Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lessons Learned in Asheville: Part 2

Thanks for all the love for the 1st 5 Lessons. I'm digging hearing from everyone who cares about Asheville and theater. Here are the remainder of my arts applications.

6. "Give away something free to build your brand. Offer a pre-show show." There is a fine line between "not getting paid for your work" and "being generous with your work." It's up to every artist to determine where that line is. We can certainly all agree on the fact that we routinely--across the performing arts spectrum--undervalue our work and there is a dangerous continuum between commercial pay and community volunteer work. All of that, though, is for another blog post.
  This lesson is about generosity. We went to one of the newer breweries, HiWire Brewing, to sample their wares, and lucked into a free performance by a local blues musician, Andrew Scotchie. Great stuff, all way around (husband said the Double IPA was the best beer of the trip).
  First: the music show was for free, at a non-traditional site. I've heard people say, "this doesn't work with theater because we need the audience to pay attention, otherwise they don't get the scene." To which I say, "You think the musicians don't want people to pay attention?" I feel this is a cop-out for the work of growing new audiences. One of the local theater groups did Henry III as a pub crawl a few years back. Do we think that every barfly became a huge theater fan after that experience? Nope. But were there a few who did? Probably. Musicians (which is performance art, remember?) routinely do site-specific shows, play a bit of their repertoire for free, and interact with their audience to make them feel part of the performance.
  Second: If the main reason for your audience being in your building is for your 2-hr production, what else is happening to expand the evening into something remarkable? Are people showing up just before the curtain goes up because there's not reason to be there any earlier? How can we change that?

5 of these are Asheville pubs.
Mo's is in Hillsborough. Iron City is Pittburgh.
7. "Merchandise is the 2nd best advertising." Full disclosure: we have a pint glass collection that we use every day (part of which is pictured here). Know what this does? These glasses serve as constant reminders of our trips and experiences. Know what that does? Keeps these places at the forefront of our minds and makes us talk about them more to our friends and family. We all know word-of-mouth is the best advertising. But how do we keep people talking about us long after the show is over? I know a lot of larger theaters are doing this (Signature Theater is one of my faves.) but smaller theaters would benefit  even more from offering something for sale. As my friend Sara said, "Find something quality that fits with your brand and your audience." Pint glasses are perhaps the most perfect thing for a brewery to sell. What is it for your theater?

8. "Work with your competitors to everyone's benefit." It's rare that you go into a brewpub that only serves in-house brews. How often are theaters working with other theaters in the area? I have never heard an audience member say, "This is the only theater I attend." Collaborating in some way with other area groups/artists can be a win-win situation for everyone: new ideas, shared risk, audience growth. It doesn't have to be a big, co-produced show (although it could be!). It could be as simple as cross-marketing. Or buy one-get one half off on tickets. Or "bring your coffee mug from theater x and we'll give you a free cup of coffee at theater y." The possibilities are endless. HiWire doesn't lose audience when they offer the seasonal Greenman Porter on tap. Theaters aren't going to lose audience if there is a poster advertisement in the lobby for another theater's show.

9. "Unexpected details delight the experience."
Shared this w/ my brother,
who is building a tiki bar
Fodder for another blog post: I'm a thrift/antique store junkie. I love it when I stumble onto a space where the dealer has obviously taken a little bit of time to arrange things for maximum earning potential. It doesn't take much time or energy to make a junk pile into an orderly setting. We put a lot of time into designing our sets, costumes, sound, props, and lights. How can we use those elements in unexpected ways off the stage? It doesn't need to be expensive or time-consuming. Heck, it doesn't even need to be physically at the theater. One local theater ran a blog for their costume department for a show. Audiences could see character sketches, material selection, fittings, hat-makings, accessories. Details that make the play better, but rarely get valued as the work they are.*

10. "An overall experience can be enjoyable even with one underwhelming element." But the reverse is rarely true: one excellent element may not make up for an overall under-par experience. If you focus all your energy on acting, to the detriment of other elements and customer service, the entire occurrence may not engender a burning desire to return in the hearts of your customers. Be liberal with your efforts on making the whole event pleasurable, with the awareness that something may not hit the mark, and that's okay. But don't neglect anything.

Cross-pollination from other fields into the arts is one of my most favorite things to do. Take a look around everywhere you go. And let me know when you find something good!

*Who else besides me would like to watch the technical and design award portions of the major award shows (Tony, Emmy, Oscar)?

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