Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bad Economy for Broadway Could Mean Opportunity for Community Theater

OK, so by now we all are well aware that the economy sucks. Those of us involved in the performing arts are also well aware that usually the first thing erased from any recession-weary consumers' plans is to buy tickets to our shows. Theater is feeling the pinch all the way from Broadway to the little black box down the street. In a recent article from Cleveland Plain Dealer Theater Reporter Tony Brown citing a random dig at Cleveland from New York Theater ad agency Exec. Nancy Coyne, he also links to a New York Times piece documenting the economic woes being felt on Broadway (Broadway Has a Devil of a Time Finding Angels [Ticket Buyers, Too]) . Attendance is down and with the enormous cost of producing lavish musicals, many productions can't afford to stay open and many are closing long before their expected end dates. Their solution? Open more straight plays that cost less to produce than big musicals. From the New York Times Article mentioned above:

"In the winter and spring season Jane Fonda is returning to Broadway for the first time in 46 years in “33 Variations,” a new play by Mois├ęs Kaufman (“The Laramie Project”); Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons will star in “Impressionism,” by Michael Jacobs; and revivals of “Blithe Spirit” and “Hedda Gabler” are scheduled."

Even though Ms. Coyne seems to believe that pissing off tourists (specifically ones from Cleveland - Coyne: "We hate tourists from Cleveland") - despite the fact that 84% percent of Broadway attendees don't live in New York - and waiting for the New York theater elite to support more "enlightened" straight plays is the answer, clear research proves otherwise. In addition to the fact that most Broadway theater-goers are from out of town, Mr. Brown also notes that over half of all the people that saw a Broadway show last year did so outside of New York. At the same time it was also pointed out this week in another Cleveland Area posting that the New York Times reports that National Endowment for the Arts research shows the audience for straight plays is declining (Audience for Straight Plays Is Declining, N.E.A. Finds).

People want big lavish musicals. Big lavish musicals are too expensive to produce. No one can afford $200 a ticket to go see big lavish musicals. Produce cheaper straight plays. No one wants to see straight plays except New York theater snobs. Piss off tourists.

What's clear is that we're scrambling and no one really has a clue what to do.

I do have one suggestion. Go to a community theater show. You can see great performances - including large-scale musicals, escape from real-world troubles for a while, be enlightened, entertained and support local talent and theater - all at a fraction of the cost of seeing a Broadway show or even a regional or semi-professional theater production. If we as community theater artists are smart we will recognize this situation as an opportunity to market ourselves as a high quality (provided we actually produce high quality product), affordable entertainment alternative.


Friday, December 12, 2008

My Recent Sun News Interview About The Cassidy Theatre


I was recently interviewed by the Sun News about the state of The Cassidy Theatre. Nice optimistic article in this week's edition.

Musings from My City of Angels Auditions and Call-Backs


I've just finished up auditions for my upcoming production of the musical City of Angels. As challenging as the audition process can be (and yes - for those who have never been on the other side of the audition table, if you think standing up in front of people and singing or reading is tough, try casting a whole show) it's always a fascinating process and I try to learn a little more each time.

First let me say thank you to everyone who got off the couch and showed interest in this show. I really appreciate it. This time around I saw some amazing auditions, but it still amazes me sometimes how some auditioners continue to make classic audition mistakes. I realize we're talking about community theater, but I refuse to set the bar low because the production may be a "non-professional" one. There is nothing non-professional about the people that I have been fortunate to work with in the past and in order for this art form to grow and thrive we have to continue to challenge ourselves to produce the very best shows with the very best teams we can. Especially when ticket buyers' dollars are stretched so thin. Our customers should feel like they just saw a professional quality show for an amateur price - that's value and customers like good values. And like just about everything else in theater, it all starts with the audition.

I'm not going to get into a rant about audition tips and things like that. Far smarter and more qualified people have been there and done that (i.e. see Broadway Producer Ken Davenport's recent post or visit musicaltheateraudition.com). But I do have some observations from my recent round of try-outs.

Where are the men? Not to diminish the guys that did come to my auditions - they were great, but few. I know this is a common challenge for community theaters, but seriously, why don't men come to auditions? We know they do shows and love to perform, but they don't come to auditions. Is it because we have come to learn that we are in high demand and eventually the show will come to us? I think there is a bit of that unconscious awareness (can awareness be unconscious?) that the competition is much lower for quality male performers than it is for females. Personally, I like the audition process and don't mind going to auditions. Is it the show selection? Is one show considered more "macho" than another? City of Angels has fantastic and "macho" male roles and still the audition room was filled with women. I think it comes down to simple supply and demand. At the community theater (read "non-paid") level there are exponentially more women who are available and/or willing to participate in a show. So recruitment is essential and I continue using my network and searching outside it to add more great guys to what is already a phenomenal cast.

But obviously I did have a lot of great people show up and some...well, not so great. Actually, in many cases it wasn't so much that they weren't good performers, but the presentation (the audition) was off. They were either unprepared ("I really don't have a song ready, I just listened to this in the car on the way here..."), or unorganized (please make the accompanist's already tough job easier by having sheet music neatly organized in a binder! They can be your best friend or worst enemy!), or full of attitude - and not the good kind (I can't wait to spend 8 weeks of my life with someone who rolls their eyes at the slightest direction) or just plain full of excuses ("I'm really sick right now..."). Like it or not, directors can't afford to guess how an actor might perform under more perfect conditions. There are no "perfect" conditions in live theater. The audition is often your only shot to get it right. Indeed, to me a true professional and experienced performer (one I want in my show) is the one who can overcome adversities and unexpected moments and still put on a great show. Stopping the show because you hear a weird note from the pit is not an option. But when you are thrown off and flustered when the audition accompanist plunks unexpectedly, it says volumes about how you might perform come showtime. Many unexpected things can and usually do happen in live theater and how one reacts to these little unexpected audition moments can also say a lot about how an actor might react if a flat falls down or a costume rips. You have a cold at auditions? Good! Show me how you can sing through that and make me believe you're the healthiest person in the world right now. I can hear through a stuffy nose or a dry throat to get to the talent underneath. How many of us have gone on feeling an inch away from death? There's no guarantee those nasty little germs won't find you on opening night! You would never dream of going into a job interview and leading off the discussion by saying "I'm really not qualified for this job, but I like the building and thought it would be cool to work here"!!

But I also saw some amazing auditions from people who really put a lot of thought and effort into their presentation and I am always so grateful for that. From wardrobe, to hair, to general presentation, the little things make all the difference.

And I am grateful to everyone who came to auditions. And each one will get a phone call from me thanking them for their time and hoping that I will see them again in the near future, regardless of whether or not it will be for this project.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Conflicted About Conflicts?


If you've seen my City of Angels audition preview video, you know the auditions are coming up fast. Since my focus has been on directing over the last couple of years, I've been thinking about one of those thorny little theater issues that always comes up when casting a community (read "unpaid volunteer") theater production - cast conflicts.

One of the biggest challenges whenever I direct a show is organizing the rehearsal schedule. Readers of this blog already know some of my view points about the actual lengths of rehearsal schedules. Obviously another big component of rehearsals is who can actually show up to which rehearsals. Which is why it's so important to fill in that space on the audition form asking for conflicts as thoroughly and accurately as possible. But is it realistic for directors to always expect there to be nothing written in that space? It may not be realistic, but it is real.

I think it's rare but there are directors who won't cast anyone with any conflicts - not even the very best performers who may have an interest in being in their show. Being on the other side of the audition table, I would agree that this probably makes life a lot easier in terms of organizing rehearsals. In the ideal world, cast members would push everything else in their lives aside and commit to being at 100% of rehearsals. But I also think in today's hectic world where our volunteer actors are also parents, workers, students and volunteers in other organizations, casting only "non-conflicted" performers could be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

The very best performers - many of whom may be perfect for a given role - may want to do your show but have a few scheduling conflicts. To not cast them because of that is short-sighted. After all, we have an obligation to the ticket-buying public to produce the very best productions we can. If we can put the best talent on that stage, the audience will never know which rehearsals an actor showed up to and which they didn't. Of course, if we can cast a show with great performers who don't have conflicts (which I'm convinced doesn't really exist) that is the ultimate way to go and you don't have to worry about passing over some other fantastic performer with kind of a crazy schedule. But we all know these "great" community theater performers are not a dime a dozen and may require some flexibility.

Of course, this can go too far. If there is a diva who might be great in a given role, but thinks the schedule, cast and crew should bend around his or her personal schedule, run away as fast as possible. This person will only cause headaches, tension, resentment and other problems throughout the entire process. Every member of cast and crew needs to have the same commitment to the process in order for the project to succeed . I would much rather cast an actor who may not be quite as technically outstanding, but who has the heart, commitment and good attitude to help make the show a success, over a diva with an attitude problem. But surely, having a conflict or two does not mean one is not committed to the project and a couple legitimate work, family or other previous commitments shouldn't automatically exclude an actor.

