Friday, February 22, 2008

UK creates 5,000 arts apprenticeships

Wow! UK Culture Secretary Andy Burnam announced yesterday that the government will sponsor 5,000 arts apprenticeships. 5,000!

I guess we could split hairs about these not being real jobs, and advancing the indentured servitude of arts interns... but I'm pretty excited about the UK government's investment in creative human capital. I don't know if the US could adopt this kind of measure country-wide, but maybe individual states?

I'm just going to go ahead and quote the article, because it makes me feel so good. Ok?

The government said it was the first ever comprehensive plan for official support for the creative industries. The strategy is designed to provide the industries with an unrivalled pool of talent to draw upon, and the same formal, structured support associated with other industries.

Burnham said: "Making a career out of your passion and a business from your ideas - that's what we want to help Britain achieve. So now is the time to recognise the growing success story that is Britain's creative economy and build on it.

"The creative industries must move from the margins to the mainstream of economic and policy thinking, as we look to create the jobs of the future."

The BBC, Tate Liverpool, Universal Music Group and Monkeydevil Design are among the first to sign up to offer apprenticeships. Other companies already committed to the scheme include Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the National Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Museums Liverpool.

"Until recently the creative industries were seen as a bit of a Cinderella part of the economy, but things have now changed, as they should. We're second only to the service sector in our contribution to the economy and its good news that the government now recognises our importance", said Wayne Hemingway of Hemingway Design.

More than 1.9 million people are currently employed in the "creative industries", a higher share of the UK workforce than the US, Canada and France.

"The brilliant thing about publishing a strategy for the creative economy is that it recognises how hugely important creativity is to national success," said David Kester, the chief executive of the Design Council. "We can sometimes take for granted that we live in an open society which allows creativity to flourish in our young people and across many diverse professions, such as design, film and music."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why is this so hard?

"Engaging the audience" is having a big moment:

NYTimes critic Charles Isherwood dips his toe in the interactive theatre water here

Lyn Gardner, my favorite Guardian theatre critic/blogger, wonders if "The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other" might be better performed outside

This isn't exactly breaking news, but Improv Everywhere continues to push the boundaries of theatre in playful, exciting ways... and it's spreading to the UK! (Their This American Life stories are wonderful and a little heartbreaking.)

And then we have this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, discussing a recent Heinz foundation initiative dispursing funds to arts organizations to come up with new ways to engage the audience. The results:

• Concert messaging at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. A screen displayed information about music and the PSO between pieces, to reach out to the audience and disrupt the usual concert format.

• Changing signs at Andy Warhol Museum Brillo Boxes exhibit. Over eight weeks, officials went from using no interpretive signs to displaying proactive ones to investigate visitor experiences and interpretation.

• In the Dancer's Studio, Stagestruck and Beginning Ballet with Bob at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. These behind-the-scenes workshops let the audience inside the creative process.

• Girls Night Out at City Theatre. Friday night group specials with drink discounts and massages show that arts events with friends can be fun.

• Point of View Writing Workshops at Silver Eye Center for Photography. Participants write short stories related to photography to foster opinion sharing and interaction with art.

• Circle discussions at Quantum Theatre. Board members invite subscribers and single-ticket buyers into their homes, forcing board members and other theater officials to listen closely to audience opinions.

• European intermission and Cupcake Questions at Dance Alloy Theatre. During a half-hour intermission the audience gets free cupcakes with questions tucked inside, provoking thought and discussion in fun ways.

I'm sorry...what? Proactive signage? Circle discussions? "Arts night out with friends can be fun"? I feel kind of guilty for criticizing these ideas, and I'm really not trying to disparage anyone's good intentions (especially those backed by a generous grant), but this is a little disappointing.

Community and open access are two of the biggest things going on in the world right now, and we come up with cupcakes. Why is this so hard?
Anyway, a few people seem to be getting it right (or at least are going in the right direction):

Back to Back theatre, whose "Small Metal Objects" was also featured in this year's Under the Radar. Why do I love them? (1) From New Zealand, (2) headphones, (3) engaging disability without bathos.

Punchdrunk, whose "Masque of the Red Death" is Lyn Gardner's favorite thing, and was the centerpiece of Isherwood's article.

This is a little old, but for cutting-edge technology, 82-year-old Merce Cunningham outclasses everyone. Ipods, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and postmodern dance, anyone?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Anatomy of a Mess

I've been a little surprised at the lack of coverage of the Goodman's recent decision to pull the musical "The Boys Are Coming Home". In my book, a major regional theatre yanking one of its subscription shows is big news.

Shedding some light on the situation is Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, who thoughtfully details the rise and fall of "The Boys Are Coming Home" in this article. I love that the Tribune even ran this - it's rare to find such a nuanced description of the sometimes-painful, sometimes-breathtaking process a play goes through on its way to maturity.

I highly recommend checking out Jones' account of the Goodman's decision to first produce, then trash "The Boys...". Lots of good lessons for artists, playwrights, administrators, designers... I could go on.

Notable from the article:
"We couldn't find enough tickets to give to people," says Dominic Missimi, who runs Northwestern's musical-theater program.... In a weird inversion of the usual state of business, critics and audiences seemed to have a lot more confidence in the show than the people who were charged with taking it to the next level."

"Still, the only collaborators on "Boys" whose work was ever fully formed were the original, mostly student cast members. Too young to be cynical and blissfully unaware of the fatal delicacy of new material and its creators, those undergraduates gave a suite of gorgeous songs everything they had. And if only for a few memorable summer nights in Evanston, that was all it took."

