Thursday, July 2, 2009

Matthew Quinn's Cost Break Down of "Free Night"

After a lively debate on the blogotubes over the last few weeks, hopping around multiple blogs, lots of individual posts, and even more comments, we offered Combined Artform's Matthew Quinn some space to give his unvarnished thoughts on Theatre Bay Area's "Free Night," in order to condense a thread from four different sites and sum up the numbers - he graciously accepted. Below is a quick summary of the conversation to date followed by Quinn's post.

SUMMARY:

May 17: Radiostar interviews PianoFight on current state of theater, discuss Theatre Bay Area's "Free Night of Theater" program

June 9: Theatre Bay Area (TBA) releases a study titled "Assessing the Intrinsic Impact of the Bay Area Free Night of Theater Program"

June 16: Arts Journal posts results from an NEA funded survey which cites double digit declines in theatrical audiences since 1982

June 18: Head theater critic for SF Weekly Chloe Veltman invites TBA's marketing director Clay Lord to post his thoughts on the study in a post titled "Great Study. But What's It For?" - Dan Wilson (of Radiostar), Sam Shaw (of Crisis Hopkins), Matthew Quinn (of Combined Artform) and Carl Benson (of PianoFight) respond with questions about specific numbers

June 23: TBA posts second study of "Free Night" with hard data on ticket requests, actual attendees, and follow up purchases prompting PF's Benson to make case against "Free Night" in post "The Real Problem with TBA's 'Free Night of Theater'"

June 26: TBA's Clay Lord responds on TBA blog Chatterbox in post titled "Theatre, Relevance and Hush Puppies" and Matthew Quinn presses for more numbers

July 2: Matthew Quinn breaks down cost of "Free Night" versus return in sum-up of conversation on the PianoFight blog (below)

COMBINED ARTFORM'S MATTHEW QUINN BREAKS DOWN NUMBERS ON "FREE NIGHT"

Clay,

Thank you so much for this information it helps to give me a better picture of the value of "Free Night of Theatre." And thanks to PianoFight for letting this go up as a post and not just a comment, and outlining the thread of conversation.

So summing up the numbers, the actual value of this project is much higher.

$182,000 - Printed value of tickets

$200,000 - Original PR Services

$50,000 - Additional PR services

$20,000 - TBA Services

$40,000 -Survey

$492,000 - Total Resources used for FNOT

-So almost a half a million dollars worth of resources are used for FNOT and for that you get 3,581 people to attend a show, at a resource cost of $137 per person.

-Of those people, 74% were first timers seeing the company putting on a show or 2,650 people, to get this market it cost $186 per person of the resources.

-And for the ever so hard to get, new people to the theater, 18% or 645 people for $765 per person.

So looking at this I think one needs to ask, is FNOT really working?

Is this an appropriate use of these resources?

Could something more effective be done instead?

I'm sure there are many positive elements of this project, but is it providing you with the right type of awareness, people, and information at a cost that makes sense?

Are theaters in the community (large, small, members of TSC) fully aware of the cost and reward of this project? Half a million seems like a lot for a one day event.

And to the second point, of course it would be great to have a survey to confirm those hunches we have on audience decisions, to get more insight into an audiences actions and how to get new people to our shows.

My question: "Are these even the right people to be surveyed?"

And are the above questions even the ones we should be asking? It's a bit disconcerting that money is being spent for data that isn't considered useful, yet, just wait and see.

And while I understand grant money takes a while to come down the pipe, and you're reacting to plans from years ago, is it prudent to go ahead with a 4-5 city expansion using additional resources for a program that isn't utilizing those resources and providing information that is not yet useful?

I'm sure some people are happy with the results of the program. Any new people are great people to have, especially if, as you point out, there are not many (if any) out of pocket expenses. My concern is that no one appears to be questioning if there is a better use of these amazing resources, on a model that can bring in more people without saying theater has to be free in order for them to see it.

Does the community really see this as a benefit and effective use of resources?

Just because you can do this, should you?

We could still get 6 million marketing impressions with the same publicity, just a different program.

And what do companies feel about $40,000 being spent on a possibly useless survey when perhaps it could be used for other more relevant purposes?

I would really like to hear other companies' thoughts on this.

In closing, I did get a chance to read the posting on the Mark-Up and perhaps I'll get some time read that book, it sounds very interesting. I also added a comment about some thoughts I had on Free and Theater and while it's not an answer, I do try to come up with some different uses of "Free." And I'm sure the community could come up with a better program then FNOT to get audiences to the theatre, your thoughts?

Thanks again for your time and commitment to this conversation, it is appreciated.


Matthew Quinn

Combined Artform

UPDATE - JULY 4 (by PianoFight): As the conversation in comments has veered slightly away from TBA's "Free Night" and into the realm of the art itself, we thought it prudent to post a few more links which deal with this specifically, and which helped spur a lot of this type of conversation.