But is it fair for one actor to have a few conflicts when other cast members might not have any? I don't think it's realistic to think that every member of the cast would have the same conflicts, responsibilities and schedules. As long as the conflicts don't interfere with the other cast members' work or the rehearsal overall, it shouldn't be a problem. But this is also why it's so important to have this information ahead of time. So the director can plan accordingly and respect the cast's time and make the best use of it with whomever is supposed to be there. Open communication and honesty with the rest of the cast can also go a long way in resolving conflict challenges. When the cast feels respected, it is amazing how far they will go to reinforce the team spirit and work together. I recently had a situation where the actor I had cast as a lead in one of my shows found out shortly after being cast that he would be called out of town for a few days for work late in the rehearsal process. Rather than re-casting the role, I decided to communicate that to the cast at our very first read-through, telling them we would have this challenge. They were prepared for it - they picked up the slack, the actor was well-prepared and when he returned he picked up as if he hadn't missed a day.

But of course as any organizer knows the best laid plans can always get screwed up. Someone is always going to call in sick, be late or even drop the show. Be prepared, be patient and be flexible. This is supposed to be fun, remember?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

City of Angels Auditions!




Brecksville Theatre on the Square Announces Auditions for

CITY OF ANGELS

Visit the City of Angels Website!
(viewed best with Firefox or Safari web browsers)

Featuring a book by M*A*S*H TV series writer/producer Larry Gelbart and a swinging score by Cy Coleman with lyrics by David Zippel, City of Angels is a wonderful musical full of great roles - including over 15 singing roles - to challenge a large number of strong character actors and strong singers.

Directed by Geoffrey Short
Musical Direction by Georgiann Bodle

Audition Dates:
Sunday, December 7 starting at 2 p.m
Monday, December 8 starting at 7 p.m.
Call-Backs Wednesday, December 10 starting at 7 p.m.

Production Dates:
3 weeks; March 13 - March 29...Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Rehearsals to start on January 19th*

Auditions are held in the B.T.O.T.S. Administrative facility located at Blossom Hill at 4450 Oakes Road in Brecksville. Oakes Road can be accessed from Brecksville Road or Broadview Road. Upon entering the Blossom Hill facility, follow the driveway to the back parking lot. The main administrative office is located in Building 5, across from the main school building. Auditions are held in Building 5.
Performances are held at the Old Town Hall, 49 Public Square at the intersection of routes 82 and 21 in Brecksville.

Please prepare a musical theatre song selection and bring sheet music in the proper key....accompanist will be provided. Dress comfortably for movement.
Contact the Director, Geoffrey Short at geoffshort@sbcglobal.net to schedule an appointment.

CITY OF ANGELS is two shows in one. It is the interweaving of two plots, one dealing with the writing of a screenplay in the legendary Hollywood of the '40's; the other, the enactment of that screenplay. The show boasts two musical scores. One provides the cast with numbers to help reveal certain emotions or to celebrate particular moments in the way that only music can. The "other" score was written to emulate pure movie soundtrack music, 1940's vintage. It is entirely appropriate, then, that the final curtain comes down on two happy endings.

Roles are available for 13 men and 7 women
Among the main characters needed are:

Stine......male, fiction writer, 20's - 40's
Stone....male - Stine's creation...1940's style private eye - Humphrey Bogart/Sam Spade type...20's - 40's

MOST OTHER ROLES ARE TWO CHARACTERS PLAYED BY ONE ACTOR - one character in the "real" world and one in Stine's fictional "story within a story":
Male Roles
Buddy Fidler/Irwin S. Irving....Movie director/producer, mogul type...male....30's - 50's
Gerald Pierce/Peter Kingsley...male...non-singing; 20's-30's...an actor/Alaura's stepson...handsome, suave
Pancho Vargas/Lt. Munoz - an actor and a police detective...male...20's - 50's
Gene/Officer Pasco - an Assistant Director/Police Officer...male - 20's - 50's
Jimmy Powers - a movie crooner.....a la Sinatra...smooth and suave..strong singer 20's-50's
Werner Kriegler/Luther Kingsley...(non-singing) an actor/the feeble, rich husband of the much younger Femme Fatale Alaura mature male 40's-60's
Gilbert/Dr. Mandril...Buddy's barber/a religious leader; guru-type; Luther's caretaker...older male (non-singing role)...40's-50's

Female Roles
Oolie/Donna...female, a wisecracking, jaded secretary (Imogene Coca type) in both worlds, but also sensitive. (sings the classics "You Can Always Count on Me" and the duet "What You Don't Know About Women" with Gabby . 20's-40's
Gabby/Bobbi...Stine's wife/Stone's ex-wife...capable and confident writer, but also sexy and sultry lounge singer...20's - 30's
Alaura Kingsley/Carla Haywood - Femme fatale, beautiful - 20's-30's...sings the beautiful "With Every Breath I Take" and the duet "Tennis Song" with Stone.
Mallory Kingsley/Avril Raines - Alaura's stepdaughter/a starlet...sultry, young and sexy...sings the steamy "Lost and Found"...18 - 30
Margaret - a maid at the Kingsley's mansion (non-singing)...30'S-50's

Plus a number of other great ensemble/chorus roles (speaking and non-speaking)

This is a non-equity production.
*subject to change; detailed rehearsal schedule available on the Calendar page of the City of Angels website and will be available at auditions

Friday, November 28, 2008

RETIREMENT COMMUNITY RESIDENT AND COMPOSER SEES DREAM PRODUCTION REALIZED ON CASSIDY STAGE TO BENEFIT CANCER SOCIETY



Parma Heights, OhioCommunicare’s Greenbrier Senior Living Community will produce an original holiday musical on the Cox Stage at the Cassidy Theatre. The Joy of Christmas, written and composed by Greenbrier resident, Richard Valentine, 89, will have one performance only at 7:30 p.m. Sunday Dec. 7 at Cassidy Theatre, 6200 Pearl Rd. Parma Hts. Tickets are on sale now for a $5 donation and can be purchased at Greenbrier Retirement Center, 6457 Pearl Rd. in Parma Heights between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society.

Valentine, a retired music teacher, who taught music in schools in Sandusky, Elyria, Avon Lake and others, began writing the book, music and lyrics to The Joy of Christmas 5 years ago. The musical is based on inspiration he had some years earlier while watching an awe-inspiring sunrise in Arizona. In 2007, Valentine moved to Greenbrier Retirement Community. He often entertains fellow residents by playing the piano and eventually he mentioned to an administrator that he had written an original Christmas musical. Greenbrier sponsors the Cassidy Theatre’s outreach performing group “Cassidy On-Tour”. Now the two organizations have partnered to bring Valentine’s composition to the stage this holiday season.

The Joy of Christmas tells the story of a young boy and his world-weary parents who are not in the holiday spirit. Despite their reluctance, the boy convinces them to attend a holiday church service where the family is reminded of the joy, peace and love the holidays really can bring. Valentine wanted the production to benefit the American Cancer Society in honor of his late wife who lost her battle with the disease. Now, the composer himself battles cancer as well.

The Joy of Christmas is sponsored by Communicare’s Greenbrier Senior Living Community and the Cassidy Theatre.

FOR INFORMATION: Terie Novak, tnovak@chs-corp.com, (440) 888-0400

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TIMES WERE HARD IN 1860S ENGLAND TOO, BUT CASSIDYS SCROOGE SHOWS THAT HOLIDAY JOY CAN OVERCOME TOUGH ECONOMY



Video promo for the musical "Scrooge" at The Cassidy Theatre in Parma Heights as seen on "Call-Back" - 12-08

Parma Hts., Ohio - Cassidy Theatre, Inc. presents the holiday musical Scrooge. The show will run at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays Dec.5 through Dec. 21 at Cassidy Theatre, 6200 Pearl Rd. Parma Hts. Tickets are on sale now for $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and Students and can be purchased by calling the Cassidy Theatre at (440) 842-4600. Scrooge features book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The Cassidy production is Directed and Choreographed by Lester Currie, with Musical Direction by Kira Seaton.

Scrooge is the stage adaptation of the movie musical retelling of Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol in which cold-souled Ebenezer Scrooge has a change of heart after spirit visitations on Christmas Eve. Renowned writer-composer-lyricist Bricusse adapted A Christmas Carol, into a movie musical in 1970 starring Albert Finney as Scrooge. In 1992, the stage musical adapted from the film was mounted in the U.K. under the title Scrooge: The Musical featuring the Bricusse songs and starring Anthony Newley.

