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« Tboy is unavailable this week. | Main | Jeffrey Carlson on The View »

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Comments

dcepticon

I left my comment about your ass. For cheese sake that's all I got in me today.

16a4a58096645e517517ea69da319f5c

This is an interesting issue area. We plan to update ShowBizRadio.net in 2007 to include the theatres in DC. We've been brainstorming ideas on how to better plug the theatres we have been reviewing (mostly community theatres in VA and MD). The same principles should hold for DC theatres as well. We're definitely open for ideas on how we can help.

A concern I remember hearing in 2005 (?) was that there are too many theatres in the area. I don't think that is true, but could that be playing into some of the fundraising issues?

sas

I think Callie's question is a great one. I have no answer, however. And I am so busy working my law-firm-box-office-teaching-day-jobs that I don't have much time to think about it.

Sigh. Breathe.

You know what would be great? What would be great is if someone with money would sponsor a few artist development grants in the vein of the TCG grants, or Princess Grace Awards, but specific to DC.

I know we can all apply for those other awards, but this would prove the community's willingness to invest in its young(ish) artists. Or not just young, but "emerging", "arriving", shit--"struggling" what have you. In would be an investment in this specific community, by the community, and would maybe keep some of those bright lights—like the aforementioned Karl Miller and Tara Giordano—around. Although I am a big believer in people going where they want/need to be. I just miss them, that’s all.

Philly has a grant like that, actually. Its own little Genius Award.

Maybe this is a band aid solution to a bigger problem. Maybe I am just complaining.

Anyhow, Callie’s question is better phrased and more succinct—how DO small companies find donors/sponsors that are tuned in to their mission? That I don’t know. Who are the savvy fundraisers around? Mr. Sinclair? Thoughts on this?

sas

Okay, I just reread Callie's post and realized that I wasn't even responding to what she wrote because clearly I am on my own self-absorbed bent this afternoon.

As for this:

what do other people think? should we be savvier and sexier about our image in this town and promote our hot smaller theatres as the visceral, brainy, imaginative, sexy, authentic, bold, muscular community that it is? seems to me that would draw in audience, if not donors.

Sure we should promote the "sexy". But how? And to whom? I mention Damian and Julianne because they seem to have clicked in to this with fringe quite well. Even though Damian looks a little angry in his Washingtonian picture, they definitely both look hip and hot and worth knowing.

Melissa-Leigh

I'm confused (surprising). Are we commenting on marketing for a small a theatre or fundraising for a small theatre? Well...I'll speak to both. That way I'll be covered. These comments by no means make up a fully comprehensive list of the challenges small theatres face...they are just the first and most prominent in my mind.

One challenge I would assert small theatre companies face is the lack of a home. It is, I imagine, nearly impossible to get folks to follow you around the city. Call me cynical, but even the wonderful people who support theatre through attendance still crave convenience. they want to know where they can safely park their car, where they can get a fine meal beforehand, and what type of space they will find when they walk through the theatre doors. Many theatres who do have a home brand themselves, in part, by their location...hence studio...arena..theater alliance. Those who do not have the good fortune to be able to do this..well...that's quite a challenge. SO...you can make this show or that company sound as sexy as you like...but if the patrons can't find it...well then the poor actors are faced with crowds of 2...or...3. And that...well that opens up a whole other can of worms.

As for fundraising...well...if you don't have patrons...its hard to get donations. I would say a huge % of a company's individual donations come from long time patrons. In addition, may of the small companies simply don't have the people-power to truly put forth a solid fundraising campaign. Sure an end of year solicitation letter is something most any company with a decent amount of financial means can pull off. But those bigs gifts...the ones that allow a company to do the type of theatre it wants to do without having to count on the ticket sales...well those come as a result of a LOT of nurturing, commitment, and schmoooooozing...so then does a company put their money and effort towards marketing and hope that their earned revenue (ticket sales) cover all their expensises and eventually produce donors...or do they portion out their money between marketing and fundraising. Many questions...and no right answers...its takes a lot of analysis, time, and often times luck to find the right formula.