October 7, 2008: Brendan Kiley of Seattle's The Stranger newspaper posts article titled "Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves"

April 13, 2009: Kiley posts on The Stranger's blog a lengthy email from PianoFight's Rob Ready, interspersed with Kiley's commentary, disccussing Kiley's ideas and how successful PianoFight's application of those ideas has been in a post titled "Small, Successful Theater Companies in Other Cities: PianoFight from San Francisco"

25 comments:

Dan Wilson said...

Wow. Nice number crunching, Matt. Those aren't happy numbers, and you make a good argument that while FToT has brought in new audience, it's not terribly cost effective.

So, if that's the case, then what next?

Clearly, given the massive losses I took with Cassandra's Call, I don't have the answer on this one.

William said...

Those are some crazy numbers! The real number to try to nail down would be how many of those new theater-goers have been "converted" to regular theater-goers. Maybe a handful? Talk about expensive marketing!

The whole free night thing seems so misguided. AND it doesn't pass any common sense tests. As soon as you give something away, you've signaled it has no value.

I was helping at a garage sale once. There was this ugly-ass table they figured wouldn't sell, so they offered it for free. There were no takers all day (it was that ugly). Finally, someone priced it for, like, five cents. It sold instantly.

The point is even asking for a nickel gave the table value, but as long as it was free people thought it was dog vomit. Why would we do that to something we're all so devoted to?

If there's all this grant money available for theater promotion, maybe the theater community ought to take a page from farmers' co-ops: pool the funds to promote local theater in ad campaigns--like "Got Milk."

And do it in a way that makes theater seem cool and hip and not just for the symphony/opera crowd.

It might not work, but it's probably more cost-effective than paying 645 people $765 to see a show.

Anyway, thanks for these posts, Carl and Matt.

Bill Bivins

Torange said...

I think your numbers confirm what we all know already, that developing new audiences is an expensive process. And I stress that it is a process, one that will take years to result in a devoted theatre-lover.

We are looking to make people interested in something they may not be interested in. We are requiring a change in behavior. These things take huge efforts and cost money.

The good thing about FNOT is that it creates excitement on national level around something that hasn't been exciting since the 50's, at least not for the masses.

And what are we comparing the cost to? Cost effective compared to what? Let's look at how much Hollywood spends on promotion or how much the pharmaceutical industry spends on making a sale.

Hollywood studio's often allocate 20-25% of their total budget to marketing. By the time a new drug leaves R&D, a pharmaceutical company would be spending 70 cents on every dollar to be earned.

If the Bay Area is truly the 2nd largest theatre market in the country after NYC, spending 1/2 million to create 3000 new audience members seems pretty acceptable to me.

What is an acceptable return on investment? Is the dollar amount really the correct metric to use? What is real, long term value of developing theatre-lovers? Are there other metrics that might help us better understand the value of theatre to our community?

I guess I pose more questions than really answer any. But hey, food for thought.

Michael Bean said...

I'm not part of your community but I am interested in business marketing problems, so I'm adding comments here without knowing much about the history of this event.

Are the true incremental costs of putting on a show the full value printed on the tickets? The $182,000 number should be reduced to the actual incremental costs of the additional show (not including any sunk costs).

I'm surprised that a survey of 4000 people costs $10 per person. Seems high. Actually all these costs seem on the high side. Is the cost source data available somewhere?

A free night of theater might be more effective if less money were spent promoting with it.

Anonymous said...

(One light bulb starts to flicker in a dirty, small, shit hole bedroom of a rundown shit hole apartment building. The paint on the walls is peeling. Partially because there is a hole in at least one of them. A hole in the wall which appears to be caused by some sort of fire. There is shit (not literally) everywhere. Detritus. Actually there is some shit down stage. Cow shit.

Asleep on this tiny iron piece of shit bed is a man. Completely naked and clearly starving.

It is the end of the world as we know it. And this motherfucker does not feel fine.

A cow wanders on stage. Proceeds to take another shit. The fresh smell of which awakes the man on the bed)

Man:
Holy Shit!

(a woman enters from the outside world. Dressed in makeshift armor. Like a football helmet and some sheet pans ducked tape to a coat or something)

Woman:
Oh Shit.

Man:
What the fuck?!

Woman:
I knew this would happen. God damn I knew this would happen. Shit.

Man:
What the fuck did you do? Holy Shit!

(she has removed most of her armor and leans down to smell the cow dung)

Woman:
Mmm. (looking at him) Smell this. Hey, come smell this!

Man:
Fuck you, I’m not- What the fuck is going on?

Woman:
Come on. I know you are sick of smelling your own? You should be at least. With our diet- Come smell this, seriously-

Man:
Carol! Why is there a cow in our bedroom?


Woman:
I put up Tyler’s old door fence thing. To keep him in the living room while I went out- Hey! Really you should smell this. It’s great. It smells like grass. When was the last time you got to smell fresh cut grass?

Man:
WHY IS THERE A COW IN OUR-!!!!

Woman:
Relaaaaaax. This cow is going to save us. Okay? This cow is going to feed you….

Man:
… Milk?

