off-stage right

Saturday, May 9, 2009

George Thorn, theater guru – interview in THE OREGONIAN

I had the great honor of being a student of George Thorn at Virginia Tech (I actually think I was his last graduating student).  George and his partner in Arts Actor Research, Nello McDaniel, continue to be among the wisest counselors for theater and dance in the country – we used to call them gurus and I think it still fits.  The books that were published by Arts Action Research still grace my bookshelves—and many of my friends. 
Interview: George Thorn on the ecology of the arts community
May 02, 2009 09:00AM.


If you're a struggling arts organization, who would you call for 9-1-1 advice?

Probably George Thorn, the Portland-based independent arts consultant who's likely in the Rolodex of every arts organization in town.

Off and on for more than four decades, Thorn has advised arts nonprofits around the country to plan and strategize finances, programming, board development and administrative infrastructure. Never, it seems, has this expertise been in greater demand than now, during a recession that has forced most arts institutions to cut budgets in response to, and in anticipation of, a difficult year.

Born in Indiana, Thorn, 72, studied theater at Butler University in Indianapolis and also at Yale University. In 1959, Thorn moved to New York, where he began a career as a stage manager and then general manager of Broadway productions. After three years in Connecticut as the executive vice president of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Thorn began to shift to consulting, eventually starting Arts Action Research with Nello McDaniel.

Thorn and his wife, Nancy, a former theater and television dancer, moved in 1996 to Portland, attracted to the city's modest scale and scrappy arts scene. Because of his partnership with McDaniel, Thorn spent much of his first 12 years in Portland traveling to New York for work. These days, Thorn spends most of his time in town, though he and McDaniel continue to work together.

Since 1996, Thorn has advised more than 75 Oregon arts and culture institutions of all sizes, disciplines and levels of success, including the Portland Art Museum, Portland Center Stage, Chamber Music Northwest, Northwest Children's Theater and the now closed Portland Art Center.

Last month, he was honored by The College of Fellows of the American Theatre, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes professional theater.

Recently, Thorn talked with The Oregonian about the financial health of Portland's arts institutions, the state of fundraising here and other arts issues. The interview was edited for clarity and space.

Q: You were so immersed in New York's arts world. Why did you leave?
A: Nancy and I left New York in 1974 for a couple reasons. It was the time of New York City's first economic crisis. This great city was disintegrating. It was also the time of a great transition within professional theater. In the theater, professional producers used to be the ones who put the shows together. But at the time, there was this transition from professionals to people who weren't professionals but could raise money. I had another business partner back then and together we managed five different shows for one producer. That producer could raise money. But he had no sense of aesthetics. It was just time to move on.

Q: You've been an arts consultant during a time that spans the emergence and maturity of nonprofits. What's been the biggest development?
A: One difference is that there used to be this belief in an institutional model. Whether you were an orchestra, a small gallery or museum, you were supposed to fit into that model. People are now organizing in terms of the way they need to as opposed to the way they are supposed to.

Q: Is that good or bad?
A: It's a great thing because the idea that one model can serve a collective that is so wide-ranging is not healthy. Many small and midsized organizations tried to fit into a model when they shouldn't have.

Q: Having witnessed New York's economic collapse during the '70s, how bad is this current recession?
A: This is the most serious recession I've ever seen. It's not cyclical. When we come out of this, we will be different. I don't know how, but we'll be changed. There's little in our past experience to help with this.

Q: We've seen many arts organizations scale back costs because of the recession. But shouldn't we expect some to shutter entirely?
A: I would think so. The way I would describe it is this: If a nonprofit was relatively balanced before the crash and endowed with good leadership, then they'll find their way through this. But if a nonprofit was out of balance financially, then the stress will be a hundredfold.

Q: Nonprofits have made budget cuts. But given the cycle of budgets, isn't the worst ahead of us?
A: I think everyone is making cuts because income and endowments are down. So in December and January people began to rethink budgets and how to break even. But I think balancing budgets for 2009-10 will be much harder. When the crash happened in October, performance organizations, for example, already had subscriptions, and year-end giving was coming in.