Career Transition Experiences

The following from a recent article... I have to admit, I've never heard of this program, although it sounds pretty good. For me, the Juilliard professional internship in Arts Admin was probably the best thing I've ever done. Any other thoughts on good/bad career transition experiences?

Theatre Wing Accepting Submissions for SpringboardNYC Summer Intensive
The American Theatre Wing's SpringboardNYC, a two-week theatrical intensive for college students planning careers in the theatre, is now accepting applications for its 2008 summer program running June 2-15.

SpringboardNYC is described as a college-to-career transition program that includes workshops, seminars, master classes and field trips that introduce college students to the professional theatre world in New York City.

Subjects within the seminars include resume development, interview technique, audition technique (monologue, cold reading and on-camera), and a mock open call. Throughout these seminars participants are provided with ongoing feedback and evaluations from working industry professionals.

Limited to 35 participants, SpringboardNYC offers financial aid and multiple scholarships to students. Applications are being accepted and are reviewed on a rolling basis between now and April 15 for the June 2008 session.

Complete information and application materials are available at

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New BAM Scholarship for Theatre, Dance, and Arts Admin!

From today's NYTimes:

Published: February 16, 2008
The Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday announced the creation of the Samuel H. Scripps BAM Scholarship Fund, for students who pursue a higher education in arts administration, dance or theater. Awards will range from $4,500 to $20,000 and are open to any student who has taken part in the academy’s education program between kindergarten and the 12th grade. Roughly $45,000 will be disbursed yearly. Application details are at

This is wonderful, particularly because (in my experience) it's so hard to find grants specifically for arts-admin. What's that about? We're poor, too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Creative use of your creative talents

Via the Osocio social advertising blog:

Things I took away from this:

1. Performing artists aren't the only creative people who face challenges using their training for its original purpose. I mean, how familiar does this sound:
The situation so many design graduates find themselves in is frightening, and yet there are so many possible avenues to vehicle our talents toward.
2. I love this advertisement's approach - use your creative training for a social purpose. It reminds me of the Voss study in its regard for creative talent and training as special and worthwhile, not cumbersome and irrelevant.

Trouble in Buffalo

Uh Oh...

Studio Arena Layoffs, Fundraising
Thursday, February 14, 2008 04:33 PM - WBEN Newsroom

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - Studio Arena Theater is reportedly set to lay off some staff members, this as it prepares for a fundraising campaign.

Theater management did not return our phone calls, but Celeste Lawson, executive director of the Arts Council of Buffalo and Erie County, says she's learned the campaign will be aimed at raising $1.2 million. As for the layoffs, Lawson says she has not learned of the exact number, but she says the theater's new management, led by Kathleen Gaffney, is trying to streamline its operation to continue being a successful regional theater.

Lawson hopes community organizations will not give up on Studio Arena, saying every cultural organization has had severe financial trouble in the past. Donors skeptical of giving, urges Lawson, should take a look at what the new management is doing to keep the theater going past this season.

What's going on up there? Not a good sign...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Regional Rebellion

I wanted to submit the following resources with some thoughts on the current chatter in the blogosphere (am I really using that word?) about the Regional Theatre model (discussions happening here and here and here and here).

I'm wondering if what's going on is really a kind of a natural progression of the American theatre - as in Broadway leads to Off-Broadway leads to Off-Off-Broadway, etc. I've been trying to turn up some data on how long it actually took the Off- and Off-Off movements to generate, and I haven't found anything too concrete, but I'm going to take an educated guess and say like 30-40 years? Anyway, by those figures the Regional model is way overdue for a malcontent child. "Alt Regional"? "Off Regional"? I don't know.

Food for the malcontent child:

A recent article from the Beacon Journal Arts (Ohio) about The Bang & The Clatter Theater Company. This brilliant company is creating a kind of Regional alternative in Ohio (Akron to Cleveland). Who wouldn't love these guys? From the article:
At first, word of the free beer and wine given out at performances might have enticed audiences to check out the unprepossessing (OK, makeshift) theater upstairs in the Summit Artspace building in downtown Akron. But people keep coming back for more of the raw, unpredictable drama that co-founders Sean Derry and Sean McConaha began producing at Akron's Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company in October 2005.
An amazing article from the Harvard Business Review ('96 I think) about how strategic collaboration between arts organizations, such as shared ticketing initiatives, not only improves the finances of each arts organization, but improves the local economy.

The New Radical Theatre Notebook, by Arthur Sainer. Have you read this? Sainer's discussion of the birth of Off-Off Broadway, which he witnessed firsthand, is nothing short of inspiring.

One more thing I'd like to point out: as far as I can tell, girls have been conspicuously absent from this debate (besides commenters and now myself, I guess) . For that matter, I can't think of any girl-written performing arts blogs. Yet another area where the wider Nonprofit world trumps the performing arts: Rosetta Thurman, Katya Andresen, Beth Kanter, and many other brilliant women write regularly on nonprofit technology, management, marketing, and other issues of interest. Am missing something? I would love to be corrected.

The Ugly American at the Old Vic

Hilarious article from today's Guardian Theatre Blog, decrying the American tendency to clap at a star's entrance, fidget around in their seats, and blow their noses. Did you know that eating ice cream in the theatre is a London tradition?

Choice quote (actually via London Blogger Helen Smith):
"I was a bit wary at first because the theatre was full of American students who actually burst into applause when Kevin Spacey appeared on stage, as if they thought they were part of the live audience for an episode of Friends. But they settled down. Then there was an American woman behind us who did a special loud nasal honk whenever there was a funny line, to show that she was particularly attuned to David Mamet's cerebral style of wit."

And I'm back! I've been run a little ragged by my schedule, but I'm hoping to work some posts in when I can.