Woman:
Yeah. We still have some potatoes right? We can make maaaaashed potatoes. We can do that now with this cow. We can mash them.

Man:
I’m- I don’t- Where did you get this thing?

Woman:
I bought it. Three days ago. I went up to this farm that is protected by forty foot steel walls and all these old ass farmers with shotguns. And pitchforks too. Which is surprising- (she looks right at him) You’ve been asleep for a while.

Man:
I’m really fucking tired- …Wait. You bought it? With what?

(she is silent)
\
Woman:
There is something else I want to do with this cow you know?

Man:
What did you buy this with Carol?

Woman:
It’s going to spice up our sex life.

Man:
… I can’t remember the last time I had an erection. And this is not helping. (he catches himself) OH FUCK!

(he runs into the other room. She begins to milk the cow. He reenters)

Man:
You took the travel can money!?!

Woman:
Well-

Man:
Carol! We promised we would never touch that! No matter how bad it got, we promised-

Woman:
I know but-

Man:
That was for Vietnam!

Woman:
Like 8 years ago…. We haven’t put any money in it 6. And hello? There was the collapse? Remember? Why we were-

Man:
And Thailand. We put 20 dollars a week-

Woman:
Hanging on to two thousand dollars-

Man:
For two years-

Woman:
When we are starving up here.

Man:
Wait. That cow cost-?

Woman:
… Inflation.

Man:
I am going to throw up.

(he runs off stage)

Woman:
You don’t have anything to throw up!

(you hear him retching- It suddenly stops. He runs back on stage)

Man:
Where is the kitchen sink?

Woman:
I sold it.

Man:
FOR THE COW??!?!

Woman:
No, for food for the cow. It needs to be in great shape if we are ever going to re sell it.

Man:
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!?!?!?!

Woman:
…Inflation.

Man:
Holy shit.

(he runs to a crate with a bunch of random items in there, starts rummaging)

Woman:
Don’t do that-

Man:
Oh my god…

Woman:
That needs to stop Carl-

Man:
You’re insane….

Woman:
I’m warning you-

Anonymous said...

(he has finally produced what he is looking for, a calendar and a Dictaphone, he immediately speaks into it)

Man:
Day two thousand, three hundred, and forty two. Survivor Carl Benson. North West region, sector 7, formally known as San Francisco.-

(she stands up and wipes the milk across her chest- staring at him)

Man:
138 Jackson st., In what used to be called Nob Hill. Today, we will be-

(she lunges at him and slaps the recorder out of his hand)

Woman:
Cut it out!

(he crawls after it, crying. Picking it up and speaking into it again)

Man:
We will be discussing the Government’s decision to ban all forms of new creation, instead devoting the energies of the people to analyzing the systems and forms of the past as to better-

(He is lying on his belly and she kicks him in the back, grabs his hair and drags him to the cow, through all the shit literal and figurative that is across the floor)

Man:
(as he is being dragged) I need it! We all need this!

Woman:
No! We do not. That is bull shit.

Man:
Please! The only way we can survive this is if we talk through-

Woman:
NO! Action is what is needed now. You and all the others! You fucking disgust me!

Man:
I want to be remembered!

(she puts his face against the utter of the cow)

Woman:
Drink it! Drink the milk.

(He suckles it)

Woman:
Constantly recording! Constantly keeping logs! Bringing each other the logs and commenting on them in your own. What has his brought us? What we do is temporary! Nothing can change this! The beauty if our lives in this place is that it can not be recorded! Why are we even listening to each other in the first place? We can’t help each other!

(He is crying)


Man:
This is delicious.

Woman:
Of course it is. You are fucking starving. Those farmers! And people like them! They can help us. We need them to come here. Come to our apartments- Our buildings. And heeeelp us. They understand what this is all about and they don’t give a bloody fuck knuckle about our discussions!

(she lets go of him and he falls on his back. There is a long pause)

Woman:
We are going to take action now. No more saving the money. No more discussing what is right. We’re just going to do something. (pause) I bought this cow. And I am going to give some of the milk away. To other people in the building who are suffering like us. And other buildings too. We will do this until this time in our lives- This meltdown. This collapse- Is over. And we have re built the city and the country. And our lives.

And then. People will remember who their friends were. And they will remember how delicious and healthy this milk was. And we can charge for it. Really high prices that people will be willing to pay because they remember how good and special this cow was. And maybe we can even sell her out right. To the highest bidder. Whoever wants the milk all to themselves.

Man:
… And then can we go to Vietnam?

Woman:
We can go anywhere with the money we’re going to have…We can go to Disneyland again, AND six flags.

(she leans down and picks him up and carries him over to the bed)

Woman:
Stop crying. I am sorry I hit you…. You were just acting like a little punk ass bitch.

(he curls up in bed again)



Woman:
You should go back to sleep. Go back to sleep and dream about a time when people still cared about us. When we all cared about each other.

(there is a long pause as she brushes his hair)

Man:
But what if this doesn’t work? What if, when everything gets better, no one wants to buy the cow. What if they’ve all gotten their own cows by then?