But only now and into next year will we truly see the ramifications on ticket sales, fundraising and memberships. I suggest nonprofits conceptualize not only for the several months left in this year but also for the time carrying forward into next year and beyond. People need to be working on an 18-month cycle now.

Q: What other advice are you giving nonprofits?
A: Be income-driven as opposed to expense-driven. If you are expense-driven, you build an expense budget based on what you want or need to do. Then you create income budgets to balance that. But if you are income-driven, you will develop your expenses responsibly and in line with the money you have.

Q: What's the single biggest mistake nonprofits make?
A: Growing to a size and scale beyond the mission. That's when it loses its center, its mission, and tries to become something more than its resources indicate. Of course, it's easy to understand why this happens: Our society is based on growth. That's the primary criteria for success: Are we getting bigger, doing more programs? Groups thus feel this pressure to grow bigger. That's how nonprofits get a mile wide and an inch deep.

Q: Nonprofits talk a great deal about the shallow funding base. Do you think they're right?
A: Yes. Portland is the most difficult city to raise money that I've ever worked in. Portlanders surely appreciate what they have culturally. But what's missing, to a degree, is an understanding by them that an investment is necessary in order to keep what they have. They have to give money. Another reason is that there is a thin layer of support overall. What the city and the Regional Arts & Culture Council (the nonprofit devoted to arts funding for the Portland area) have done is important in terms of funding, but it can't compare to other cities. We also have a thin base of corporate funding because so many businesses are moving out. The foundations have been generous but that, too, is a small base.

Q: So it's difficult to raise money here, but do you think there is actually money to raise?
A: Overall, no. From individuals, yes. The corporations have been doing what they can. But again, that's a small base compared to other communities in other cities.

Q: You've talked in the past about a system of individual donors.
A: There is a window closing on the old system of donors here. The old system is composed of the families who long ago took responsibility for patronizing arts and culture and other sectors of the community -- Arlene and Harold Schnitzer, for example. As that generation passes, wealth is spread out across the next generation. But sometimes that next generation doesn't have the same interests and passions of their parents, though Jordan Schnitzer clearly does. Our large budget organizations, like the Portland Art Museum, will likely get through that closing window. But not others. What will replace that new system? We have some elements already -- RACC's Work for Art program, the Oregon Cultural Trust, maybe a dedicated funding stream down the road. In other words, there are a lot of individuals out there with money, but they aren't in the arts and culture system.

Q: In the visual arts word, there's been a dream to create a contemporary art center. There have been various attempts, but each has failed. Can it happen here?
A: I'm not sure there is a level of support for a center of the quality and size we desire. I think the first thing that would have to happen is that people would have to be prepared to commit a significant level of funding. Because if we are talking about a center with national, maybe international, reach and ongoing education programs, then that's a big price tag -- at least a $3 million or $4 million budget.

Q: Why isn't the support there?
A: I did a presentation about 18 months ago in Seattle. At the time, Seattle had just expanded its museum with a new outdoor sculpture garden. There was also a new great symphony hall and a new library designed by Rem Koolhaas. We just don't dream like that in Portland. It doesn't mean we don't dream. We just dream differently. We dream about light rail, sustainability, bicycles, green culture.

Q: Mayor Sam Adams recently introduced an idea to create a ballot measure for arts funding. What are the chances of such a measure passing?
A: It would happen only with a real educational effort to articulate why arts funding would add value to all of our lives. And we are a long way from that kind of understanding. On the other hand, if the arts community can rally all of its audiences, donors, members, workers and volunteers over one or two issues, then they won't be stopped.

Q: Don't you think the recession will affect people's willingness to give money?
A: Yes, but on the other hand, this is the best time to plan, to strategize, so that when we come out of this recession, we'll be prepared and ready.

Q: The ballot measure is really the mayor's idea. But he's been compromised politically because of the Beau Breedlove scandal. How will that affect any possible measure's chances?
A: I don't think the mayor will be that key. What's more important is whether a grass-roots movement develops. It will be a collective effort that won't be dependent on any one person.

Q: You and your wife, Nancy, could just enjoy a simple life in Portland after many years on the road and having accomplished so much professionally. Why bother with struggling organizations now?
A: It's simple. I get to work with terrific people and I love the work that I do.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

NYTW – Great Twitter contest, even better customer service response.

