Commentary: In a dramatic world, how can stage drama compete?

Ken Davenport, The Producer's Perspective blog, February 21, 2011

It used to be that cheating husbands and bankruptcy scandals were the stuff only whispered about at parties.  No one talked about the dark intimate details of others' lives in public.  So, when you went to the theater to see a "slice-of-life" show that featured one of these events, it was dramatic.  Because it was something the audience didn't hear about every day. Now, we have cheating politicians and broke celebrities on the cover of every paper, blog, twitter, and all the other types of media that has been invented in the last 50 years.  We've had Presidents getting serviced while serving our country.  We've had Congressmen spending more time on CraigsList than in Congress.  We've had ball players like Brett Favre playing games with their . . . (I'll stop here.)  My question is this . . . since dramatic events have become much more apart of our everyday lives, does the drama we create have to become even more dramatic?  Do the events we show on stage have to be even more shocking?  Do the characters have to be even more extreme?  Is that one of the reasons why God of Carnage was a hit, but the [Neil] Simon plays failed to take off [during their recent runs on Broadway]?   The definition of "dramatic" changes over time. And the playwright doesn't define it. The audience does.


Commentary: Data sharing and the arts - do you have trust issues?

David Dombrosky, Technology In The Arts blog, February 16, 2011

Let's face it. The idea of giving our [patron] data to someone else is anxiety-producing for most organizations. How do we know that they will abide by our agreement and use the data ethically? Yet, if we never place our trust in others, then we will never reap the benefits that may come from a data sharing relationship. You [probably] already engage in data sharing relationships.  Many of us utilize Google Analytics to track visitor interactions with our websites. When we agreed to use Google's service, we also agreed to share our data with Google. We trust that Google will never give our websites' specific data to anyone else without our permission.  Okay, I can hear some of you saying, "But that is an example from a service provider; it's different to talk about sharing data with another arts organization." No, it's not. We are talking about data sharing relationships, not data giving relationships.  [Two successful examples can be found] in Pittsburgh: the SmArt database and the STAR Direct Marketing Database. The success of these data sharing programs did not happen overnight. The organizations [involved] have spent years developing trust relationships with each other. Now, they have years of collaborative data, and the participating organizations clearly understand what they must contribute to the project and what they will receive in return. With each successive year, the data deepens [as does] the level of trust.  A final note on trust -- don't break it. Once trust is broken, it rarely, if ever, regains its previous depths. When you negotiate the agreements for your data sharing relationships, always be certain to include an exit clause.


Commentary: To thwart scalpers, rock concerts should be priced like a nonprofit

Michael Rushton on the Arts Admin blog, February 16, 2011

Matt Yglesias considers a ticket pricing problem for big-name rock stars. Suppose demand is such that a concert will maximize revenues at a ticket price of $400 (assume no chance for price discrimination, for simplicity). But bands don't want to look revenue-maximizing. However, if they sell tickets for $50, scalpers will buy them up and re-sell for $400. So fans don't do any better, and the scalper, rather than the band or the ticket-buyer, gets the rent.  His solution:

Someone (Bono?) needs to set up a trust fund to which bands will allocate the excess revenues that accumulate when the market price of concert tickets exceeds the "fair" price as determined by the bands' moral intuitions. In that case, instead of a situation where "tickets with a face value of $49.50 were going for 12 times that" on a secondary market you'd have a scenario where tickets are going for $500 and $450 out of that goes to the trust fund. The fund could take the money and give it to poor people in Africa and India. They need the money a good deal more than LCD Soundsystem fans do.

What's interesting to me is that this is rather what I would expect a popular nonprofit arts organization to do: price the primary product at profit-maximizing levels, and use the surplus to fund other mission-related activities. Of course, a problem internally is that interest groups within the nonprofit will seek to direct the surplus their own way -- better conditions for the performers -- rather than to strictly mission-related activities. But the "Bono" trust idea just might work!


Commentary: How well does your nonprofit keep records of board meetings?

Emily Chan, Nonprofit Law Blog, February 18, 2011

Board meeting minutes are an important but often undervalued form of recordkeeping. Minutes provide a memorialized chronology of key information such as board actions, elections of officers or directors, and certain reports from committees and staff.  Additionally, meeting minutes can have important legal significance in an IRS examination and as evidence in courts if, for example, someone challenges the validity of certain actions or positions. Unfortunately, a variety of mistakes are commonly associated with the taking and keeping of minutes including:

  • Failing to document a quorum was present;
  • Failing to document or provide a clear description about a board action taken;
  • Drafting a transcript of everything said at the meeting, including information that might be harmful to the organization if read by someone with access to the minutes (e.g., employees or members) or by a court reviewing a board action;
  • Drafting and distributing minutes to directors after a lengthy period of time has passed; 
  • Waiting to approve minutes from past meetings until a substantial period of time has passed, decreasing the likelihood that mistakes will be caught and corrected; and
  • Failing to maintain a reasonable document management system, resulting in the loss of minutes from past meetings.

What should minutes look like?  [Click here to read ideas about content, format, timing, and retention.]


Commentary: 100 reasons why you should hold a fire drill at your theatre

Backstage at blog, February 19, 2011

Eight years ago on February 20th, The Station nightclub in Rhode Island caught fire and burned to the ground. The fire was started when pryo, loaded too much for the size of the venue and placed too close to a wall, was launched by the manager of the onstage band and ignited the wall at the rear of the stage.  The fire spread quickly, causing audience members to panic, not look for other exits, and head for the narrow hallway and door they had entered from.  While there were technically enough exits for the crowd, some had been blocked by vendor and sponsor tables set up for the show, preventing easy escape.  100 people were killed.  Too often we ignore the fire codes and common sense while doing a show.  We assume a fire will not occur.  Yet they do, every year, in theatres in the US and around the world.  So far this year there have been two theatre fires that I am aware of. One was onstage during a performance, which required the evacuation of over 1800 people, the other in the basement of a theatre.  Take the time tomorrow before your performance to hold a fire drill in your theatre. Before the drill, don't rehash what should be done with the staff: see if they know it already.  I bet they don't.  When they fail to do their parts correctly, then go over what should have been done, and why.  Then run the drill again.


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