(there is a pause)

Woman:
Meatball Mondays.

(black out)

Carl Benson said...

DUDE: Did you read that play about the cows and all the shit?

OTHER DUDE: Totally. It was awesome.

DUDE: ... Did you -

OTHER DUDE: Nope.

DUDE: I didn't get it either.

OTHER DUDE: But we're not that bright.

DUDE: True.

OTHER DUDE: ... I wonder who wrote it?

CARL BENSON: Wasn't me.

DUDE: Really?

CARL BENSON: Hell no. But I like it.

OTHER DUDE: I wonder who who wrote it?

VOICE OVER: Will the writer of the anonymous play be revealed? Will Carl Benson end up in an empty room full of shit? Will his wife really be named Carol? Tune in tomorrow for more of "The Mystery of Free Night and How it Manages to Stay Alive Even Though It's A Colossally Expensive and Wholly Ass Backward Idea."

CARL BENSON: ... That was harsh.

(end of play)

hayes said...

OK it's lonely down here after the short play and timely comments, but . . . I'm encouraged;somewhat, by all this discussion. Only among the passionate could this dialogue flow, about what is in essence, a troubled if not failing institution.
Failing institution? Bold statement I know. One that has been made for over two decades. For the sake of saving that for another argument, let's just admit that this is a valid opinion as is the contrary.
Theatre will always exist in one form or another. Yet it is not in the discussion of how we present it, or how we promote it that will be its ultimate deliverer. As always it will be the Art itself. Whether one looks at Art, or entertainment, the product, even/especially if unregulated will be the master. Of course we can fully promote a dud, which will in turn experience longevity beyond it's deserve, as a true gem may not receive it's acclaim until the world catches up. To be brief; and I say this next part as uninformed on the cost issue as I was before these wonderful attempts at clarity were put forth, we are all spinning our wheels . . . until we aren't, money or no money.
Obviously if I presented a free night of eating vomit (an obvious representation of the western worlds contribution to the humanity's diet) I may not be helping my community, although my intentions were good. I hope we are equally aware that a free night of mediocrity will create the same effect. Finally I come to the crux of my point. This study is a one size fits all? What's good for ACT is good for AATC? How about The next Stage or Theatre Artaud? Remember the Eureka Theatre COMPANY?. How about a profitable Magic, San Jose Rep. etc., etc.
Alright I've named names time to wrap it up. Does a free night of theatre mean the same thing to each participant? Who pays for the costs of free night at, say a Piano Fight vs. A Berkeley Rep? That's where I want to see the number breakdowns.
I know I said ". . . wrap it up" but allow me one general complaint: There seems to be a belief by many in an overriding aesthetic to theatre, and no stalking horse of youth or diversity will defend it. What effect does large corporate funding have over time? Now there's a study!
Consider the fog of Art where amorphous businesses cling remora-like to "the business" which lives in many cases on a funding I.V. from groups (big business)that aren't the audience with god knows what agenda, it's no wonder the natural course isn't clearer. I never did much care for the MBA MFA mash-up that occurred somewhere in the late 80's early 90's, Isn't that about when the content started to die? But then who am I, just a guy who doesn't work enough to justify dues for one, let alone three unions. Best of luck with this people.

Clay Lord said...

Dear Matt,

I've been thinking long and hard about your post, and I'm afraid my response isn't going to satisfy you. This is not to say I don't appreciate your work - it's just that we're coming at Free Night from opposite poles, and the best I can do is attempt to answer you from my perspective.

To me, your financial breakdown sort of misses the point in a couple ways. First, it lays out all of the finances as though the only point of the program is to bring new people in the door, which is decidedly not the case. Second - and perhaps more importantly - it supposes that the financial tallies you're using can be easily reallocated into a new structure that doesn't include Free Night while continuing to meet the same objectives.

To address the first point: if I thought that the only point of Free Night was to get a few thousand new people into the doors of our member theatres, I would be extremely disenchanted with the program. Were that the case, your analysis would rightly reveal a picture in which we at Theatre Bay Area are expending a mighty amount of staff time, overhead, money, and in-kind sponsorships of various sorts for a relatively small return. And honestly, while yes, directly increasing audiences is crucial to the theatre community and falls smack in the middle of Theatre Bay Area's mission, our goals for Free Night are much more complex and multi-tiered than that. So perhaps, by way of explaining my frustration with your financial arguments, I need to lay out a bit more clearly why Theatre Bay Area leads Free Night.

1) We seek to increase the visibility of live theatre as a field both locally and (by taking part under the auspices of national service organization Theatre Communications Group) nationally. This means that Free Night is meant to generate buzz, articles, accolades, mayoral proclamations, word of mouth, blog entries, corporate goodwill, multigenerational outings, new opportunities for performance, research for the field, etc.