New York Theater Workshop has a fun Twitter contest that captures email address and offer core followers discounts.  It started this morning with tweets for #TheatreThursday counting down to a ticket give-away (twitter category day where you are supposed to tweet followers you recommend).  Then came the tweet with a link to this:




Welcome Tweeters!

Here's how to enter and win
a free pair of TwitTix to
Things of Dry Hours


with the subject line:
First Thursday TwitTix!

Please include your
name, phone number and
email address.

The first email received will win a pair of free tickets to be used during one of the following performances:
May 22 @ 8pm, May 23 @ 8pm
or May 24 @ 7pm.
Winners will be contacted by 6pm Friday, May 15th.

Good Luck!






I wanted to see what happened, it looks like a great show, and I wouldn’t mind seeing my friends work (shout out to Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Roslyn Ruff).  So I emailed to see if I could win.  Here is the very smart email I got back:

Dear Jodi,

Thank you for following NYTW79 on Twitter and entering to win TwitTix. Unfortunately you were not the first to enter. The good news is that next Thursday from noon to 5pm NYTW will be giving away another pair of free TwitTix. 

For being an NYTW Twitter follower we would like to offer you a special discount for tickets to Things of Dry Hours. Purchase tickets by June 8 and tickets are just $32.50 each for performances on May 22 and 23 and $40 each for performances May 24 through June 28! (reg. $65). To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit and use code DHTWR430.
*Offer expires June 8, 2009

Thanks again and continuing following NYTW79 for more free tickets and discount offers!


Other Great Ways to Save at NYTW
CheapTix Sundays
All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7:00 PM are $20 (Limit 4 per customer and subject to availability). Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis. Student tickets ($20) are still available for these performances.

Student tickets
Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office. For tickets, please visit or call the NYTW box office (212-460-5475). (full-time students only)

Rebekah Paine

Marketing Assistant

New York Theatre Workshop

79 East 4th Street

New York, New York  10003

P: 212.780.9037 X 114

F: 212.460.8996

Become a fan on Facebook


Here is why I am impressed:

First, it is personalized. It took a moment on the reply, but it was a nice touch. 

Second, it was from a real person with a real email address who will now be the person I reach out to for NYTW tickets (Rebekah, you may regret that). 

Third, I got a special offer as a twitter follower. 

Fourth, they gave me other options as well. 

Fifth, they captured my email address (and my cell number I just realized since it is in my signature) and reminded me to become a fan on Facebook (already am). 

And finally, the whole thing felt like NYTW – downtown, cool factor – check, personalized community feeling (check), and bold compelling graphic (check). 


Rebekah – I don’t know if this was your idea, but I will send this post to Billy Russo, if he can’t give you a raise he can tell you “job well done.”

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Relationships between commercial and nonprofit theatre primer

Partnerships between commercial theatre producers and nonprofits are becoming more and more common across the United States. Each season, I end up consulting on several of these agreements.  For better or for worse the number of people who call themselves commercial theatre producers and shop/buy shows to/from nonprofits has increased significantly.  The partnerships are happening nationwide. 

Whether developing new work or creating a new interpretation of a classic, I think it is imperative that nonprofits take the position that as original producers of a show they are entitled to significant participation in the future productions.  The strength of the negotiation position is usually derived from whether the nonprofit holds the right to the production and brings the project to a commercial partner or whether the commercial partner holds the rights.  The former is always more beneficial in negotiations. 

It is key for a nonprofit not to get trapped in the idea that these partnerships are just financial transactions – they are so much more than that.  Here are some basics!

Simple definition of some key terms:

Enhancement: An individual, group or entity pays the nonprofit a certain amount to produce the show usually based on costs beyond the traditional budget of the nonprofit’s production of a similar show. There is usually a rights exchange between partners. This money is considered earned revenue and is not a donation. The nonprofit would most likely have future participation as original producer.

Non-recourse loan: An individual, group or entity “loans or guarantees” the funds or part of the funds to produce a show. The “loan” is repaid out of “net profits of the production.”  This framework is not used as often as enhancement.