"I think the message of the show is particularly important now when we are in hard times" says Alex Nalbach who plays Scrooge. "The characters in the show Scrooge included are people who are living through hard times. What keeps the community going is that they always reach out, they always help each other. It's a nice undercurrent of the show that it's community that counts". In addition to Nalbach, the Cassidy production also stars:

Don Pedley as Jacob Marley
Brad Andersen as Bob Cratchitt
Karen Hunaday as Ethel Cratchitt/Ghost of Christmas Past II
Aaron Kastanis as Harry Burnet/Young Ebenezer
Kayla Bruzinski as Kathy Cratchitt
Evan Ozimek/Jacob Fekete as Tiny Tim
Emily Tabar as Ghost of Christmas Past I
Danny Woods as Beggerman.Ghost of Christmas Present I
Thomas F. Majercik Sr. as Old Fezziwig/Ghost of Christmas Present
Carol Broquet as Mrs. Fezziwig
Kent Overton as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Joe Delaney as Wine Merchant/Phantom/Dick Wilkins
Debbie Lenarz as Isabel/Helen
Nick Tabar as Peter Cratchitt
Kayla Maggard as Belinda Cratchitt
Zac Hudak as Thom Jenkins
Jennifer Nageotte as Mary
Joe Mcintyre as Grandfather/Mr. Pringle
Sue Overton as Mrs. Dilber
Julie Dombrowski as Miss Dilber
Joshua Herrmann as Bissett the Butcher
Stephanie Malfarn as Joycelynn Jollygoode
Vicki Arnello as Hermione Hardy
Tom Malone as Harry Topper/Phantom
Paul Montgomery as Punch and Judy/Phantom
Dawn Culp as Beggar Woman
Caitlin Nageotte, Gabby Halligan and Brielle Giomini as Shoppers

Monday, November 17, 2008

Finding an Audience's Pain


In my media sales career, I learned a long time ago that every client or customer has some sort of "pain" - a need they have to fill, a challenge they need a solution to. Unless we as sales people can uncover that pain, and provide the solution to it, there is no sale. The trick is to find what that pain is. Every customer has it, but unless their ceiling is falling in or they're up to their knees in water, few customers willingly tell you what their pain is. In the sometimes vague world of marketing and advertising (and certainly entertainment) they often don't know they even have pain. Sometimes we have to point out that they do in fact have a need. Something their competition has that they don't and didn't know about, until you, their trusted consultant told them about it. Often the "need" isn't a need at all. Maybe it's just a "want". In any case, you want to be the one to provide it. Only through gaining their trust and convincingly explaining how your products and services can help do you have a chance of uncovering what the pain is. And it's only when we take the focus off our own needs and focus on the client's needs - their pain - and healing it, that success happens.

I've been thinking about how this applies to theatre audiences. What is it that a theatre ticket buyer wants or needs? Certainly to be entertained. Perhaps they need an escape from their everyday troubles into a colorful, fanciful world of a musical. Theatre is also a communal experience, so maybe a ticket buyer is tired of the isolation of their living room staring at a computer screen or a DVD on a big flat screen TV ("flat" is the key word there as opposed to the 3-D real life of live theatre). I would think this last one would apply to an audience segment that tends to be community theatre's biggest and most loyal - senior citizens. They may also have a nostalgic need to relive some of the grand plays and musicals that were the main form of entertainment in their youth.

One of the most challenging audience segments whose pain is hard to identify is also we one community theatres rely a lot on - family members of the cast. They are hard to figure out because probably the biggest reason they are in the seats is to support their kids or spouses - which is directly contradictory to the pain identification theory. These people are focused on the needs of the cast (supporting them) as opposed to the production focusing on the audience's needs.

Here's a stunning revelation - we theatre artists tend to be a little self-centered and narcissistic. Just putting on shows to provide vehicles for us to hear applause will quickly lead to a very quiet house. We need to meet the needs of our customers.

So how do you identify the needs of the audience? Ask. Then ask again and keep asking in any ways you can - through surveys, face to face meetings, etc. Until you really get a sense of the audience's pain. Then put a band aid on it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rethinking Rehearsal Schedules - Part 2


As I'm procrastinating building yet another rehearsal schedule for an upcoming directing project, I have rehearsal schedules on the brain. A few months ago I talked about some of my theories on how we theatre artists structure and think about rehearsal schedules. For a long time I've felt like we haven't been very flexible about how we schedule rehearsals. I remember the days of 5 nights a week-type of schedules and it's been my observation that that sort of model doesn't work for today's busy community theatre participants. We wonder why no one shows up to auditions or why we end up casting the same people (many of whom may not have kids or other full-time jobs) over and over again. We are starting to see encouraging trends in the way the corporate world responds to the needs of its workforce. Things like telecommuting, flex time, on-site daycare, etc. are all smart ways to attract and maintain the very best talent. But we in the theatre world have often been slow to follow the trends and demands of our most important resource - the talent or potential talent that performs our shows - our "workforce".

These are not "professional" performers for the most part - meaning they don't do theatre for a living. They are juggling the demands of family and other jobs and simply don't have the time to commit to such heavy rehearsal schedules, as much as they might - and mostly do - want to. And, for the most part, I don't think they need to commit to heavy schedules. In many cases these performers are good enough to be professional performers but chose a different (some would say smarter) path in life. They still love to perform and have the talent and desire to get the work done their roles might require in whatever time frame they might be given. In fact, if they're true performers, they're probably actually longing to do a show but are lamenting the fact that they can't because of the heavy schedule. Can you imagine this scenario in the business world? You're selling a product. You have a potential customer who really, really wants the product. They can afford the product. But because you're unwilling or (seemingly) unable to deliver the product when and where the customer needs it, they can't and don't buy it. In fact the universe of people that actually can buy your product in the narrow window in which you're choosing to deliver it is so small that you end up selling and reselling to the same small customer base over and over again.

We all know directors who won't tolerate schedule conflicts of any kind, which is understandable to a point. We have a lot of work to get done in a short (no matter what the schedule looks like) amount of time. But in the busy actor/soccer mom (I refuse to say "hockey mom" ever again!) this is not realistic. She is going to have a few conflicts, it's inevitable. But she is a great performer and so our "no conlicts" policy cuts our nose off to spite our face. We in the community theatre community need to bend a little around the needs of our "workforce" - the performers. Talented, hard, working actors are worth it. What's more, they will rise to the challenge of shorter more manageable schedules. We've all seen the maddening phenomenon of casts that have a ton of rehearsals wait until the last minute to get off book or learn that last bit of choreo anyway. Give a talented performer 10 or 15 rehearsals and see what happens. I decided to put this to the test with the last show I directed, "Assassins".

I built a rehearsal schedule of basically 3 times a week (twice during the week and one on Sundays) for about an 8 week period. Obviously things heated up as we got closer to opening and tech week is tech week, but essentially these actors had around 10, 12, 15 rehearsals before running through the show. I was fortunate to have an amazingly talented cast, and I think a large part of that was because of a manageable schedule and the show was fantastic if I do say so myself.

Of course, "Assassins" is not a choreography heavy show and shorter rehearsal periods don't come without their costs and are not always possible. Huge casts, heavy choreo, big scene changes, etc. can all make shorter rehearsals impossible. But I've been in kind of a minimalist mood lately and if the kind of show you're into can accomodate a leaner vision, this may be one way to attract the talented hidden gems in the community you need.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Your Theatre Survive the Economy?

Great article in yesterday's Cleveland Plain Dealer by Theatre Critic Tony Brown - "Arts to Weather Economic Storm". Tony talks about how some of Cleveland's major arts and cultural institutions have prepared or are preparing for what seems to be an inevitable financial crunch due to the national economic crisis. In a nutshell the prevailing feeling among arts administrators seems to be "so what else is new?". And it's true. All of us involved in the arts are used to living hand to mouth and putting on our best shows even though there may only be 10 people in the audience. As I've watched the national news about dwindling investments, stock market crashes, AIG and everything else, I've said to myself, "This is the only time I think I've felt OK being poor!". I know...I'm very blessed, but seriously, I don't have hundreds of thousands in some investment somewhere being decimated right now. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing. I think we kind of are in the same situation in the arts community. None of us were in this business to get rich anyhow. That being said, we still need to make sure whatever bills we do have get paid so that we can at least continue to do what we do best - make art and present it to art lovers.

So how is your theatre weathering the storm? Lowering unnecessary overhead and other costs is essential right now. Tony states in his article, "...some cultural groups started acting with more financial acumen. They reorganized, grew leaner, paid off debts and put a halt to the long-standing practice of borrowing from the next season's subscription receipts to pay off the current season's shortfalls." Oy...how many of us know that drill?

He also goes on to talk about things like looking at ticket prices and how some companies' practice of lowering prices has paid off by building audiences. How much is your company charging? Will the market bear it? We all know that if you produce a big, splashy feel-good musical with a large cast that all of the cast's family member will buy tickets, filling up the house. In a way, this is giving the community theatre audience (our customer) what they want, which is good business. But it also creates a false sense of security too. Theatre is one of the rare businesses (yes, businesses) in which giving the customer "what they want" isn't always the primary goal - certainly not the only one. We are also charged to enlighten, challenge, provoke and educate as well as entertain. The second we try to produce a smaller cast show or a lesser known or edgier, more challenging piece we notice Aunt Edna isn't in the front row...in fact, nobody is!! So we feel trapped into producing only big, splashy musicals that are not only expensive but also feature the same family member casts (are we becoming the Mormon Tabernacle theatre?) and are being done by every other community theatre in town for the exact same reasons. And that creates a bad economic equation - too much supply and not enough demand. When that happens in the retail world - overstock sales, for instance - prices drop. Are ours? Many theaters do react to market conditions as is indicated by the many BOGO offers and other short-term promotions I see pop up every weekend. I'm not suggesting ticket prices automatically should drop, but we do need to pay attention to what the market will bear and what our competitors are doing - and yes... if someone is buying a ticket to a show at the theatre down the street and not yours, especially if they're producing the same show - they're competitors. Tony brings up some good points and now is the time for all of us to look at how we are doing business and how we can do it smarter, cheaper and more efficiently.

