developing tools to contextualize performance.”

I was in a session where either Program Director Kristy Edmunds or Managing Director Pamela Tatge, (whomever was sitting behind me) noted that the visual arts have long had curatorial training, but it was lacking in performance disciplines.

In a separate session moderated by Alan Brown on what drives and inhibits our success, Brown noted that presenting arts organizations are becoming increasingly interested in having a curatorial relationship with artists rather than just taking what is offered. Given that most contracts coming across my desk stipulate that the artist has sole control over the artistic content of the show, I wondered if there is going to be a lot of pressure to on that very common contract clause in the future.

Conceivably, if arts organizations take their responsibility to more effectively serve and engage their community to heart, they will have a better sense of what their community will respond to than the artist. I am not talking about pressing artists to tone down edgy elements in the performance to conform to local tastes. Rather I envision a presenter may ask that a particular piece be performed knowing how it will resonate with the history of the location or address an on going concern of the region.

Brown noted that a few performing arts organizations are soliciting requests for proposals (RFQ) from performing artists so that projects more closely conform with what they want to achieve. RFQs from visual artists aren’t uncommon, and Brown says there aren’t a lot of performing arts organizations soliciting, but the fact there are may represent a shift in the approach to residencies. Pam Tatge who was on the panel for this session commented that artist residencies were becoming an intersection of the artist’s goals and presenter’s goals.

It seemed to me that this is something of a compromise between commissioning a piece and hosting an artist for a performance. There is a desire to provide the community a deeper experience than might be derived from attending a performance but not enough resources to direct the creation of a new work. So presenters are seeking artists who can provide additional experiences with specific relevance to the local community. These additional experiences seem to tend toward interaction and working with members of the community and de-emphasize the lecture/demonstration model.

It just occurred to me that another one of the underlying themes of the conference seemed to be the blurring of distinct roles. In addition to a session specifically about cross-discipline performance curation, there were two different sessions on the dissolving boundaries between agent, manager and producer with people taking on the functions of all three in various situations.

Those were just the sessions specifically dedicated to this idea. Just as the topic of cross-discipline curation came up in a separate session I attended, I am sure the topic permeated other conversations.

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