Thursday, March 9, 2017

9 Seminars I'd Love to Teach

  • Arts Hospice: Palliative Care for End-of-Life for Arts Organizations
  • Healthy Ecosystems in Small Cities: Why Diversity of Size and Content Matters
  • Try Today, Buy Tomorrow: How Performing Arts Can Use Samples to Build Audience
  • Fear-Setting in the Arts: Mitigating Risk by Developing Comfort with Fear
  • Stone Soup: Using Collaboration to Create New Performing Arts Opportunities
  • Pivots and Sprints: Using Corporate Process Development to Grow a Sustainable Arts Org
  • Clothing Costumes: How What you Wear Changes Your Own Perceptions
  • Grow Your Own: What Food Chains and Arts Ecosystems Have in Common
  • I Can't, I Have a Kid: How to be a Present Parent and a Performer Without Losing Your Mind
I'm available. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Permanent Theater Venues, While Useful, Are Not A Panacea

Much has been discussed about how the Triangle needs more black box theaters, more fertile ground to grow the native, nascent nonprofit theater groups and companies. With Common Ground Theater closing up after ten years and Sonorous Road Theater’s future in question, it does seem like there is less room for itinerant groups to ply their trade.

Examining the twenty-five year history of the Triangle theater scene, the same venues tend to be used over and over again. Most of productions happen in the same handful of spaces, even if made by different groups of people. For the time period in question (1990-2015), the vast majority--90% of companies who produce at least one full weekend show--do not continue to make work over a decade.

Out of 24 (give or take a few) companies that have succeeded in sticking around the Triangle for a dozen years or more, only six have successfully operated their own venue. Again, the majority of ongoing theater organizations are either affiliated with a college or with a municipally-owned venue. Raleigh Little Theater, Theater in the Park, Durham Savoyards, North Carolina Theatre: as long-standing and as important to the ecosystem as they are, they are all beholden to a municipal venue for their performance space. Our single “professional” theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company, is fully-owned by UNC-CH. Yes, it has a nonprofit arm for raising funds, but without the people, work, and space provided by UNC, PlayMakers would not be PlayMakers.

The six that have lasted over twelve years and had an established space are The ArtsCenter with its various in-house theater programs, Burning Coal Theater, Deep Dish Theater Company, Manbites Dog Theater Company, North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theater, and Raleigh Ensemble Players. It is important to note that two of these organizations (Deep Dish and REP) are no longer in business and a third (ArtsCenter) has guttered its in-house theater productions as of this writing.

Burning Coal Theater and Manbites Dog both spent many of their formative years producing shows in various spaces around Raleigh and Durham, respectively, before they were able to locate and afford their own building. Deep Dish Theater was located in a mall retail space and made do with low ceilings and nonpermanent set restrictions because of mall protocols. Raleigh Ensemble Players started as a summer company for two years, using Theater in the Park’s space during their down time. After several itinerant years, REP partnered with the new Artspace, a visual art studio and gallery. After many years in Artspace, the attempt to secure their own permanent full-time stage space proved unviable and forced them to close. The ArtsCenter’s in-house theater programs grew out of acting classes in the 1980’s at its original space in Carr Mill Mall, before morphing into the ArtsCenter Community Theatre, which quietly died in 2001. Shortly thereafter, Lynden Harris came on board as staff at the ArtsCenter and revived programming under the “ArtsCenter Stage” brand. NRACT found and held a venue through sheer power of numbers. Enough committed volunteers to establish a true working board plus enough interested actors and technicians--including a deep relationship with the local high school--provided enough revenue from six large cast shows in the early years.
The axiom is true for any business: success is in large part due to location. ArtsCenter was the only non-school performing arts venue in Carrboro. Deep Dish and NRACT both were surrounded within retail establishments in highly suburban neighborhoods. Burning Coal and Manbites spent years growing their audiences before settling into venues that would themselves become catalysts for their neighborhood’s growth. REP benefitted from the constant flow of artists and visitors in Artspace, conveniently located in the middle of downtown Raleigh.

Many of these companies have themselves also played host to itinerant groups, and because none of them are professional or a closed group of participants, the constant flow of talent both on and back stage has helped grow the opportunities available for creative work.

These companies successfully found and maintained venues because they had enough people willing to put in sweat-equity to make the space viable and because there was enough differentiation in their locations and products to find a profitable audience. Types of revenues varied from business to business, but all found many ways to make expenses every month.

Dedicated venues bring their own downsides. Rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, cleaning and maintenance expenses add up every month, and that’s after an initial push to upfit a space with a stage, seating, and appropriate lighting and sound systems. And then you need someone to manage the space! If you look at the budget of any business, the largest line-item is employees.

Can many of these downsides be mitigated? Yes, certainly: a government-owned facility with provided infrastructure or a co-op space with volunteer management. A wealthy theater-loving real estate developer who wants to be a singular patron to a small company. Insert many other options here.