Monday, November 10, 2008

ANOTHER GREAT BLOG FOR PERFORMERS -THE BRIAN BOWERS PROJECT!

For those who might not think of Cleveland as a thriving show business mecca, think again. From a throbbing local music scene, to the second largest performing arts center in the country - Playhouse Square - along with dozens of other professional and non-professional theatre companies, Opera Cleveland, The Cleveland Orchestra and so many other performing arts, Cleveland is indeed a great place to make and enjoy great works of art. And the people creating that art are some of the best anywhere. Case in point, another Cleveland entertainment pro who is sharing his ideas and experiences in a new blog - The Brian Bowers Project. Brian has been heavily involved in the arts and entertainment world for nearly his whole life. Starting as an actor at a very young age, Brian has performed over 20 years in theatre and broadcast. After graduating with a BA in Theatre from Baldwin-Wallace College, he continued to work as an actor while also working in management positions for several national companies. His interest in both entertainment and business/sales led to his transition into agenting for the Talent Group in Cleveland, OH, where he worked for over three years finding work and negotiating contracts for actors and models in commercials, industrials, voiceovers, and print/fashion. During this time he also created Braedy Photography (a portrait studio specializing in headshots for models and actors), and is also currently working as a producer for Erie Lake Pictures, a Cleveland based production company. CHECK IT OUT!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Advertising for the Poor (Like Community Theatres!)

Performing arts organizations need to advertise as much as any for-profit commercial company. But affording paid advertising? That is, indeed a comedy of errors! So should small non-profits throw in the advertising towel and depend on the kindness of their ever-dwindling senior citizen subscriber base? I think not.

Theatre artists are some of the most creative people in the world and the magic that comes out of their heads and onto a stage is often nothing short of miraculous. But when it comes to marketing and advertising we often get as creative as an I.R.S. agent (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

While expensive paid advertising is often not an option for theatre groups, there is a lot we can do to effectively promote our shows. Grass roots marketing and generating word-of-mouth buzz is the best way to generate interest in a production. Along with the normal generation of press releases, photos, flyers and video on a regular basis for each show, creative use of social networking sites has also become vital in the effort. For instance, recently the theatre I'm involved in - The Cassidy Theatre - had no less than 3 current or recent shows being talked about on Facebook - through cast photos postings, video and chats. This is free and goes a long way to generating that all-important buzz.

Theatre directors and marketers should look for the interesting stories within your cast and crew and let your media contacts know about them. Editors and producers don't care if you're putting on a show. They have a bigger responsibility to a larger population, much of which could care less about theatre. But they do want to know about the fact that a cast member recently returned from duty in Iraq or that everyone in the cast is volunteering at a soup kitchen or something. Encourage your cast to take candid rehearsal photos and video of their own and post them to various social networking sites. Write blogs, create MySpace and Facebook pages and event invitations. These have become invaluable (and free!) sources of generating buzz about shows and it helps cast members get even more involved in the production of your project. I recently created a series of online promotional video trailers for a production I directed of the Stephen Sondheim musical "Assassins" here in the Cleveland area. Each promo featured an actor playing a different historical presidential assassin revealing brief glimpses into their motivations. Of course each promo ended with show information. I got a lot of email response - soome quite controversial - which I promptly forwarded to the press, under the heading "Debate Erupts Over Assassin Promotion". The result was a front page feature articlein the local paper.

Ideas sell!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Generate Audiences Like Barack Did

Barack Obama's campaign for president is being hailed as one of the best in recent history. The timing of certain campaign activities, his ability to raise millions of dollars and cultivating one of the largest volunteer armies ever seen all have contributed to his success. Whether you voted for him or not, all of us in the marketing and advertising community should study this campaign and take away valuable lessons from it to apply to our efforts. For instance trying to attract voters is not unlike trying to attract audiences for theatre productions (which happens to be my interest). One of the things the Obama campaign did was to identify people who were registered voters in the last election but who, for some reason did not actually show up to vote. These people - obviously identified as prime targets - were then personally contacted. As we know voter turn-out hit record levels. What if we applied the same strategy to our customers - or potential customers? It's should be fairly easy to identify every theatre season subscriber and when they actually did or didn't show up for a show. I could then contact those people (who are warm and hot leads because they actually have "opted in" for my services) to find out why they didn't attend, address those issues and personally invite them to the next show for an improved experience. How many times have we tried to find new customers (or audiences) by cold calling or by otherwise blindly trying to reach as many people as possible, whether they had an interest in our product or service or not? Anyone in sales or marketing knows that a qualified lead - a warm, one - is like finding prospecting gold because it can save endless amounts of time and greatly improve the chances for a sale. And someone who has signed up for our service - or registered to vote - in the past is someone who should be contacted again. Can you say "low-hanging fruit"?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Debate Erupts Over Assassins Promos

An interesting debate has begun among the Northeast Ohio performing arts community over my video promotional trailers for "Assassins". They can be seen at:

ASSASSINS VIDEO PROMO TRAILERS

(or just scroll down this blog!)

The hubbub seemed to start here in Cleveland, when I posted the trailer featuring the character of Lee Harvey Oswald (played by Jacob Wadenpfuhl). Seems JFK is still a little fresh in some people's minds. Why does no one cry for Bill McKinley?:


"I'm sorry, but I find this promotional approach highly objectionable. I'm one of the people who can tell you exactly where she was and what she was doing the day JFk was shot.

sincerely, Lissy Gulick"

That was followed by:

"BACK IN ANCIENT, DYNASTIC EGYPT, WHENEVER A PHAROAH OR HIGH OFFICIAL
FELL OUT OF FAVOR, OR WAS OTHERWISE DISGRACED, HIS NAME AND HIS IMAGE, IF THERE WAS ONE, WAS OBLITERATED FROM ALL PUBLIC RECORDS AND PUBLIC MONUMENTS. IN THOSE DAYS, ERASERS CAME IN THE FORM OF HAMMERS AND CHISELS.

TODAY, WE ARE DROWNING IN A SEA OF IMAGES, AND WITH THE PUBLICITY AND MARKETING TOUTED FOR THE PLAY, ASSASSINS, THERE IS SOMETHING THAT SUMMONS LOATHING AND THAT GRABS AT OUR STOMACHS ABOUT THE GLAMORIZATION OF KILLERS AND MURDERERS. NOT THAT HOLLYWOOD OR
BROADWAY HAS EVER SHOWN ANY SQUEAMISHNESS WHEN IT COMES TO
EXPLOITING MURDER AND MAYHEM FOR PROFIT. YET A SPECIFIC AUDIENCE OF YOUNG PEOPLE IS OUT THERE CONTINUOUSLY VIEWING ALL THIS MATERIAL, WHICH IS NOT JUST FOR "MATURE AUDIENCES" ANYMORE. ALL OF THE PSYCHOSES OF KILLING AND MURDER HAVE BECOME "PUBLIC DOMAIN" AND
THERE MAY BE A HIDDEN BENEFIT HERE - FOR THE LONG RANGE. HOWEVER WE SLICE AND DICE IT, IN SPITE OF COLUMBINE, ARKANSAS, KANSAS, VIRGINIA TECH, FINLAND, AD NAUSEAM, IT DOES NOT SEEM TO BE GETTING BETTER.

YOU MIGHT SAY, 'WELL, IF IT IS SELLING TICKETS, WHAT IS THE HARM?"
ANYONE WHO DOESN'T KNOW THE RIGHT ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION
EITHER LEAVES THE FAMILY WEAPONS IN PLAIN VIEW OF YOUNGSTERS
OR IS COMATOSE, AND FOR ME THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THE TWO.

MAYBE A SIMPLE POSTER WOULD HAVE BEEN AS EFFECTIVE. OR IS THAT LIKE ASKING TO PUT THE JINN BACK INTO THE LAMP? WHERE IS THOMAS PAINE AND HIS IDEA OF COMMON SENSE?

THANK YOU LISSY. OBJECTION WELL TAKEN.

MARTIN COSENTINO"


hmmmm....an email in all capital letters? A sign of aggression in this text-happy era? Maybe. Or maybe just really passionate about Lee Harvey Oswald!

There have been others and I'm sure others will follow. My response to some of the opinions expressed so far has been this:


Thanks so much for the feedback. I really appreciate it and am always glad to talk about the show and theatre marketing in general. And I completely understand the reaction. Again, this is a challenging piece to produce and promote. It is disturbing and uncomfortable. I think that y merely putting the title "Assassins" on a marquee, you're inviting some negative reaction. And I think that in large part that was the authors' intent - to ruffle feathers, make us squirm in our seats and really take a look at our society and what the "American dream" means, so that these horrible things never have to happen again.

I was born a couple years after 1963, so I don't have a recollection of the events of the JFK assassination. The nearest thing that my younger cast could relate to that we've discussed are the events of September 11. In an effort to make sure they approach the material in ways that I consider appropriately grounded (which is not to imply censored or "softballed" in any way) and in line with the authors' intent, I've tried to get them to imagine how difficult it would be to perform a musical (or promote one) that some people would view as mocking or sympathizing with the 9/11 terrorists. I've also approached the marketing with this in mind as well. I would never want to mock or sympathize with anyone responsible for the similarly catastrophic events of 1963. That has never been my intent. And again, if you took it that way, I can understand it.