Production/producing partnership: a relationship between nonprofit and commercial theatre where there is no financial transaction but rights are assigned (usually from the commercial producer to nonprofit), but participation in future production is contractual.

Producer: Raises funds for and “manages” commercial production. Participates in producer’s gross royalty and producer’s portion of the net (usually 50/50 split before deals), above the title billing.

Investor: someone who gives money for a commercial production and is eligible for repayment of investment and a share of profits.

Donor: someone who gives money to a nonprofit in exchange for tax deduction or donor benefits

Participation: can include several terms on a future production including but not limited to, royalty, net participation, the right to raise funds for a production, billing, artistic approvals, consultation, etc.  Participation does not necessary equal money.

Original producer’s royalty: Royalty varies, almost certainly includes gross participation (.5-2%) and can include net participation (2.5-10%). Level of participation usually depends on who has the rights and how “hot” the property is.

It is a myth that original producer can only have a role in the commercial production if they make a financial contribution. Defining future participation is key to any production agreement.  Three most important factors to a nonprofit for any partnership in a commercial production –  billing, who has the decision to close the show, and financial participation.  Other important issues are approvals and expense/marketing decisions. 

Billing is highly contested now. Most producers will now not agree to above the title billing without financial contribution to capitalization. The status of the theatre would certainly affect the deal they can make. 

The most important, difficult, and controversial decision in any production is when to close the show.  This is the decision that can ruin relationships between partners.  The factors are not as cut and dry as how well is the show selling.  There are many things to consider: sales, awards, artist relationships, investor relationships, subsidiary rights, and additional productions such as tours.  More often than not these factors are at odds with one another.

I encourage every nonprofit entering into an enhancement deal to make sure that they are allowed to serve as actual partners on a future production.  There are two basic models for acting as a Producer/investor in a commercial project if you are nonprofit theater – many organizations use both:

1. Form a for-profit subsidiary and raise funds or invest organizational funds (something I would advocate against).  In this model, the nonprofit would act as any other commercial producer or associate producer would with appropriate financial participation and role in production decisions. Risk – IRS could determine income as taxable (unrelated business income), although many precedents against.

2. Raise or invest organization funds as the organizations itself. In this model, the nonprofit would act as any other commercial producer or associate producer would with appropriate financial participation. Risk – non-profits and for-profit can not be on same level in LLC structure, so in this model the role in production decisions would have to be legally defined. It also must be very clear that investors are working with the LLC or other corporate structure they are not donors to the organization.

Risk in either model is that the nonprofit could be asked to waive original producer’s royalty and participation, which I would fight. It is an easier fight under the first model, but the second model (my favorite) is becoming more and more preferred by many non-profits.  I don’t think an organization should consider an enhancement agreement without the right to raise a significant portion of the capitalization.  It is a right to do it, that can always be waived.  But it is very important to have a choice as to whether to participate as a producer and participate in the producers financial portion of the commercial venture.

NOTE: There is no way for a commercial investment or enhancement to count as a donation.  If there is an exchange of rights, billing, repayment of the investment, or other benefit it is not a donation.  This is often confusing in the second instance above or with enhancement agreements.  You must know if the commercial corporation or partnership that is going to be formed is going to account for the enhancement in it’s capitalization – if it is it cannot be counted as a donation in any way.  Without question how funds are designated enhancement (which is earned revenue) or donations needs to be established up front and in writing and can’t be switched back and forth based on how a show does.

An issue a nonprofit should address before working with a commercial producer or transferring a show is whether Board of Trustees/Directors membership can be investors or producers in commercial productions:  If the nonprofit theatre does not benefit in financial participation (for example it is not the organization’s show or the organization doesn’t participate beyond original producer’s credit), its role in the production or in billing, investment in any commercial production is considered a potential conflict of interest that must be disclosed, but is not normally consider a problem. If the organization is producer or as associate producer how board members who are commercial producer or want to invest in a commercial production might be a part of a production: (1) Enhancement of a production; (2) separate investment in production in which theatre is participating in (beyond original producer’s credit); (3) the Board member can serve only as supporting investors or partners in a production not competitors (in other words any funds from board members count towards money raised by the organization as part of their producer's participation as seen in model two above).  Most theatres restrict the first two significantly.  Obviously the third is the most ideal for the nonprofit theatre.  Any participation in a commercial venture would require Board member to withdraw themselves from all votes and decisions regarding production or in some cases, a board will require a leave or absence.