2) We seek to unite the theatre community behind the common cause of advertising us all, in an effort to collaboratively raise the tide for everyone. This means that ACT and Berkeley Rep and Beach Blanket Babylon contribute to the same pool as Golden Thread and Crowded Fire etc. As part of this, in every way we can, we promote the community and its members through our advertising, our website, and the media items that are generated around the Free Night program each year.

3) We seek to educate (although that's a dirty word) the public at large about the strength, complexity and vitality of the Bay Area theatre community, as well as about the larger joys and benefits of participating in live theatre alone, with your partner and with your whole family.

4) Working with a limited actual budget (excluding in-kind donations, which make up over $225,000 of the $250,000 you quote in your financial breakdown), we distribute the graciously-donated tickets that provide the publicity hook for the program, attempting as much as possible to confine those tickets to new-to-the-theatre folks - and then work with the companies to implement best practices for retention of those people.

Those first three points are not simply touchy-feely issues. They are at the core of a long-term fight against shrinking relevance. Theatre (although as we've seen in my discussions with Carl, this is changing), when you get down to it, is inconvenient to go to, expensive to pay for, steeped in arcane tradition, non-interactive. It's not an easy sell. And as Joe posted in a comment on the earlier PianoFight post, "The Real Problem with TBA's "Free Night of Theater"," the competitor (he talks about The Wire) is quality, has close-ups, is tightly-plotted, benefits from a much larger budget, and is free or cheap, and almost 100% accessible. (more coming)

Clay Lord said...

So we leverage Free Night into a celebration of something much more abstract than 2,000 first-timers getting seats in theatres they haven't been to before (although, again, we value those 2,000 people very highly, as well as the thousands of others who come). We lace our materials with sly slogans about coming out of your shell, turning your world upside down and seeing life from a new perspective. We tout the incredible, un-replicable liveness of theatre, and try to explain why that's important. We pull up facts on extroversion, public speaking, future success, well-roundedness of personality, altruism, conflict resolution, etc (all of which improve when people have live theatre as part of their lives). And we push it all out on the backs of about 5,000 free tickets, with the help of some very generous sponsors and a lot of staff time. So while I agree with Dan that this is some very nice number crunching, and I have no fault with you if you really believe this is the way to judge Free Night's value, I can't begin to express how much I disagree.

Given the information above, I'm sure you can understand that I strongly disagree that we're essentially gathering almost half a million dollars worth of in-kind donations expressly to get those 2,000 first-timers in the door. In that respect, I find the entire financial breakdown misrepresentative of the program.

We're incredibly grateful for the tickets that are donated to us for Free Night (and for the donation of ad space, banner space, bus tail space, airtime, e-blasts, etc from our sponsors), and we hope that the organizations who participate understand how grateful we are - and believe that it is a useful program, to whatever level they're interested in. If a company (as some do) participates only to dump some tickets that they know would otherwise have gone empty, that's fine with us. If a company participates in order to have their name associated with the larger program, listed on a website that is visited (and trolled in detail) by between 10,000 and 20,000 unique visitors in a 3-day period during the giveaway, that works for us, too. We specifically ask companies to commit only as many tickets as they feel comfortable with on a given night (although we do ask for at least 1/4 of a house's worth of tickets over the month-long event), and this year we will be working closely with companies to try and sort out how to affect the no-shows that we know have been such a problem.

And here's where I loop back to the beginning and say that Free Night isn't for everyone. Some companies, for various (totally legitimate) reasons, don't wish to participate. Sometimes, companies get burned -- incredibly high no-show rates, or a whole bunch of people who arrive and turn out to be familiar faces, or a lack of visible publicity in that company's home area. Often, those companies convey those problems to us, and we attempt to correct them as we move forward (examples: better ability to draw will-call lists, increased North Bay exposure in 2009, more ability for companies to add more tickets incrementally, better data on who took the tickets, better best practices for follow-up).

(more coming)

Clay Lord said...

And finally, as to whether Free Night is an effective use of resources, a two-part response. Part 1: as I'm sure you know, the resources you're talking about there are intimately tied up in Free Night -- many of our sponsors have been sponsors since the beginning specifically because of the media cache of the program AND (more importantly) because it's free to the public. Another way to put that, perhaps, is that when approached about other possible programs that don't revolve around free services to the community, the in-kind gifts are much smaller, and in some cases the sponsors simply say no. Part 2: Which is not to say we shouldn't always have our ears to the ground about other audience development programs -- so I'd love to hear ideas. Given the above-stated goals of Free Night for Theatre Bay Area, do you have thoughts (even incomplete ones) on another audience development initiative that we should investigate? We've considered some sort of festival, and have flirted with more web-based attendance drives, but have not gotten very far with either because every time we start seriously discussing such things, we can't get past the footprint that Free Night makes.