And finally the Fringe...I sincerely applaud the wonderful success of damian and julianne. however, they were
in my opinion, dealing with an wholly different beast, complete with its own unique challenges, since the fringe is a contained event...its less about repeat customers, i would think. in addition, it requires little to no long-term commitment from the patron (no FIVE-PLAY Season subscriptions). i would be curious to know from damian...after the 2007 fringe...who returned from the previous year...if they were able to capture the names of the patrons...and how or if they would solicit them for donations. how he thinks what they did in the way of marketing could be truly and usefully applied to small theatres. They were new and exciting in the summer of 2006...and by god..i hope they get the same amount of press coverage in 2007...but again..in all my cynicism...i wonder if the people and the press are too fickle to get jazzed about something that's no longer sparkly and new. i can't wait to see how it turns out in 2007 (and am hoping for the best!)

And that is my rsvp to this event.

Melissa-Leigh

Ha Ha. Oh, and by the way...please feel free to make a truly needed end of year, tax-deductible donation to Theater Alliance by December 31st. Visit our website: www.theateralliance.com for more details.

Yeah.

RonnieRuff

An open invitation from DC Theatre Reviews to cover any special events smaller companies have is always on the table.

It is my belief that promotion is very important and... Promoting yourselves is easier when you work together. Pool your talents and spread out the work. Promoting theatre done on the smaller stage will go a long way in helping the individual company gain recornition.

We (DCTR) have tried to promote as best we could (we all have day jobs as well) the smaller companies. For some reason lately I have found the larger companies more interested in taking advantage of what we do. We have a Holiday page up now that allows a company to offer Holiday Greetings to all of our readers. We have about 10 up so far including Studio and Arena. We do not get the readership of the Post but we do get up to 1K visits per day. Contact Lorraine at theshow@dctheatrereviews.com to take part.

I guess what I am trying to say is take every advantage of exposure for your company and be mindful that together you can do far more than as individual companies.

Florida Refugee

It’s not that I disagree with Lucky Spinster, and it’s not that I wish continued poverty for Randy Baker, Jenny McConnell, Jeffrey Skidmore et. al. They are young heroes doing wonderfully innovative work in small, underfunded theatres. They should be celebrated and rewarded. Unfortunately, if Callie got her way, with a network linking willing private donors to these cultural mavericks, I fear that Callie (and Randy, Jenny and Jeffrey) would be among those rendered most unhappy by the noble institution she envisions.
I have read that the average life, from incorporation to dissolution, of a theatre company is approximately seven years. Seven years during which these fledgling upstart companies do edgy and inspiring work in church basements, empty lofts, and converted warehouses and auto dealerships, all the while dreaming of a home of their own and a chance to compete with the “big boys”. Seven years to make a name, grow up, find longer-range funding, be consigned to the margins, or die.
Setting notions of practicality aside for this discussion, just what would happen if there were an organization that could put private donors together with companies like the Theatre Alliance or Rorschach? History suggests that they would become bigger, more stable, and somewhat wealthier. They’d become the “middle class” of DC theatres, still a niche below the uber-funded Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre and the ever ambitious Zinoplex. But would the dollars come without strings? Probably not. With the strings, would there be calls for accountability, for oversight, for budgeting and planning, overhead and organization? Would the choices remain edgy, political, risky and sometimes unpopular (with the so-called silent majority), or would their choices grow ever safer, and more mundane as they pursue a less political agenda. Would the companies be able to rip up their announced seasons and subscription campaigns to do a new play on the war or poverty or racism, without being second-guessed by Directors, Donors, and Agents?
Sociology majors should recognize this as Max Weber’s iron law of oligarchy. Those with knowledge of Washington theatre will see and hear echoes of Bart Whiteman and Source, of New Playwrights Theatre, of Smallbeer, TFA and others now resting in peace, or in exile.
It’s also a story that is still being written. Wooly has a fancy new home. Were they edgier, more daring, more innovative putting dead monkeys on the stage of their less elegant digs on Church Street? How about Signature? In the garage they were forced to reinvent and re-imagine. Will the move free them from the constraints of a small black box, or will they be inhibiting by the need to sell to a wider audience? Was Washington Shakespeare Company ever as good or as intersting once they found a home on Clark Street as they were when the once nomadic troupe presented Julius Caesar in an unfinished Ballston office complex? Does Washington Stage Guild put more compelling work under the lights when they give Ann Norton more than $1.98 for the set? These companies have grown from childhood to at least the verges of adolescence, with mixed results,


sas

No, fuck that. Let's stop glorifying the plight of the starving artist, shall we?