Should note in terms of moving forward, a board traditionally would vote on the participation in the project but like all producing efforts the commercial participation in decisions and day to day operations would be limited to leadership staff.

Also it is important to say that this primer is exactly that.  If your organization doesn't have a strong history with these types of deals or a strong negotiator – hire one.  These deals can have a tremendous impact on an organization and you don’t want to be negotiating after the fact or regretting the deal you signed.  These contract are among the most complicated that a nonprofit can enter into and can if done incorrectly threaten the nonprofit status of an organization.  Make sure you negotiate smart and thoroughly.

If you are a commercial producer, rather than thinking you should just negotiate the opposite of all of the above, I encourage you to consider all that the nonprofit adds to the production and the fact that a good negotiation means that everyone walks away feeling good about the partnership.  Nonprofits also have board members and donors who may be part of your future investor pool – this is more common than most people realize.  It is also important to remember that theater folks tend to talk about relationships good and bad.  I have certainly heard about deals that haven’t worked out well or other stories about how great a partner someone has been.  Word travels fast in our community.  And as more and more of these deals happen and as expenses keep rising the commercial world needs the nonprofit world for a lot of project development.  This is one of the few situations where everyone can win if everyone works together with goodwill.

If you are reading this post via Facebook Notes, please click-thru to Off Stage Right and be counted (and keep reading other posts).

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No more waiting in line for rush tickets!

I got this message this morning on Facebook:

A message to the members of reasons to be pretty: A New Play by Neil LaBute.


Subject: New Student Rush Ticket Program!

Hey Reasons fans!

We've got some great news (you know ... besides our three TONY nominations!): we just launched a new student rush texting program!

All you have to do to get your $26.50 ticket is text 'reasons' to 42903.

You can start texting 10am on the day you want to see the show.

You’ll be notified with a return text of availability for that night. If there’s availability you will have a three hour window to pick up your tickets. You must present a valid student id at the box office.

Maximum two tickets per person/performance and cash only!

Be sure to send this along to your fellow students!

See you all at the show!


People have been making a lot of noise about Reasons other texting program which is interactive for audience members who are already at the show.  But this new program is a great use of technology.  For all the cynics saying their grosses are low so this isn’t a big deal, you are missing the point.  By using Facebook and text messaging the folks at Reasons are freshening up the age old practice of student rush tickets.  Remember 10 years ago when Rent created a whole new energy around the show with their day of lottery?  Rough times usually spark innovation – let’s hope Reasons lessons in using social networks and texting aren’t lost amongst the cynics. 

And if you haven’t seen the show, if the three Tony nominations don’t convince you – take a look at my reasons for people to see Reasons to be Pretty.

If you are a student – take advantage of this new program, you won’t be disappointed.  If you aren’t a student, you should still see the show.  Buy your tickets here and NOW.

If you are reading this post via Facebook Notes, please click-thru to Off Stage Right and be counted (and keep reading other posts).

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Next to Normal the twitter performance

So the folks at Next to Normal are trying something fun.  At midnight, they begin a twitter performance of the entire show. 

This musical if you haven’t been following it has been following a unique path to being the new darling of Broadway.  It was developed at Second Stage in New York (GREAT company with a string of hits from Little Dog Laughed to Spelling Bee).  But it still needed work so after it already had a New York opening its producer, David Stone,  took the show out of town to Arena Stage to be reworked. 

The show re-opened in New York at the Booth (after the short lived Story of my Life) with great success as the show has been receiving RAVE reviews.  See Ben Brantley’s – one in a string of great reviews for current shows on the boards – I was beginning to think there was a conspiracy – The Times gave raves, thus making producers buy ads, thus keeping the theatre section and reviewers in business, but then I read the review of 9-5 which I won’t link to since I found the show to be a fun night out, although I agree with some point of the review, but I digress.