I take heart in Torange's comment on this post where she says that audience development is an expensive, long-term process. To that, I would add that it's very hard to know how much you've succeeded with any alacrity. It can take years for a child who first attended Free Night with her parents to become a habitual theatregoer, and she would never in a million years answer on a survey that Free Night was the root cause of her attendance, but she is -- and we may never know that. But for five years now, every October, we've gotten theatre front and center in almost every major paper in the Bay Area, and on radio and television, and increasingly on the web. We've seen our web traffic spike by multiple hundreds percent in the weeks leading up to and following the big giveaway, and we've tracked those people and seen that they look through many, many shows before settling on the one they'll attempt to get into for free. We've seen (and talked to) parents who bring their children down to Union Square for the giveaway festivities and stand in line and get tickets, and to patrons who tell us outright that they go to more theatre (and more companies) now that they've been a part of Free Night. In our general interest survey at the end of 2008, from which we got over 2,000 responses from artists, administrators and patrons, Free Night earned some of the highest value scores across the board from all of our many constituencies.

So. There you go -- my take on this, which as I said probably isn't going to be terribly satisfactory. We'll be sending out our Free Night 2009 company solicitations next week and starting the ball rolling on what we hope will be a great fifth anniversary campaign.

Clay

Sam Shaw said...

Wow. I actually think it's this kind of dialogue that can help local theater more than FNOT. There simply aren't enough of these conversations, for to long too few of us have asked each other hard questions. It's good to see this happen, so huge props both to PianoFight & TBA. I hope this can be a step to the regional Bay Area Theater Message Board that I've been praying for for so long.

There are a few things I kinda disagree with. Is Bay Area the second largest theater market after NYC? That can't be true, can it?

The whole idea of marketing has turned on its head in the last couple years with the rise of Yelp/Goldstar, and so I'm nowhere near as pessimistic as some of the other voices here. Of course, as some will tell you, I can do a show for two people and still call it a success.

I still dont know how I could justify participating in FNOT. I just dont have any wiggle room to give up the revenue. But I think it's probably a good thing overall, as long as it is scrutinized and best practices are settled into.

I do want to reiterate that theater communities - and the Bay Area community specifically - needs dialogue. Granted, I'm coming from more of the improv side, but people aint talking to each other, and havent been since I got here in '97.

At the same time, I think we could also stand to stop acting like wounded birds in need of rescue. I would never attend a show because someone begged me to. I go because of word of mouth. And the best thing to do to ensure positive word of mouth is to simply not produce shit.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Clay. Well argued, tba boy. You get to keep your job. Now you can go back to crunching numbers, making marketing copy and defending tba's under performing programs... while the rest of us get on with making actual theater.

Karen McKevitt said...

Sam, regarding whether the Bay Area is the second-largest theatre market...it depends what the unit of measure is (in keeping with the theme of the larger conversation). Some go by per capita, some go by number of AEA actors, and so on. In many of these measurements, the Bay Area usually pops up in the top 3, sometimes top 4.

The rest of you are doing such a good job of discussing FN that I don't have much to add. :)

Carl Benson said...

We are doing such a good job! And in honor of that, I'd like to award Matthew Quinn with a gold star for his number crunching. Matthew, that means that you get to feed the hamster today!

Anonymous said...

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that though I have never spoken to Clay, I've seen pictures of him and find him impossibly adorable, so my comment is probably biased.

All I have to say is that hurling bitchy personal insults at someone who is doing good work to help hundreds of theatre companies stay afloat in these tough economic times is just rude. And doing so under the cover of "Anonymous" is just cowardly. Put your man pants on and make your comments under your name.

I didn't want to create an account, so I'm posting under anonymous. My name is Matt Jolley, I live in SF, and I work in environmental law. Though I'm not a member of TBA, I am an avid theatre goer and enjoy the fun and excitement of free night of theatre every year. I occasionally fall into a theatre rut, and free night never fails to expand the list of theatres I regularly attend.

So anonymous, please don't sully this conversation with your petty comments. It's annoying.

claytonlord said...

Hey Matt Jolley, thanks! We are working hard here at Theatre Bay Area and it's always nice to hear positive feedback. Personally, I sort of liked "tba boy." I might get it printed on a t-shirt.

Hey Carl, have you seen my post on Chatterbox on theatre etiquette? I thought you might have something to say about it...http://www.theatrebayarea.org/chatterbox/2009/07/on-theatre-etiquette.html C

Carl Benson said...

Matt Jolley,

First off, thanks for chiming in man, really trying to get a full spectrum of perspectives and yours is much appreciated. Couple quick thoughts:

"I have never spoken to Clay, I've seen pictures of him and find him impossibly adorable"

- You're right, you're totally biased.

"Put your man pants on and make your comments under your name."

- I agree 100%. I am all for teasing, strong language and giving people shit (man pants!), but only when it's backed up by the name of the person chucking it. If you're going to be a contrarian dick, go for it, but have the guts to sign your comments.

"Free night never fails to expand the list of theatres I regularly attend."

- Unfortunately, it appears that you are in the minority of people living in the Bay Area. And honestly, I wish that were not the case. What's heartening to hear is that the concept of once someone's been in the door, they then are turned on to more theater, is sound for at least some people.

Thanks again for commenting Matt.

-CB

Anonymous said...

I agree with the wearing of man pants. I happen to be wearing a pair right now.