However, I do believe in this piece of theatre - specifically because it is disturbing and uncomfortable, and I am of the personal belief that if a society ever needed to be shaken out of our complacent slumber, we do. Especially now as we are heading into the voting booths. It is very uncomfortable to look at ourselves and some very heinous deeds some of us have done. But we have to if we are ever going to change. And I really believe this piece grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us a bit - so I believe the marketing and promotion should too. I never mean to offend. With the exception of some harsh language at times, this piece has no outward or graphic violence, or blood and with the exception of one brief image before a blackout - no one is ever seen actually getting shot. The promos follow that line. And it is important to note that 99% of what the characters are saying in the promos comes directly from the script. And I'm certainly not in this business to get rich, so the implication that the video pieces are sensationalizing awful acts just to sell tickets - while understandable - is not quite on the mark. Of course we want to sell tickets so that we can share the amazing talents of this cast, but also so we can shake a few people (voters) up as well and start dialogues like this one. In that regard you will continue to see (should you choose to click the link) other video promos from the other characters in the show over the upcoming two weeks.

But I definitely think to change we have to talk...dialogue is essential, between democrats and republicans, theatres and audiences - which is why I am so grateful for your feedback. I always welcome the chance to talk more with you. I can be reached at (440) 263-1156. I would love for you to see the show!

Thanks so much and best wishes - Geoff Short

Of course there have been supporters as well...

"As a teacher, I can understand that there are some parents out there who wish to shield their children from anything that could be considered harmful, disgusting, questionable, etc. However, AS A TEACHER, I also believe that when these types of shows, ideas, songs, pop-stars, etc. come into the arena, it is the job of the PARENTS, not the community, to explain why and how these things are bad or unacceptable for their child. If you are not aware of things like Facebook, Myspace, musicals, plays, T.V. shows and movies with adult content, then you are not doing your job as a parent.

I see your point about how disgusting it is that our society tends to glorify, in public (movies, books, plays, television), the things we condemn behind closed doors, however, it is not the responsibility of the theaters to control that. That responsibility lies with the parents and the parents alone.

The theater has been and always will be a place where ideas, new and old, are presented in non-traditional ways. It's up to the audience members to decide what to take away from the performance. I don't think the marketing has anything to do with that and in a time when the arts are suffering, let the theaters do whatever they can to get those audience members there. If this marketing works, I say good for them for getting people in the seats. If they don't get more people attending performances, with our current state of economics, what will happen to the theater community in one of the poorest cities in the nation?"

"Hi Geoff et all involved in Assassins-

As someone who works in marketing and advertising I must say- GREAT promotion. Love it or hate it, it's effective. Wow, I hadn't even heard about this show and am now really interested (and why didn't I go audition?) in seeing it.

I usually don't like musicals either, but might give this one a pass.

best wishes to you all in your opening and run,

Michael Goulis "

Stay tuned as the local press has gotten wind of the story...(I have no idea how!)...More to come!

ASSASSINS Promo Featuring Charles Guiteau

Kevin Joseph Kelly as Charles Guiteau
www.assassinsshow.8k.com

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ASSASSINS Promo Featuring John Hinckley

Joshua Brown as John Hinckley
www.assassinsshow.8k.com


WE INTERRUPT THIS THEATRE PROGRAMMING...

...for a little mental health check during this clusterf**ck of a national economic crisis brought to you by the best shrink I know - my dad-in-law! Michael Dwyer, PHD a pysch professor at Baldwin-Wallace College and my wife's dad was featured in a local news interview this week about ways to deal with the stress of the Wall St. crash. Thanks Popi!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My CD Review - In the Heights

Just downloaded this CD from iTunes and in My humble opinion....

This original cast album represents exactly the kind of breath of fresh air that musical theatre needs. Scores like this one - along with shows like Passing Strange, Spring Awakening and [title of show]) - are redefining what a musical score can be. In the Heights is a thrilling CD and the composers manage to make a predominantly Latin-flavored score universal to anyone who has an ear for exciting percussion, some great vocals, hip-hop and contemporary show tunes. I haven't been able to put my iPod down and in my opinion, In the Heights is a must buy for any progressive musical theatre fan!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

I'm listening to my Broadway Bullet podcast while driving home from an industrial video shoot and heard about two cool sites from an interview with Producer Ken Davenport...theproducersperspective.com and a new social networking site for Broadway geeks (know any of those?) called broadwayspace.com.. Let me know what you think.

Have a Great Day! Geoff

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The People of Spruce Pine are Stupid?

I've never been to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, but for the record, I'm sure it's a beautiful place full of caring, intelligent citizens. Whether or not they are musical theatre fans remains to be seen if the spate of video comments in response to the "VioletBlog" video episodes (which would later become the basis for "Call-Back") documenting my production of "Violet" is any indication. Despite the fact that I directed this intimate and touching Jeanine Tesori musical well over a year ago, and posted the "VioletBlog" videos then as well, I recently have been contacted by a couple caring, if not downright vexed Spruce Pine natives.

Seems as though Episode #2 titled "The People of Spruce Pine" which opens with a line from the opening song of the show about Spruce Pinians being less than enlightened ("Stupid...the people of Spruce Pine are stupid...") has said citizenry madder'n' a stick-poked hornets nest! (sorry...couldn't resist!) In fact I was even contacted by a local Spruce Pine newspaper today asking for my input for a story about the show and its connection to Spruce Pine!! I'll let you know if and when the story comes out, but in the meantime here is one exchange between a concerned S.P. native and me about the show:

(From mackenzieb97:)
What's the deal with saying that the people of Spruce Pine are stupid?!? That's like saying that everyone in Kentucky are inbreds and barefoot hillbillies. I got news for you. There are as many ignorant people where you're at than where I'm at. Not many "hicks" have 8+ years of college. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Not sure why it's taken mackenzieb97 8 years to get through college, but here was my response:

Hi! I completely agree with you and understand your frustration. Being born and raised here in Cleveland, which has been the butt of jokes ever since I can remember, I sympathize. I'm sure Spruce Pine is a beautiful place with brilliant citizens. In fact, I just was contacted by a local paper there to talk about "Violet" since it talks about Spruce Pine so I look forward to explaining this to them as well.

The sentiments about the people of Spruce Pine are certainly not mine - I don't know if you're familiar with the show or not, but in terms of the "the people of Spruce Pine are stupid" line...you'd really have to ask the author of the book the musical is based on "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts. The Musical's composer - Jeanine Tesori used the author's words in her songs. That line is simply one line in the opening song sung by the main character who is a native of Spruce Pine and is complaining about her neighbors who have basically made her an outcast ever since she was accidentally scarred as a young girl. Anyone who has ever had dreams of escaping their home town in pursuit of a dream (no matter how crazy that dream may seem) can sympathize with Violet's thoughts.
Thanks for getting in touch. - Geoff

There is no doubt that "Violet" is a very provocative piece of theatre as it deals with issues of faith, racism, physical beauty vs. inner beauty and more. In fact I did receive one downright hateful letter from a very unenlightened audience member who in his rant came just short of screaming that his main problem with the show was the fact that the couple who falls in love in the end is an interracial one. Strangely enough, this guy also managed to stay through the entire show! I say, if people are talking about this wonderful piece of theatre and are becoming aware of it (which indeed was the whole point of "VioletBlog" and "Call-Back" in the first place), then the People of Spruce Pine are probably a whole lot smarter than any of us thought!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Call-Back: Some Enchanted Evening - Pt. 2

The latest episode of Call-Back featuring the show I'm currently directing "Some Enchanted Evening" at Huntington Playhouse. Also check out the Some Enchanted Blog!

Call-Back: Singin' in the Rain -Pt. 4

The Latest episode of Call-Back featuring the making of the Olmsted Performing Arts production of Singing in the Rain (www.olmstedperformingarts.com). In this episode, rehearsals are heating up and we talk to Music Director Jason Falkofsky! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ASSASSINS HAS BEEN CAST!

ASSASSINS HAS BEEN CAST!

MEET THE CAST AT WWW.ASSASSINSSHOW.8K.COM!
THEN GO TO THE PHOTOS PAGE TO MEET THE CAST!
WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE THE INCREDIBLE CAST OF ASSASSINS!

John Wilkes Booth - Michael Snider
Balladeer/Oswald - Jacob Wadenpfuhl
Charles Guiteau - Kevin Joseph Kelly
Sarah Jane Moore - Kim Bush
Squeaky Fromme - Holly Facer
Sam Byck - Chris Bizub
Giuseppe Zangara - Trey Gilpin
John Hinckley - Joshua Brown
The Proprietor - Michael Andrews-Hinders
Emma Goldman/Ensemble - Jennifer Nageotte
Ensemble - Lissa Pavluk
Ensemble - David Turner
Gerald Ford/Ensemble - Michael Strama
James Garfield/Ensemble - David Williams
Billy/Ensemble - Joey Stefanko
Thanks to everyone who auditioned! You were all amazing

THE ROLE OF LEON CZOLGOSZ IS STILL AVAILABLE!
Contact Geoff Short @ (440) 263-1156 or geoffshort@sbcglobal.net
Rehearsals and performances will take place at The Cassidy Theatre - 6200 Pearl Rd., Parma Heights

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Assassin Auditions!

