Friday, December 11, 2009

TBA Hops on the Change Bandwagon

The monthly issue of Theatre Bay Area magazine is a pretty great read. They do an extremely diligent job of covering the goings on in the local theater community -- giving career advice, recommending shows, chronicling personnel changes, and always keeping a piece or two about the actual creation of art.

In the December issue, TBA's marketing director Clayton Lord, who's been cool with having some pretty intense theater discussions on this blog and at TBA's Chatterbox blog, penned a piece titled "It's Time To Change the Sacred Cow," in his monthly Arts Marketing Trends column (I would link to it here, but TBA magazine does not have an online version).

He starts out by recounting his experience at the Project Audience marketing conference in Chicago at which he learned this:
"A full 30% share of the population ... are people who have negative associations with established arts, believe the arts aren't for them, don't see themselves being represented on stage, don't hold presentational art as a valuable part of their cultural makeup."
He goes on to say that even the best marketing on the planet is probably not going to get these people out to the theater:
"You can't simply cloak the current product in new clothing. You have to change the fundamental product ... Put another way, arts institutions exist to deliver art that matters to the people. If the people change, if the work we choose to produce is no longer reflecting their thoughts, feelings, needs accurately, if they don't have the desire to take part because they can't see why what we're doing matters to them, then in a way we are failing as organizations dedicated to the cultural growth of humanity."

While I'm glad that Clay and presumably TBA have signed on to this way of thinking, there are number of things that are just really frustrating about it.

1) We've been saying this for the past three years, and lots of other folks have been saying this for a lot longer (Brendan Kiley, Mike Daisy, Matthew Quinn etc)

2) This was one of the big arguments against Free Night of Theater -- giving the product away does not solve the problem of nobody wanting the product in the first place

3) It took flying to Chicago and attending this giant conference which pointed to some extremely expensive study which drew an incredibly obvious conclusion (people don't connect with shit that is not relevant to their lives) to prompt this realization

4) The final paragraph of Clay's article:
"At Theatre Bay Area, we believe that the performing arts are an essential public good, invaluable as a source of personal enrichment and growth. As a service organization, we have the relative luxury to think about the long-term in a way that is often difficult for individual organizations concerned with filling seats for a show this Saturday. We can show these trends, reference these studies and say something has to change. But we cannot make the change ourselves; that power sits with you."
And here, oddly enough, I agree with Clay. The power to change theater does rest on the backs of practitioners, and many of us have already been doing this. But as a service organization, how is this realization, that theater needs to change fundamentally, going to effect the policies and programs TBA provides?

Will TBA decide to stop spending huge wads of cash on these studies and conferences which essentially tell us what we all already know when the money could be better spent going to the actual creation of art?

If marketing is not the answer, will TBA continue to run the two week marketing program which costs a colossal $500,000 called Free Night of Theater?

Will TBA take an official stand on alcohol in theater, and help smaller companies get liquor licenses so they can increase revenue?

Again, I'm thrilled that one of the largest theater service organizations in the country is now on board with the fact that there are some massive, difficult to handle issues facing the industry. The question is, what are they going to do about it?

Thanks for Reading,


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