While I understand the gist of what Florida Refugee is saying (and I think s/he got cut off, so there may be more to come) I am so tired of this idea of: Its better if we're "starving"! If we had money we would have to sell out! We work better on four hours of sleep! We are more innovative when we are stretched thin between handfuls of duties because we wear eight hats and serve as literary manager, grant writer, casting director and sometimes director/actor/designer at said smallish theater company!

I would argue that given a staff of twelve JEREMY Skidmore could continue to do the wonderful work he does, and, how's this--could take care of himself, could be better rested, could spend more time with his dog, could maintain a reasonable standard of living...! Shocking. What? Artists want these things? Gee, are we allowed?

(And this is not to imply that Jeremy is any less well-rested than the rest of us. We've all got the dark circles more often than we should.)

I also disagree with the broad assumption that people giving money to the arts will resist going on a more challenging artistic journey. This is the age of new money. I believe there are people out there with money to give who are willing to go to "the edge" for their theater--that not all of them are like the stodgy donors Florida paints a picture of. We just need to find them.

When I was in Louisville last year I spoke with an older couple, native Kentuckians, who lived and died for Chuck Mee and Anne Bogart. They counted down the days to when SITI would come in for a residency at Humana. They admitted that they didn't always "get" everything they were going for, but they appreciated the craft, the beauty and the form. And they "got" a lot of it. And I dare say I was surprised. To find fans of these trailblazers smack dab in the center of the Bluegrass state.

And there's a great example. Chuck Mee, privately funded, able to spend his time writing and creating, and does that mean he has started to write yuk-it-up comedies that will play well to the 'burbs? No.

Yes, with money comes responsibility, but I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. I guess my strongest reaction is to this idea that we are better off:
A. Being poor. Totally over-rated.
B. Being poorly run. Florida states: "But would the dollars come without strings? Probably not. With the strings, would there be calls for accountability, for oversight, for budgeting and planning, overhead and organization?" Ummm--who ever said that "oversight, budgeting and planning, overhead and organization" were bad things? Give me a clean rehearsal space. Give me a clear cut budget. Give me designers who don't have to work five shows at the same time to pay their rent. Give me a theater that pays its bills on time. Come on, this isn't the 60s, we don't have to be so anti-establishment that we shoot ourselves in the foot.
C. Being homeless. Melissa said it well, "You can make this show or that company sound as sexy as you like...but if the patrons can't find it...well then the poor actors are faced with crowds of 2...or...3." Having a home does not exclude the possibility of site-specific work. At all. A theater company can have a home and still do work in abandoned office buildings, along train tracks, in swimming pools...

Anyway. I still don't have any answers. But I do think this mentality that we do not deserve to have stability or a decent standard of living can hold us back from being complete and healthy human beings--more, complete and healthy artists. Interesting how so many artists in this community have entered the healing arts in the past few years: massage, nutrition, yoga--practices that heal the body inside and out. Because I think we are all realizing that we can't live this way forever. We'll all burn out.

I've digressed from the topic of discussion. This happens sometimes. I'm done, I promise.

Randy Baker

Responding to one of SAS's early comments about TCG-style grants in DC... There is the Artist Fellowship grant from the DC commision on the Arts and Humanities. It's $5000 and no where near like a full year salary but it's still a good chunk of change and there's no strings attached. They offer it for Theatre every other year and you can get it as a playwright, director or actor. I can't remember if design is included.

The DC Commision offers a lot of small grants... I would say that is where to start if we are looking to create grants for artists.