Ok. Fine. I didn't leave the nasty little comment about Clay- But I did write the play. I didn't want to leave my name cause I wrote it in ten minutes while at work and wimped out on taking responsibility for something which was stream of consciousness garbage.

Blah blah blah.

My name is Tore Ingersoll - Thorp. And I am the artistic director of Sleepwalkers Theatre.

Man. My man pants feel manly.

A quick question though?

Does anyone really think that this discussion will have any impact on whether or not TBA will do FNOT? Or that Pianofight will continue to take in good sales for marketing and programming to the niche audience they have found? (nothing but kudos btw)

Maybe they can both partner up and host a big fun party where bands play and companies show little spinets of upcoming shows. And people who attend can get drunk and laugh and hang out with their friends. It could cost like 10 bucks a pop or something.

And then people can choose which show they want to see the full version of, FOR FREE! And the money that was taken in for party can be divided and given to each company, a percentage according to how many people selected their shows, and it can be used in part to cover the cost of comping the ticket.

Maybe this would be a good alternative for us smaller companies who can’t really afford to offer fifty seats, have half show up, and then never see that audience again.

Anyway. I love me some ramblin!

-t

Carl Benson said...

Tore,

Great idea man. Have a party, present some work, charge for it, and give the money directly back to the companies who are putting in the effort. Not to mention they'd hopefully get some more money in ticket sales from peeps who came to the party, saw their snippet, and decided they wanted to see the whole shabango.

Also, even though I can't see you, I'll bet your ass looks great in those man pants.

-CB

Matthew said...

PART 1 -

WOW. Look at all of this. Great comments, debate, short plays, I love this.

In response:

Dan W – Thanks for the support.

Bill B- Thanks for your comments and great suggestion- Got Theatre – awesome.

Michael Bean – Great to have an outside eye on this, thank you. Yes there are many more numbers that could be looked at to evaluate this program- # of large theatres vs. small ones – # of theatres involved. If as Clay says some groups wouldn’t benefit from this, wouldn’t it be nice for them to tell us who shouldn’t do this program. I imagine smaller companies don’t do as well as the larger ones. You bring up some good points. I don’t think Clay got to them.

Tore - A Play. Really. That is so awesome- Great job - 10 minutes – impressive. Can’t help but draw a connection between your cow and Bill’s Got Milk Idea – Did you guys plan that? Also excellent party idea. Nice Pants

Matt J.- Glad it’s working for you.

Carl- As always you keep things rocking and rolling along.

Chris H- You are not alone. Good comments. In particular your one size fits all does bring up the question of how does FNOT work for big vs. small companies. This information would be helpful, especially as Clay said; this program does not work for all companies. Is this small vs. large?

Sam- Long live dialogue. Yes. Agreed this is exciting and we need more of it.

Karen – Thanks for chiming in.

Clay/Torange -

First off I am very satisfied with your response and everyone else. As Sam said, I think ultimately it is the fact that this conversation is happening that is important. And yes, I realize we are looking at this from different perspectives, as I said I came into this not being for or against it, but to give a different view on it. In some ways we may be looking at this from the view of a For-Profit – FP(Combined Artform, PianoFight) and Not For Profit- NFP (TBA, most theatre companies). I think this is a bigger topic; we will save it for later.

I do not think my numbers miss the point. They bring up one point, there are others. Our different perspectives make us look at them differently. As mentioned this is to Toranges point this may not be the best indicator, but with the little information we have, it’s the one I could make. And as shown by Michael Bean’s comment (An outsider BTW) it does help people relate to this information. You also bring up the point that more indicators would be helpful. This has run for 4 years, where are the numbers?

I know ultimately nothing can be done for FNOT for this year (Clay, Tore). You are trapped by your grant money and your board to follow through with this program as is. Even if I could convince the entire community it did not work, that is the structure of NFP/Grants; a structure that as a FP I am not held to or believe in, for reasons like this.

I give these further responses in the hope that should this program come up again, with or without the support of the TCG there is some serious debate to whether grant money should perhaps be sought for another project instead and not just do FNOT because it’s there.

Matthew said...

PART 2

I understand that the point of this program is just not to get new people in, as you said, if that was the point, I’m glad you would be disenchanted in it. To your other points of why you do support it

1- Increase visibility of live theatre, locally and nationally (also mentioned by Torange)

2- Unite the theatre community (Is that what it’s doing?)

3- Educate the public (What about the theaters?)

4- Disseminating Tickets -This seemed more about your process, not why it is actually good.

I don’t think these are abstract goals, but they are goals that could be obtained by any mass co-op marketing campaign. So now I feel your missing my point. I’m not against mass co-op marketing; it’s the message and structure of FNOT that is at the base of its problem. To tell me that mass marketing can get 6 million eyeballs doesn’t tell me that FNOT is really working, just that the mass-marketing is.

