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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Success does not have to be solemn"

I'm starting a new theme, of posts about where I see cross-industry applicability. While I'm passionate about the performing arts, I take inspiration from everywhere. 

In high school I wanted to go into magazine publishing because I adored the medium. I've always been a sucker for a good article, especially one with beautiful photography to go along with it. So I was pleasantly surprised by this New York Times video about British handbag designer Anya Hindmarch. Done as interview with writer Suzy Menkes, this short video captured my attention, and also held some nuggets that I think apply to theaters as well. 

copyright NYTimes

Menkes describes Hindmarch's bags as "women-friendly, with an attention to detail and lots of fun." Shouldn't that be theater? We all know the statistic that 67% of Broadway theater audiences are female, and I'm sure that holds true across nonprofit and non-New York markets, as well. Are we finding ways to make our theaters friendly to who is really in our audience? Are we paying attention to all the details of a patron's experience, or just lip service to what happens outside of the stage area? How do we make the experience fun? Two of the National Arts Marketing Project Conference sessions last week were on ways to make the rest of the patron's visit a fun and engaging experience (Augmented Reality and Activating Spaces, for those who want to check the tweets). I can't wait to see what those attendees come up with and share with their audiences! 

"You're the only bag designer to put on a fashion show," Menkes says to Hindmarch. She remarks that she's trying to give "context" to the handbags themselves. A handbag is meant to be used, of course, and designer bags are made to be SEEN, not just seen. I want to propose taking a slightly different read on this, though, for theater: what's the unexpected for us? If our product is a staged production, what is a way we can re-contextualize that in order to either reach a different audience or to delight the one we currently have? Or take Hindmarch's "I'm not a plastic bag" tote. It has that balance of being quirky, without being unapproachable, of being funny, but still within the context of her product world. Doing something different in theater shouldn't be so out of the world that audiences can't grasp what you're doing. It should be just different enough to capture their attention. 

"I've built [my stores] by hiring amazing craftsmen who make things you want to wear." Hindmarch responds to a query about how she's grown the business over the past 25 years. Replace "wear" with "experience" and shouldn't we have theater's mantra? Let's hire amazing craftsmen--the most talented artists we can afford--and let them make things we want to experience. Guthrie, Papp, Fichandler, all had the long-term vision to know this was the way you produce great art. Be passionate about your customer. Make things they want to wear. 

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