I haven’t seen the show yet – I am going at the end of this month (but maybe I will switch dates so I can experience the entire show via twitter and then see it).  This makes the twitter experiment a bit more fun for me.  It is the same experience someone might have if they whether they lived in Texas, Africa or any other place other than New York – exposure to a new Broadway show in a new media form.  I have been adamant that theatre folks need to explore different ways to use the internet and mix it with performance.  This certainly qualifies.  I am really excited to see how this plays out.  I will be tweeting and blogging my thoughts as I “watch” the show!

Click here for the show website

Click to follow Next to Normal.  Below are all of the tweets thus far leading up to the Prelude.

Starting May 5, follow the characters as they tweet their story – all the lows, all the highs – day by day, song by song.5:47 PM Apr 29th from web

Next to Normal: The Twitter Performance. For the first time ever, the full story of a Broadway musical will be told via Twitter.12:10 PM Apr 30th from web

Only 4 days until the N2N Twitter performance begins! Each day a new scene will unfold thru June 7th.1:44 PM May 1st from TwitterBerry

Next to Normal: The Twitter Performance36 minutes ago from TwitterBerry

Hear the Prelude - minutes ago from TwitterBerry

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reasons to see Reason to be Pretty

I have been urging folks to go see Reasons to be Pretty since it was announced the show was moving to Broadway. I will be deeply disappointed if the play doesn’t receive a large handful of Tony nominations tomorrow morning. It may even make me boycott the entire ceremony.

It is the best new play on Broadway. On second thought, I don’t care what the Tony Awards nominations say and who wins. I don’t care what the box office grosses say, it is the best written new play on Broadway. The changes made between the off-Broadway production and the current production only sharpen the lessons to be learned and deepen the discussion that will undoubtedly occur.

From the moment the play begins you are dropped into Neil LaBute’s world mid-stream. It isn’t a very pretty world, but it is a normal, very real world. One filled with flawed people who are desperately trying to make their way through life without encountering too much unhappiness. Sound familiar? After all isn’t that what we are all really trying to do.

The cast is by far the best ensemble on Broadway – and what a surprise – not a celebrity among them.

Tom Sadowski is giving the most truthful, real and endearing performance in New York. His performance as Greg should be required study for every grad student studying acting. I remember being struck by Tom’s talent when I saw the show Off-Broadway, at that time I didn’t know his work. I wasn’t really worried that the performance wouldn’t transfer well, but you never know…delighted to say, Tom’s performance is even better in the current incarnation. His performance is flawless. You feel as if you know Greg, maybe you went to college with him or grew up on the same street as him. You want to leap on stage and pinch him when he makes a stupid mistake or comment and you want to hug him because you can see the pain his loneliness causes. Near the end of the play, after a journey of self-discovery, he makes a self-sacrificing decision that breaks your heart as much as it breaks Greg’s.

Marin Ireland and Steven Pasquale are both astounding. They are replacements from the off-Broadway company. I know both of these talented actors personally and have worked with them. I was in awe of the rawness of Marin’s Stephanie. The agony and fury of her insecurity was heart-wrenching. She took Stephanie to an entirely different level leaving me heartbroken that she and Greg couldn’t be together. Steven Pasquale who is one of the kindest and nicest actors I have ever had the honor to meet, plays Kent, one of the biggest assholes ever to be on a stage. Kent isn’t just a chauvinistic pig, he is downright emotionally abusive and manipulative to everyone else in his world. Piper Perabo has turned a part that off-Broadway was a bit two dimensional into a fully-fleshed out character that made me ache for her when she finally admits who her husband Kent really is. She rounds out this fabulous quartet.

Terry Kinney’s direction is superb and his design team did an amazing job. The production design transferred more or less intact (with a bit more automation). The lighting and sound assault the audience in perfect tempo with the narrative of the play.

I beg you go see this play. Buy your tickets here and NOW.

If you are reading this post via Facebook Notes, please click-thru to Off Stage Right and be counted (and keep reading other posts).

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Interesting articles/blog posts from last week – in case you missed them!