Hey! Check out the little vid clip here with info on upcoming auditions for Assassins that I'm directing opening in October! Then go to the website at www.assassinsshow.8k.com!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Call-Back: CAMEO's Thoroughly Modern Millie - Pt. 2

Welcome to Call-Back as we go behind the scenes of another great Northeast Ohio Theatre production! This time the show is Thoroughly Modern Millie at CAMEO (Cooperative Alliance of Medina Entertainment Organizations). This smash hit musical is CAMEO's big Summer show taking place July 25, 26, 31, August 1, 2 at 7:30pm and July 27, August 3 at 2:00pm. All shows are at the state-of-the-art Medina Performing Arts Center in Medina Ohio...You've got to see it to believe it...and you will with Call-Back! In this episode we meet Millie herself and look in on rehearsals. Thanks for watching!


Call-Back: Dog Sees God - Pt. 1

Thanks for checking out the latest episode of Call-Back! This episode kicks off another new theatre series..this time the show is "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" at Fourth Wall Productions in Cleveland. This is a challenging play that deals with important issues like sexual identity, friendship and life and death. The show runs from July 17 through 27th and tickets are available by emailing tickets@fourthwallproductions.com or by calling (330)283-2442. Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Video or Not to Video...That is the Question!

Listen carefully..that crackling sound you hear coming from the North Coast of your map of the United States is the sound of another fervent Cleveland theatre discussion. Hey...at least we care! This time the topic is videotaping in the theatre for promotional purposes. The spark was lit when Cleveland Plain Dealer Theatre Critic Tony Brown was nice enough send out a call this week to area theatre folk to send him links to videos promoting upcoming shows to include in his blog, one with a much larger audience than any of ours individually.

One area theatre marketer responded:

This actually brings up an interesting question. Most show licenses state that you're not allowed to record your productions, and yet many grant committees request them, and promotional guides recommend them. Our theatre recently made it 'official policy' not to record performances because the possibility of having a show shut down was too risky. I'm curious as to how other local performance groups have reconciled their desire or need for videos with the licensing restrictions placed on the shows by their owners.

Of course, you know I had to chime in...I mean, the whole idea of Call-Back is based on the video medium - albeit, not for the purposes of flying in the face of copyright and licensing laws or anything, but obviously I'm a big believer in the use of all sorts of multi-media for theatre production marketing. So I crawled up on my soap box and preached:

In terms of promoting a show, I don't think the issue is so much one of using extended footage of an actual performance during it's run (which can be a sticky legal issue). Linda is right, very few people beyond the cast and their immediate acquaintances might care to watch that anyway. The more interesting story of any particular show is what happens back stage and behind the scenes. What went into the making of this show. This is what I've based the Call-Back cable and on-line theatre documentary series on - reality TV based on community theatre productions! I've been fortunate to be invited to document productions at a number of different theatres for Call-Back. I've found that interviews with different theatre artists, cast members, snippets of numbers or scenes from rehearsals, etc. can really be interesting to larger audiences. I've tried to make viewers feel like a part of these shows themselves by putting together series of episodes they can follow throughout the rehearsal process. This can be really effective in generating buzz and interest in shows if the episodes are edited in interesting ways and as professionally as possible. And there are no legal restrictions on talking to (non-equity) cast and crew, etc.

Of course, there were other comments (some even got a little snarky to make the read ever so much more interesting!) that can be read by clicking on this blog title link.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Are Digital Orchestras a Sign of the Times?

Found a fantastic discussion about the possible effects of using digital orchestras in theatre productions. Check it out at the link above.

Here was my comment:

Great discussion! I am a community theatre director/performer here in the Cleveland area and musicals are my focus so this really hits home - especially as an upcoming directing project looms on the horizon the score of which will require a lot in terms of the orchestra. And as is common in community theatre, the physical space is limited to say the least.

At the community theatre level, I think we're talking about two different things: teaching young musicians while encouraging performance opportunities for them to learn versus creating the greatest possible theatre experience for ticket-buying audiences.

I agree that we should always encourage learning experiences for young musicians - kids need these experiences. No one would argue that these performance experiences are essential to their development even though they may not have advanced skills right now. But most of the pits in the community theatre shows I have directed, been in or even just seen are not made up of middle or high schoolers. A few are, but not many. So I can't say we would be taking away kids performing opportunities with digital augmentation.

On the other hand, many of the performers actually on stage are high schoolers - many of which are still only developing their skills as well. I wonder if, when we develop technology (and you know we will) that can replace live actors with 3D hologram performers that can sing and dance flawlessly, we will replace the high schoolers who fill so many of our community theatre roles, but who may still be squeaking through a Sondheim score while their voices are still changing?

But while part of any community theatre's mission is to improve the community through the arts - which means fostering and educating young talent - a larger part of that mission is the obligation to their ticket buying subscribers and audiences in general. A main stage theatre production is not intended to be a "class". While there are plenty of supportive parents and grandparents in any given community theatre audience who will forgive squeaky notes or awkward dance steps, the walk-up patron expecting to see a decent production doesn't want to pay for a music class recital. There are other venues for those learning performance opportunities. Indeed, if we are lucky enough to get someone to walk-up and buy a ticket who maybe hasn'tbeen there before, we need to out our absolute best foot forward and impress them so that they come back again and bring friends! We only get one chance to make that impression and we cannot afford to reinforce the negative stereotypes that community theatre means sub-par theatre.

Could this technology also help improve the perfomances on stage? A singer or dancer likes the confidence of knowing the pitch and tempo or accompaniment will be consistent and sound great.

As a singer myself, I am also a member of a musical community outside of the theatre as a part of a working special event band. While event coordinators certzinly have the option to hire digital DJ's, many live bands are still very busy. Most of the musicians I know in this world won't even work in the theatre because they won't work for the money most community theatres can afford. So I don't think at this level digital augmentation in community theatres would be taking away most money making opportunities for working musicians.

I'm still hesitant about taking the leap completely, but I come from the "if you can't beat'em, join 'em" school of thought...technology is here, it's coming and we need to learn about it and embrace some of it. Anything we can do to improve the theatre going experience should be talked about and I appreciate this forum.

www.geoff-callback.blogspot.com

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Call-Back #102

Welcome to Call-Back! Thanks for watching! Call-Back is the Cleveland Community Theatre Connection seen locally on Cleveland area cable station Cox channel 45, Mondays at 10:30p. Also check out the Call-Back podcast at www.geoffshort.libsyn.com and the blog at www.geoff-callback.blogspot.com.

In this episode Call-Back goes behind the scenes of auditions for The Olmsted Performing Arts production of Singing in the Rain as well as Geoff's latest directing project "Some Enchanted Evening" (www.someenchantedevening.8k.com). We also preview The Cassidy Theatre's madcap production of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged" and much more!




Thursday, May 29, 2008

Code of Ethics for the Theatre

Hey Everybody - This was recently posted on the Northeast Ohio Performing Arts List (NeoPAL here in Cleveland). Thought it was interesting and there has since been some discussion about how to add to the list with some more contemporary ideas. Some additions here in Cleveland even included ethics for Directors and Critics! What would you add?

The Good Old Days?

