After a whirlwind drive down to Baltimore with carpool buddy Mark "Mr. Excitement" Armstrong (music listened to: TVOTR, Tom Waits' "Frank's Wild Years", Elvis Costello's "Trust" and "King of America" and Soul Coughing's "Irresistable Bliss") we arrived for the TCG conference at the labarynthine Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore.
It's been a really go-go-go type of 24 hours, with sessions and drinking (diet coke since i'm driving) and reconnecting with old friends and hearing John Waters do his thing. Now I'm sitting in the "cyber cafe", skipping a plenary session and trying ot fill you all in on what's going on. Oh, and the keyboard on this IBM laptop-- like all IBM laptop keyboards-- is horrible, so I beg your forgiveness in advance for my typesmanship.
I attended a very interesting breakout session on Institutional Messaging, something which longtime readers will know I'm fascinated by in a Faces Of Death kind of way. The entire thing had to do with thinking about marketing less in terms of communicating logistical infomration about your show (the who what where and how) but rather the "why". Who and Why. What and Why etc.
I very much liked the people leading the workshop. They wanted to urge large institutions away from the "market/transactional" model of dealing with audiences and funders... the You Give Us Money, We Give You Art kinda thing. They talked as well about putting artists back on the board, about really listening to the people who don't come (or come back) and why and all sorts of other good things.
What they did not address is what to do if your institution doesn't really have meaningful values anymore. And this was raised by someone who said "We're struggling in our organization to articulate whta is unique about it". To which all I could think is "that's probably because you're large enough thta you've lost what's unique about your work and now you need to retool and discover that". Which, in a nicer way, is what the consultants said.
I mean, there are theaters out there that have existed long enough and gone through enough staff changes that they've lost their raison d'etre. They exist because they exist. They make theatre, people get paid, and they're a business... sorta. Their identity is their history, not what they're doing now. This isn't true of eveyr large theater, or every theater that's become an institution, but it's true of some of them. The tightening economy is going to force those organizations to retool in the heavy competition for audiences and existing donors. A tleas,t that's my hope. It might force them to become vaguer (as a look at the "rock solid" seasons that I was talking about earlier kind of shows) in an effort to appeal to everyone. But as Wayne once said... "if everyone liked our music, we'd be the beegees".
And now I must go get food. More blogging soon, I hope. John Waters was hilarious, I'm told in th epast, they get non-theatre people who are "thinkers" to speak. this was more about entertainment. not sure whetehr that's a bad thing.
Oh and PS: On my way home I got lost getting to 95 and accidentally drove into Hamsterdam.