Here is a round-up of what caught my eye over the last week.  Let me know if there is something interesting I should be reading!

Interesting argument - Text Me Later (Or: How Theater Isn't Baseball)

Cultural Groups ask what to mount next. The Answer - losses? Washington Post

To gala or not gala - Iu2019m Honored. No, Actually, I Canu2019t Afford It. NY TIMES.

How Much Does Mayor Bloomberg Want to Cut from the Department of Cultural Affairs? Clyde Fitch Report -

Anonymous Giving Gains in Popularity as the Recession Deepens - -

More Valuable - The Ticket Buyer Or The Donor? - diacritical -

Bad Behavior at the Theater: Reviving an Old Tradition « Clyde Fitch Report -

Celebrities Are Taking All the Jobs -

Equal Time For Planned Giving

Fundraising suffered big drop in 2008

99seats: Priorities, Part 1 -

Let's Get Practical! - Artistic Manager and Resident Companies

Broadway, Off-Broadway, Theater : How to invest in a Broadway show. Part I -

How to invest in a Broadway show. Part 2

Reasons to be Pretty to Encourage Texting at the Theater -

Union Calls City Opera Strike ‘Likely’ Given Demands - -

Why Twitter Quitters don't Get It The 24/7 Employee

The World of Celebrity Giving:

IRS provides a mini-course on the new 990 form for charities -

There are BO users and AO [Twitter] users: Before Opera/After Oprah' ( )

Parabasis: No One Edits Poets. Pondering new play development and collaboration - read the comments too.

ArtsBeat: Barlow-Hartman, Broadway Publicity Agency, to Close

Is Your Social Network Cool Enough To Be A Tree House?

Social Net Fundraising - All Hype? The Agitator. (Pretty sound advice)

A Nonprofit New York Times?

Theatre vs. Theatre Companies (The Playgoer)

Wall Street Journal Only Top 25 Newspaper To Report Circulation Increase

Diacritical: Do we need institutions to create art?

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why don’t we treat ourselves better?

The other night I ran into a great friend who I hadn’t seen in a while.  We caught up briefly.  I was delighted to hear that she had reached out beyond theater to radio.  But what struck a chord was when she mentioned how working outside of theatre, made her realize how tired she was from a life lived constantly in tech rehearsals.  This made me think about how unhealthy our business can be.

Let’s start with the concept of tech.  AEA standards and what producers can afford comes in packages of 10/12 hour days.   Now let’s be honest on any given tech day very few people involved in the production work 10 out of 12 hours.  Crew, designers, stage managers, etc. are always called before the actors and stay after for production meetings.  Even the actors working under union rules usually work longer than the 10 hours, whether they are running lines, reviewing their blocking, etc, most actors during the tech period through opening are focused on the show they are doing more or less from the time they wake up until they go to bed.  The theory is that the higher the contract tier, the more ten out of twelve days you can do.  For example a Broadway show often does 10/12s from tech to press nights.  Off-Broadway shows may do a week of 10/12s and then rehearse up to 5 hours more each day.  It is exhausting.  And in most cases, designers live in this process the majority of their lives.  Even when a show is up and running there are understudy rehearsals, publicity events, put-ins, etc.  The point is there is a heck of a lot of work outside of rehearsals and performances that most people don’t really think of they just live it. 

The staffs of nonprofits, don’t escape the rigorous schedules.  In addition to regular office hours, many leaders and staff members attend tech, have early morning committee meetings and evening board meetings, must participate in a variety of social events, should see shows at other theatres, and must be at the curtain of a show most nights. 

In addition to the exhausting schedule, theatre folks spend the majority of their lives in building that are either so cold in the summer that you need a sweater or so hot in the winter that you can feel your throat dry the minute you walk in the door.  Many theatres are in older building that don’t have the best air circulation.  In tech or in nonprofit offices you can spend hours sitting in the same place, in the same position.  Or you can spend all day running from meeting to meeting, rehearsal hall to audition space, etc. always in transition in and out of the elements back indoors.