I actually understand that as a NFP you don’t see an issue to spend money given to you on a program which doesn’t succeed, simply because you have no choice but to use the money for this program. A fault I give you, that lie with NP/Grants, not you personally. And don’t get me wrong, god bless the donated resources, they just should be used for an event that gives a better message to the public, lasts longer to gather more information and really includes all the community (TBA’s General Audition is a perfect example of a program that works.)

I realize ultimately it’s your sponsors and donors who make the decision. I have to think though if another project was developed that still included free tickets but didn’t make that the point of the entire event, they would listen to you. If a program could really include all of the community, and not just the ones it works for, they would probably like that better, right? TBA has the capacity to do that (TBA Auditions), I just don’t feel it succeeds, by my standards or even yours, with FNOT.

Yes, Torange it is very difficult and expensive to develop new audiences to get to the theatre. That’s not a reason to keep going through with FNOT nor that one should keep throwing money at a problem. Groups like PianoFight are getting new audiences in with little to no money, what are they doing?. To me the bigger issue is to get companies to talk about how, perhaps they need to be the ones who change the shows they’re producing and that bad word education, really applies to the companies who don’t listen to the public, but instead feel people should see their shows just because it’s art. Those times have changed. The theatre community needs to listen.

And looking at the movie and pharmacy on marketing budgets is not a fair comparison to theatre. We know people love movies and go to them at an increasing rate every year, and drugs are, at times, a necessity. So yes these groups can spend lots of money to get more people in. And while there numbers are large, there still making more from people buying their projects, so even 70 cents on the dollar is better than $137 for a theatre show, even Broadway. We have to buck up that we don’t have money to waste and that a lot of people really don’t like theatre as is and even getting them to see it will not change their view.

So please while you can’t change things for this year, before you sign up for another year and expand this program, we should all really look at the numbers. Listen to all the companies, there really seems to be a voice against this, really identify what types of companies that it is helping and ask, can we do this differently to get a better message out and be more inclusive.

In regards to what to do next, or ideas for further development, my main suggestions to FNOT would be:

Matthew said...

PART 3 - FINAL

- In regards to the ad campaign, I think it is in the message that FNOT fails to hit. I love the Got Milk/Theatre idea – Bill). I would also toss out “The Year to go see Theater”. –Playing on ideas like especially if you never have, why not start now, theatre has changed (as appropriate), come back to Jamaica, I mean theatre. Let people know of theater’s relationship to the area, how unique it is here and if they haven’t gone to it, they’re missing something special to the Bay. Become a part of its future Got Theatre? This is more the message we want out there…to get people exposed to and new people to the theater. Not go to FREE THEATER?

-I would also have the program run a year. Companies have free or discounted tickets throughout the year; they just allocate some of them to this program. TBA would offer them on their website and at tix-booth and can collect the additional monies from there to support more ads and cover additional staff time for the year. None of this is anything companies and TBA aren’t doing already. A system can be developed to let information be collected at shows and sent to TBA. Much more information will be collected over the year.

-It would be interesting to survey people who absolutely don’t go to theatre and ask why and what they do like to see. Have Theatre Companies ask themselves and meet to discuss their role in all of this.

I have a few more thoughts, however, as mentioned earlier, there’s not much we can do now, but for future development, sure.

As a producer, I’m always looking for events that will grow the community and audience, ultimately this helps the art, companies and the market. This conversation all shows many of us care about these issues. We have the same goals of course, create good art and get people to see it; I feel that our different views (FP vs. NFP) ultimately are about “what we can do and how we do it”. So I’m going to think a bit more on what to do next.

I’m looking forward to many more conversations; and as always hope to provide a different point of view and appreciate yours.

Matthew Quinn

Anonymous said...

1- I'm not wearing any "man pants."

2- Two words about annonymity: suck it.

3- This is an interesting discussion. Pointless... but interesting. Pointless because the "thought leadership" of tba, at the behest of their funders, corporate sponsors, board, tcg and other stakeholders have made up their collective minds that they will continue to promote Free Night, at least for this year.

But it is not really about tickets, increasing subscription rates or doing outreach to audiences. It is just pure marketing propaganda. "Go see a show and it will make you a better person, change your hairstyle, give you whiter teeth, make you more attractive and allow you to empathize with others. Yes, just go see a play for free and it will change your world." Nice message. I'm not even saying that it's wrong. But what's the point in trying to get tba to do anything different?

You can participate in their program or decline their invitation. The thing about "thought leaders" is-- if you don't like what they're thinking, just don't follow.

Carl Benson said...

Anonymous,

Convincing TBA to rethink "Free Night" is not the point. The discussion itself is the point.

Theatrical criticism tends to be reserved for specific shows - directing choices, acting style, set design etc. - but very rarely is a critical eye focused on the community itself, specifically the business and practices of that community.

As I'm sure you've read in posts and comments, theatrical audiences have been declining at double digit rates since the 1980's. The point is to get the community talking about why that's the case and how we can collectively go about reversing that trend. The point is to question how our programs are doing and whether we could come up with something more effective. The point is to get everybody talking, because if we don't, we're all fucked.

- Carl Benson