A 1945 Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers Surfaces

Equity member Kathleen Freeman died of lung cancer in August, 2001 while she was appearing on Broadway in her Tony-nominated role of Jeanette in The Full Monty. Equity Councillor Jane A. Johnston, a longtime friend, was executrix for Ms. Freeman’s estate. Among Ms. Freeman’s papers she discovered a yellowed document containing A Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers. Ms. Freeman was a daughter of a small time vaudevillian team and it was her childhood experience of touring with her parents from which this Code of Ethics sprung, Ms. Johnston writes. She also notes: “What is particularly interesting about this list of dos and don’ts for the theatre is that it was written in 1945 when Kathleen was establishing one of the first small theatres in Los Angeles and she was 24 years old. I wish I had been told some of ‘the rules’ when I was a young actress instead of having to pick them up as I went along.”
The theatre was the Circle Players, and among its backers was Charlie Chaplin. That group subsequently evolved into the Players’ Ring. Although there is no record that either company used an Equity contract (they certainly pre-dated the 99-Seat Code in Los Angeles), nevertheless, Ms. Johnston confirms that all the participants were professionals.
Foreword to the Code
“A part of the great tradition of the theatre is the code of ethics which belong to every worker in the theatre. This code is not a superstition, nor a dogma, nor a ritual which is enforced by tribunals; it is an attitude toward your vocation, your fellow workers, your audiences and yourself. It is a kind of self-discipline which does not rob you of your invaluable individualism.
“Those of you who have been in show business know the full connotation of these precepts. Those of you who are new to show business will soon learn. The Circle Players, since its founding in 1945, has always striven to stand for the finest in theatre, and it will continue to do so. Therefore, it is with the sincere purpose of continued dedication to the great traditions of the theatre that these items are here presented.” The “rules” follow:
1. I shall never miss a performance.
2. I shall play every performance with energy, enthusiasm and to the best of my ability regardless of size of audience, personal illness, bad weather, accident, or even death in my family.
3. I shall forego all social activities which interfere with rehearsals or any other scheduled work at the theatre, and I shall always be on time.
4. I shall never make a curtain late by my failure to be ready on time.
5. I shall never miss an entrance.
6. I shall never leave the theatre building or the stage area until I have completed my performance, unless I am specifically excused by the stage manager; curtain calls are a part of the show.
7. I shall not let the comments of friends, relatives or critics change any phase of my work without proper consultation; I shall not change lines, business, lights, properties, settings or costumes or any phase of the production without consultation with and permission of my director or producer or their agents, and I shall inform all people concerned.
8. I shall forego the gratification of my ego for the demands of the play.
9. I shall remember my business is to create illusion; therefore, I shall not break the illusion by appearing in costume and makeup off-stage or outside the theatre.
10. I shall accept my director’s and producer’s advice and counsel in the spirit in which it is given, for they can see the production as a whole and my work from the front.
11. I shall never “put on an act” while viewing other artists’ work as a member of an audience, nor shall I make caustic criticism from jealousy or for the sake of being smart.
12. I shall respect the play and the playwright and, remembering that “a work of art is not a work of art until it is finished,” I shall not condemn a play while it is in rehearsal.
13. I shall not spread rumor or gossip which is malicious and tends to reflect discredit on my show, the theatre, or any personnel connected with them—either to people inside or outside the group.
14. Since I respect the theatre in which I work, I shall do my best to keep it looking clean, orderly and attractive regardless of whether I am specifically assigned to such work or not.
15. I shall handle stage properties and costumes with care for I know they are part of the tools of my trade and are a vital part of the physical production.
16. I shall follow rules of courtesy, deportment and common decency applicable in all walks of life (and especially in a business in close contact with the public) when I am in the theatre, and I shall observe the rules and regulations of any specific theatre where I work.
17. I shall never lose my enthusiasm for theatre because of disappointments.
In addition, the document continued:
“I understand that membership in the Circle Theatre entitles me to the privilege of working, when I am so assigned, in any of the phases of a production, including: props, lights, sound, construction, house management, box office, publicity and stage managing—as well as acting. I realize it is possible I may not be cast in a part for many months, but I will not allow this to dampen my enthusiasm or desire to work, since I realize without my willingness to do all other phases of theatre work, there would be no theatre for me to act in.”
All members of the Circle Theatre were required to sign this document. And they must have—because the theatre, and the group into which it evolved, was successful for many years.

Re: The Unattainable "Younger" Audience ('How To'- Points)

I thought there were some great points here and wanted to share them in this forum as well...

...from a recent post from Matthew A Sprosty, Resident Playwright at Fourth Wall Productions, Cleveland on the Northeast Ohio Performing Arts (NeoPAL) list...

Matthew writes:

"Dear Neopal subscribers,

I first want to say that what here-in lies in this posting is the sole opinion of myself, and myself alone. What I write to you does not reflect on any of the opinions by Fourth Wall Productions, a company I am Resident Playwright for.

Second- let me say- Pick up the book: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. You’ll find stuff in this book that will probably help you out. (if you can read between lines...)

At least once a year, maybe twice a year, a debate is started on NeoPal about getting younger audiences into the seats of our theaters. I have read all the postings, but never addressed them. Being a stereotypical writer (I’ll admit it), I like to just sit back and be shy about most things. Only offering an opinion of support if I feel it’s needed, but never throwing my hat into a conversation that could make myself appear disagreeable.

I do want to offer input, and help, for you- if you’ll let me- on how you can start the arduous process of getting younger people into theatre. What I’m about to recommend, and say, will take some out of their comfort zone. Because there are two types of theatre in this area- one where theatre people think is good theatre, and one where the younger generations think is entertaining. (And, under no circumstances, does this mean that the two can’t co-exist in the same production.)

I will be the first to say that I am not a theatre connoisseur. In fact, I find myself feeling like a fake when involved in an interview with the local media. It was never my intention, earlier in my career, to become so involved with theatre, and now that I am 25 years old, I feel blessed that the initial heads of Fourth Wall (Justin Tatum and E.B. Smith) took it upon themselves to make sure that I stayed with this craft.

I do feel I have a unique “in” with the younger generations when it comes to theatre. I find myself a movie-lover penning plays. I think to myself that I do not write for the older audiences, and that what they say (although the constructive criticism is always appreciated) is only trying to make me write another style of theatre that has become “the conventional” form (I can be close-minded sometimes, I warn you). The “conventional form” being the theatre that has underlying (sometimes OVERlying) themes, moral lessons, tales of struggle, and a language (filled with monologues) that gives actors a feeling like their lessons in Greek acting are being put to good use.

This theatre- is not the theatre that the younger generation will flock to. The underlying themes, moral lessons, should be there, but way more subtle than what we’re used to in this theatre world of ours.

Here's a breakdown of some points in finding that play that could entice a younger audience-

Let’s start first with casting-

To intrigue a younger audience, your principle players must be someone of their age. High schooler’s can connect with people ranging from their age to twenty-five years of age. Any older than that, and they will not feel like the person can be relatable to.

(observe the ratings of younger generations as the cast of “Friends” got older…)

You have to look at what these younger generations are watching. “Grey’s Anatomy”, “The Hills”, “One Tree Hill”, “Dawson’s Creek”. Even if it offends your artistic inputs- watch them if you want to get these younger people into your theatre. You have to know what they like.

Check out episodes of “Sex and the City” (HBO version- not TBS), or early seasons of “Friends”.

They like witty people. They like situations that aren’t “dire” by any means, but rather “relatable”. (They get their news from “The Daily Show” more often than not- watch it)

Rent “Garden State”, “Mean Girls”, “Clueless”, “Can’t Hardly Wait”. If you haven’t seen the Shakespeare “Taming of the Shrew” adaption of- “10 Things I Hate About You”- check that out. Rent “Moulin Rouge!” for an up-to-date “Camille”.

Going back to “Grey’s Anatomy”- the show, for it’s current season had to go back to “funnier, more fun” storylines, because they realized that their pathway of going to serious story lines was cutting into their ratings, and that the core audience base of the younger audience was losing interest. While Denny’s death in that show was heart-wrenching, and well-written, kids were more interested in the McDreamy/McSteamy storylines.

What does this tell us? A good plan of action when selecting your plays to intrigue the younger audience is to find a play dealing with young twenty-somethings dealing with a romantic issue.

(Fourth Wall’s “Just Shy of Closure” by David Allan, had the twenty-something female audience members gushing…)

Play picking-

I will touch on the fact of why you should look at One-Acts first for attracting the younger generation later. But, that’s point number one.

Two- Look for something with realistic dialogue. Dialogue that flows, with minimal monologues. If there is a monologue- make sure it’s comedic, or touches on good points, sporadically through it. The younger generation will tune out quickly if it’s a monologue of a character going on a diatribe about something only significant to them.

Remember- a good portion of the problem with the younger generation and theatre is that they are not exposed to it anymore. Most of these audience members I’ve come in contact with through Fourth Wall will say- “The last play I saw was Shakespeare in high school.” A Shakespeare play. After they studied Shakespeare, and were graded on Shakespeare.

They flee to movies to be entertained, because somewhere in their psyche- Theatre can be equated to Education. And why suffer that on a Friday night? We need to get passed this stigma. Find fast-paced plays dealing with issues relatable to them. Romantic issues. Money issues. Sinful issues. Keep it light-hearted.

Also, realize- the younger generation isn’t sitting in on a theatrical play and dissecting it like us (us students of theatre are). They are sitting back and wanting to be entertained.

The theaters-

The best theater I have seen so far in Cleveland that would not make a person of the younger generation nervous to go into is closed. But, Dobama’s theatre on Coventry was perfect. Half the time a “youngin’” goes to see a movie it is just to hide out from his life. Most of the time, it’s not a specific movie that intrigues him, but rather just going to the movies. To sit in a dark theatre, with his/her friends, and escape for a bit.

The biggest thing that bothers the younger generation is meeting with workers. If you go to see a movie with a younger generation in the audience, watch their eyes as the “Usher” comes in to do his rounds. Regardless of how into the movie they are- they watch the “Usher”- unsure if they are going to get into trouble.

Maybe One-acts are the way to go with these audiences members. Maybe the fact that at intermission they will have to run into theatre employees to get through the ten minutes is a turn-off. It’s something to consider… A one-act will ensure the younger audience members that once they are in- they’re in. And they can enjoy the play until they clap and leave. With minimal talking to theatre professionals as they go.

What could be a big help but a little suggestion? Arm rests. Arm rests provide a little sense of security for the younger I’s. Knowledge that even if someone is sitting next to them- they are not invading their space. Sounds stupid, I know, but it could go a long way. (Fourth Wall cannot afford arm rests, yet)

Prices-

Even Fourth Wall’s $10 ticket prices ($7 with a student I.D.) maybe a turn-off because it’s more expensive than a movie ticket, but kids aren’t dumb. They know a deal when they see one. Bang and the Clatter have a good idea of “Pay when you Can”, but it’s a situation where most kids might not understand it.