Julainne

This is a great topic and one that is core to what I hope fringe can build upon and create here in DC…more paid work…a self-producing environment….not just for 11 days in July but year round. Was the first fringe in DC a fluke – hell no...will the 2nd year be harder – you bet you! Will we have return customers - yes! both in audiences and participants…we have already had ticket buyers give to our EOY appeal – that is a good sign. We did collect names/address/emails and give them to the artists in the festival as well – theatermania is amazing! Will the press react the same to the fringe this year…we will have about the same number of shows…each group will pitch their shows as well to the press (we just to the over all marketing for the fringe)…the volume will be there….the excitement and energy of fringe can not be ignored. Sure it won’t be brand new…but please realize that the festival is just a platform/system that is created it is the work that is brought to the fringe by the participants that is important…not the fact that we can organize things well…. I have received some great, creative...and thoughtful applications for fringe 07….the overall voice of the work will shift a bit in 07 and this is what I think/hope the press will react to – that DC theatre artists can create new & exploratory works of theatre….and live here…(we were 80% local last year..and we are looking at the same for 07). Is it a constrained event….I guess so…but it also about creating and sustaining a culture so it seems to reach further than that.

And in response to: “No, fuck that. Let's stop glorifying the plight of the starving artist, shall we?” Amen!

Florida Refugee

My point is neither to praise nor condemn nor glorify the starving artist. Simply to point out that as companies grow and mature and assume new and ever-burdensome financial responsibilities, they of necessity change. Sometimes that change makes them less likely to be the risk-taking innovators that made us like and admire them in the first place.

I'm a firm believer that as actor's, writers, directors and designers we bring all of our life experience to our work. We filter each project through our eyes, experience and history. When your life experience is living on the edge, it's a little easier to take risks. When you have to sell $3000 or $5000 or $10,000 in tickets 52 weeks a year to meet payroll for a full-time staff with mates and children who depend on them, it's a little more difficult to take a risk or mount a production that might alienate one or more donors or ticket buyers.

An example. A few years ago, a New York playwright shopped a script around Washington theatres about a woman on her deathbed, making last requests of he adult son, w and daughter, her long-time companon, and the ghost of her late husband, who may have been the President of the United States when the children were little. The script never identified the dying woman as Jackie O, but it didn't really need to. It was broad satire, brutal satire, but not as cruel as parodies aimed at LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes. But it was deemed too risky for production because it might offend Jaime Auchinclos, who was then still around town and had donated generously to small theatres.

So I guess my point is that linking small, edgy theatres with private donors is simply going to mean that the small edgy theatres will face a point in their history where they have to get less small, less edgy, and less risky if they take the money. Don't hate me, because i'd love to be proven wrong. But I also remember what happened to Bart Whiteman when the Board of the theatre he created decided it was time to move on. How'd that work out?

Lucky Spinster

i love it. you guys care.

okay. a few thoughts.

1) there is NO nobility in poverty.

2) if there is a causal relationship between poverty and risk-taking, it is that being a risk-taker often causes poverty, not the other way around. poverty does not make one a risk-taker; having a strong mind/vision/stomach does.

3) if a risk-taker finds a way to live above the poverty level through the help of donors, is there a chance that risk-taker might make the occasional soft choice in the interest of pleasing a donor or three? i'm sure there are adjustments and concessions to make when you're working with a board, and artistic missteps are guaranteed along the way, not just in the realm of selling out. it is a business after all. it's of course impossible to quantify the value of art, but artists must make MUNNY for their contribution.

4) the term "edgy" is tired. (as is "quirky," which is nothing more than "edgy lite.")

5) personally, i'm not sure a theatre can last more than seven years before the energy morphs into something else. donors and boards are not solely responsible for institutional complacency. don't artistic directors get bored, or even myopic?

6) i, too, have heard that there are artistic directors who don't want artists commenting here or on their own blogs. i think this is incredibly short-sighted. they should be encouraging people to blahg about their experiences--free marketing. blogging works even better if it's not state-sanctioned, which only results in a false kum-ba-ya kool-aid vibe. (i.e., "rehearsal was great!! this is the best show i've ever worked on!!" bOring.)

7) and, um, in my opinion, a "brutal satire" on jackie o does not sound like risk-taking to me, it sounds like an easy pot-shot.

no closer to problem-solving this but we should keep this thread/dialogue active. i'm trying to resolve this issue in my own life without selling out to a cube-rat's existence. or becoming a stripper--although that might make for good research for my next Fringe play.

hope your ass is better, TBoy.

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