An exhausting schedule, cabin fever, lack of fresh oxygen are just the beginning.  For some reason, theater greenrooms, rehearsal halls and offices are usually filled junk food, snacks, endless supplies of caffeine, and tons of fast food or takeout.  Between short meal breaks, long rehearsal hours and too many cocktail parties and events, keeping a healthy eating schedule is more or less out of the question.

As a group we are not eating well, can barely keep our eyes open and our minds focused, and spend less time outdoors than vampires.  Then many theater folks are smokers.  Musicals can wreck havoc on the body without proper training.  Raked stages tear bodies apart (let’s just admit it – you try walking on a rake in high heels, I have had to do it too many times and I’m just short not an actor).  Haze fills their lungs – sorry it aggravates allergies and asthma.    And after a day filled with all of the above, who doesn’t want a drink.

Of course I have described the worst of it all.  There are plenty of folks who make frequent appearances at their gyms or yoga classes.  Many even train for advanced body conditioning.  There a lots who have unbelievable discipline in what they eat and treat their bodies like temples (at least reformed temples if not orthodox ones).  But as with many careers this takes a lot of hard work.  Yet when theatres are built (and goodness knows we have built or renovated a whole lot of them recently for good or for bad), staff and artist amenities are the first things cut.  What would happen if every theatre created a small gym and mediation room on site?  What would happen if changed the rules and schedules so people could get a little more sleep and a bit more fresh air?  What if we planned the entire tech process for each production rather than by industry standards?  I challenge that rather than making the process take longer it may actually make us work more efficiently and with much greater focus.  Who says you have to do 10/12s?  What if we said that production meetings couldn’t go into the wee hours of the night and finance committees weren’t allowed to demand 9am or worse 8am meetings?   What if we made all of our nonprofit staffs stop eating lunch at their desks?  Sure it would be a big change, but actually it would be pretty easy to test.  Of course there would still be people who don’t take of themselves, but maybe if we found a better balance more folks would take care of themselves, just a bit better and not have to take a break from working in theater to do so.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

MCC Theater Youth Company changes lives (last night they changed mine)!

It is so rare in the theater to experience the visceral and emotional slap of truth or to have a piece of theater grip hold of your heart to the point that you find you have stopped breathing. But when it happens, you are transformed - not momentarily but permanently. Theater that does this leaves a mark inside of you that does not and cannot ever be removed.

Last night a mark like that was left on my heart and will forever burn in my mind.

It didn't happen in a Broadway house or even at a "professional" show. It happened when a group of high school kids (and 9 who had graduated and grown up a bit) took the stage for MCC Theater's 2009 Uncensored performance and 10th Anniversary celebration.

It was a raw, dark, funny, gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride into the hearts and minds of the kids who wrote and performed it. They were truly uncensored as they shared thoughts on life, self-image, drugs, race and sex - lots of sex. MCC Youth Company found a way to give these kids a voice and let them scream from the rooftops.

During the first half of the evening the current MCC Theater Youth Company (made up of about 50 kids who audition to participate in the year-round FREE training program that focuses on writing and acting), performed Uncensored (monologues and scenes they developed), one of four performances during a regular year.  The second half was a one-night-only reunion of 9 alumni members and 1 current company member performing (one person from each of 10 years of companies) work created over the last 10 years intertwined with the affect that the Youth Company has had on their lives. 

Throughout both performances I was on the edge of my seat.  My heart and mind being banged and dented by the beauty of their work, their pure honesty, their fears, and their abundant hope.   After hearing how the Company had changed and in at least one case saved their lives, the alumni called all current and past members to the stage along with my dear friend who founded, taught and lead the Company for 10 years, Stephen Dimenna.  As I watched the stage fill with kids of every color, shape, sexual orientation and personality and embrace each other and Steve, I could see that they all stood a bit taller and were living a bit larger.  I swelled with pride that I was there in the beginning of this one-of-a-kind program that is so deserving of more than a blog post – all you documentarians and New York Times feature writers get on it.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of the celebration. I thought about the  hundreds of kids who have been Youth Company members who found their voices and a theatrical home, and I realized I was breathless and  the night had permanently left a mark on me.

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary to all my friends at MCC Theater, not only do they produce some of the best theater in the country, but they are doing so much more to impact and shape the future of the theater.

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