If you ask a twenty-something if they have seen theatre- they will probably tell you they saw something at Playhouse Square. That theatre is too expensive to see on a regular basis. They still do not understand how the local theatres in the area actually offer cheap tickets. It might be an idea to enlarge your ticket prices in your ads. Especially the ones that speak to their wallets.

Howard Levanthal in the 1960’s performed psyche experiments on college students. He would give them booklets on the dangers of tetanus, and went so far as to say these students should be inoculated. He went so far to tell them that the University (Yale) was offering free shots for them if they wanted to. But, even after they read all the dangers, understood all the dangers, they still didn’t get inoculated. Only 3% did.

He did the experiment again- adding a map to the booklet, describing exactly where the University health center was- and the inoculations went up to 28%. Even though these students already KNEW where the health center was…

What’s this teach us? To get the younger audiences into our theatres- we need to spell out everything for them. It’s not enough to just send out flyers, but we have to find a new way to advertise… A new way which almost puts Theatre in their way. Where they feel, with all the information presented to them, that it’s almost foolish for them not to go…

Also, if you are going so far as to draw a map for these younger audiences, especially include where they can park their car. Pointing out parking will allow them to not have to roam around and find parking. Once their car is parked- you got them. So, make sure you make that hurdle as easy as possible for them…

Advertisements-

This is a hard subject to approach. (I’ve heard through the rumor mill that) Tony Brown has his hands extremely tied at PD of how much he can do. How much space he can use for theatre and the arts. How much theatre he can see and review. In my opinion, the man is extremely spread thin with all he has to cover as far as the Arts go in Cleveland. Would it matter, though? The twenty-somethings I ask of what they view in the “Arts” section of the Plain Dealer is the movie times and the horoscopes.

Is there a way to make local theatre “exciting” in the local printed press? That’s an issue for a later date. But, right now, the majority of theatre coverage is just reviews of productions already going on. If you have a play aimed at the twenty-something audience, I would see if a local reviewer could help you out with a “Preview.” I’m sure the theatre critics support the plight of getting younger audiences in… Shouldn’t we all work together?

But, who knows, like I said- the Arts section of papers has suffered with the “migration” of younger-art-loving generations.

When you advertise your play- pick what parts of it will engage the younger generation. Create a one-sheet (slogan, logline) that will entice this audience you are looking for.

“A play about having a second chance with your first love…” (Just Shy of Closure)

Realize that these younger generations have never heard of most of the plays you might do even if they are published. Try and include as much information as you can in your publicity. Whether it be in the image you use, or just a paragraph on the back of the postcard- whatever. To entice this audience- you’re going to have to explain why they should come.

If you have enough money in your budget- see what it takes to run radio ads on 96.5 Kiss FM. Or Q104. Start your advertisement with something like- “Looking for something to do on a date?” (Being a high school’er in the Cleveland area- I was starved for new ideas to take my unofficial girlfriend out to. I had no idea about the theatre area here. You didn’t reach me. One way you could have is if you got onto my radio stations.)

Another way you can reach someone like me is through MySpace or Facebook. If you do not have a page set up for your theatre- do it now. It’s the easiest way to communicate with the younger generations.

Pickwick & Frolic made me love their establishment by getting me free tickets to come see their comedians. That might be a way to go. Regardless, a younger generation will word-of-mouth your production, your company, to their parents if they enjoy it. Also with their friends, and that might start an epidemic. If a parent of one these youngsters come- that’s a 40-60 year old audience member for you. Which is younger by standards than what we have coming to our shows now, isn’t it?

Fourth Wall does unpublished plays so we have the liberty to write and produce movie trailers for our plays. If you have the right to- you should think about doing the same. The apple.com trailer site is a go-to place for a bunch of people I know who just want a taste of everything that is out there.

For ideas on how trailers connect with the younger generation- go to www.apple.com/trailers .

You can view Fourth Wall’s at: http://www.youtube.com/user/FourthWallProduction
It’s definitely something you should consider doing if you can. It gives the “kids” a chance to take in the feel of the play. Most importantly- it gets them excited to see the production, more so than a postcard can. Or a camera aimed at the stage can…

Me, as Literary Manager, And Resident Playwright-

I pride myself on finding the plays that I think the younger generations will like through unpublished plays. While I’m writing you during the time when Fourth Wall is putting up my show “The Bank Guards”, I simply urge you to search the past productions of our theatre company (Just Shy of Closure, 2 Man Kidnapping Rule, Stained Glass Ugly, All the Way from China), or a theatre company like “Theatre Ninjas”. These companies in the area are searching out, and attaining, these younger generations of theatre go’ers by putting on productions that speak to them.

I realize we all have mission statements to adhere to, and current audience members that might not like the idea of changing up, at least, one play a season to play to these non-theatre go’ers- but I encourage all to take the chance.

Fourth Wall is a catalogue for your companies to see.

So, if you can, come see The Bank Guards. It’s a play I wrote for twenty-something men. The men that were dragged to Fourth Wall in the past by their girlfriends, and I felt- needed a testosterone riddled play. It’s my try at creating an “action” movie for the stage. The non-theatre-go’ers (the young, non-theatre-go’ers who you won’t hear from because they don’t have a voice in our community, yet) have said that it was extremely entertaining to them, and “played like a movie.”

You might not like my play The Bank Guards, but I wrote it to easily entertain the younger generation of theatre go’ers. It might be something for you to check out to understand what I might have meant through my verbose ramblings here… "

to which I replied:

Dear Matthew - Thank you so much for posting your thoughts on this very important subject.

I couldn't agree with you more. For a few years now I've been working to keep the dialogue going among various theatre groups on this topic. Some of us may still cling to the outdated notion that the theatre-going experience is some sort of sacred cow, with a hushed and almost reverant atmosphere. I think we have a stigma among people who don't normally go to the theatre that one must be dressed in one's finest and be on one's best behavior to sit for two (three?) hours watching sometimes, distant, dated and unrelatable material. While I do believe there are some traditional conventions that make the theatre-going experience unique to any other, I also think we must break any negative stereotypes about theatre, especially during these challenging times when people can get entertainment streamed into their computers in their own living rooms. And if there are any disposable dollars left over for entertainment (can you say $4 a gallon?) they ain't spending it in what they may perceive as some "weird" or foreign atmosphere.

If we're lucky enough to get new audiences into our theatres, we have to create an atmosphere they are familiar with, like the movie-going experience - noise, lights, signage, advertising, previews, concessions, etc. (which can also be revenue streams). I've always said if you like going to the movies you'll love theatre - it's the same thing only even more exciting because it's happening live in front of you! Either way you're still sitting in a dark room watching a story unfold in front of you. And I don't think I've ever come out of a really great movie and said " that was awesome! The only thing that ruined it for me was the posters in the lobby and the ads at the beginning." Of course it always helps if we produce a quality product too so they might not only come back again, but generate that most important marketing tool - good buzz.

So how do we reach them? We already know that we need to go to them, they won't automatically come to us. We need to be where they are - and you're absolutely right - MySpace and Facebook, video, podcasting, etc. It also makes sense to be present where people are already buying a ticket for entertaiment....movie theatres, malls, fairs, festivals, etc. This is why I started the outreach performance group Cassidy On-Tour at the Cassidy Theatre. We have performed at movie theatres, malls, arts festivals, etc. which has helped us introduce the theatre to new people. We even have an underwriting sponsor for the group that allows us to pay a small stipend most of the time for the performers' efforts.

You may be interested in a blog forum called "Theatre Tribe" where the focus is on changing the way we produce theatre. The link is : www.theatretribe.ning.com

The following is an excerpt from a recent thread I was involved in that I thought also speaks to a couple of your points:

I think these are really great ideas. My "full-time" career (as if I theatre directing and performing is only part-time!) has been as a media advertising and marketing executive. As such it is my job day in and day out to solve my clients' marketing and advertising challenges with the programming and audience reach my stations have. The same basic challenge applies to theatre and discovering new revenue streams. The ideas discussed here are wonderful, creative ways to develop new revenue streams, but if we don't think of ourselves as salespeople who can effectively translate the value of these ideas as ways to solve a particular clients' specific needs, we're wasting our time. We're so used to presenting and having an audience listen and watch us. We need to flip that around and LISTEN to what potential sponsors are telling us. Then we can use our wonderful creativity to create customized and specific programs that use our unique resources to solve their problems. Sponsors will pay for solutions to their problems. We just have to find out what those problems are and effectively sell OUR solutions. And believe it or not corporate America is more creative that we give them credit for....they ARE looking for new and different ways to market themselves to make their brand stand out among the ever-increasing din of advertising messages (can you say live pre-show "commercials" on the West End or Dove Soap's recent commission of a scripted play detailed in the article "I Don't Care if it Sells Soap" here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080508.wdove08...
As much as we artists hate to admit it..we have to become SKILLED sales executives and business people too.
That's exactly what the "Call-Back" series is all about. Reaching new audiences in new ways and offering exposure for corporate partners. The show airs each week on cable and documents the behind the scenes process of producing shows. I invite you to check out the following YouTube links of past "Call-Back Episodes:
Thanks again for continuing the dialogue. - Geoff Short