Finding a permanent venue is possible; these six companies clearly demonstrate that. However, they also demonstrate the hard work involved in doing so: both before in establishing a feasible product and growing audience, and after, in earning enough income to meet ongoing expenses. Desiring a permanent home is admirable, but actually finding one comes after the need justifies it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Green is March's Favorite Color: Use It To Take Care of Yourself

I'm not certain if it was something I ate or didn't eat or Divine Spirit or earth energy or what, but I sat bolt upright last night in bed with the phrase "Go Green for March" on my tongue. 2 more thoughts immediate popped into my head, plus a visual: "go", "money", and a green string tied around my wrist.

Not wanting to get out of bed, I laid there, staring at the covers, thinking "I need to write this down because obviously it's important and the Universe is trying to tell me something." As I could feel this idea was all about making progress and changing mindsets, I begrudgingly exited the warm bed, plodded downstairs to find pencil and paper, wrote the ideas down, and then went back to sleep.

This morning, I pulled out my cross stitch supplies, found the exact shade of green in my delirium-induced vision, and tied a bit around my wrist.

Maybe you, too, have been struggling lately with these things? Perhaps you, too, could use a visual reminder? 

1. Green for GO
I am prone to analysis paralysis. The thing where "if I just learn more then I'll start" or "I don't have quite all the information I need" or "I need to check over here too before I get going."

HOGWASH. It's perfectionism, it's mainly useless, and it's holding me back.

So this green is for GO, a la a traffic signal. It's not about speed, it's about taking my foot off the brake and applying light pressure to the gas pedal to get my car going forward. One of my favorite Universe metaphors is it's like a GPS system: The Universe will tell you which way to turn but you have to put the car in drive and GO!

My green thread reminds me that when I start questioning my actions "I'm not ready" or "I don't know enough" to gently change my thought to "yes, I do, I know what I need to know to take an action--any action--right now."

2. Green for MONEY
Money is an energy, and as an energy, it needs to flow.

This may sound like crazy-talk to some of you. Money flows into your life at a rate equal to the rate it flows out of your life. Want more to flow into your life? You need to increase how much your money-energy flows out.

For me, that means two things:
-first, I need to not begrudge spending the physical cash I do have. That is lack thinking ("if I spend this, I won't have any more") and simply shuts off the flow.
-second, I need to spend more of my cash-energy, meaning, I need to be spending my energy in ways that give it away to others. I have to trust that increasing my energy flow out will increase my energy flow in.

My green thread reminds me to breathe out the "lack" and breathe in "share" and "give" and "trust" and "abundance." I truly lack for nothing and to dwell in feeling pity does nothing but continue my self-hurt.

Which brings us to 3, which came to me as I was writing the first two, because there's always a 3, because 3 is a magic number:

3. Green for SUPERGREEN
One of my favorite movies is The Fifth Element. Chris Tucker is hilarious as an over-the-top, self-indulgent, cosmic radio-show host. His preferred way of categorizing his joys are levels of "green." Something he particularly likes is "Supergreen!"

Are you struggling with taking care of yourself? I am. I don't mean in a bubble-bath, wine-glass, bon-bon kind of way (fine for her, not for me). I mean in a "I've lost myself and haven't a clue what I actually enjoy doing because I've been taking care of everyone else's needs for so long" kind of way.

Supergreen is about radical self-care. It is about becoming a succulent wild woman. It is about figuring out how to speak (or write or draw or sing or whatever) your truth. It is about making a small space in your brain where you can say yes to yourself and no to someone else, feel the guilt or pain or disappointment briefly, then move into the thing that brings you joy.

I've been doing a lot of sitting with this one and the signal I keep getting is "writing." For as far back as I can remember (and I've been doing a lot of that digging, too), I've done two things: read a lot and write a lot.

I loved researching and writing my thesis. I loved writing college papers. I love writing articles for Marbury. I love writing on my blog. Daily diary entries, my new therapy journal, writing notes to my daughter and husband, writing emails to friends. Words on paper bring me joy.

I'm an extrovert, too, though, so I need to balance all that solo writing with being out in public, getting to know people, helping artists with their projects. It's why journalism, marketing, and fundraising are all truly of a piece for me.

My green thread reminds me to take care of myself daily. I have to go for a walk in the outdoors daily. I have to eat nourishing food daily. I have to take my meds daily. I have to write daily. I have to be present with my daughter and husband daily. I have to practice loving myself daily.

So I'm wearing my thread this month. Like Buddhist Prayer Flags or Kabbalah strings, I figure I'll be mindful of these tenants, work on integrating them into myself and life, and when the time is right, the thread will naturally free itself and go away.

Maybe you're struggling, too, with one of these? Maybe wearing a visual reminder will help bring you focus and mindfulness, too. I'd love to hear about it!