Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekend Listening

I just discovered this archive of Americans for the Arts video and sound recordings (thanks, Mission Paradox). I'm looking forward to listening to Daniel Pink's address at this year's Arts Advocacy day on the train home tonight - I've heard it was amazing. Also featured: speeches from the 2007 Americans for the Arts convention, 2007 Arts Advocacy Day, and the Americans for the Arts podcast, ARTcast.

Weekend Reading

I know, I know, I should probably change the name of this blog to "Sarah's Writer-Crush on Lyn Gardner"... but how great is this? Let's clone her.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Obsession: Leechblock

According to Google Analytics, most of my readers use Firefox (also my browser of choice). I want to sing the praises of one particular Firefox Add-on: Leechblock.

Leechblock takes about 30 seconds to install, and once it's up and running, you can use it to block time-wasting sites. I've created a few different sets of blocks, like one set of sites is blocked for my entire work day, one set is blocked after I've spent 15 minutes on the site, etc. Suddenly my papers are being written in record time, and I am no longer cruising Facebook all day checking out my middle-school boyfriend's profile. Even emerging arts leaders need some time-management help once in a while.

Lifehacker keeps track of the best Firefox Add-ons, if you're interested in other ways to soup up your browser.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Philadelphia: Christmas in April

This is a nice wrap-up of the massive bailout of Philadelphia's no-longer-flailing Kimmel Center.

My favorite part comes at the end

Now that the debt is gone, Ewers said, the Kimmel will concentrate on two other ambitious efforts: enlivening the public spaces of the center, which are currently populated only around performance times, and undertaking an acoustical remake of Verizon Hall.

Questions about the acoustical work involve not only how to fund it, but also whether the hall's original acoustician or another firm should undertake the effort. Strategies for enlivening the public spaces were unveiled last week in a series of ideas crafted by PennPraxis, the University of Pennsylvania planning authority, proposing physical changes to the building.

Ooh, go with the original acoustician! He deserves a second crack at it.

What's Next?

Adam Thurman has a great post today over at Mission Paradox about using a "who's next" strategy to recruit board members, like if you want to recruit a lawyer, instead of looking straight to the partners, maybe check out "who's next" in the succession line.

This reminded me of something a super-successful director once told me - that no matter what he's working on, he always has a "what's next" ready, like "I'd love to direct a version of King Lear in Sarajevo", or "I want to do a water-ballet version of The Trojan Women", or "I want to direct my friend's script about food poisoning". (None of these were his actual idea, which was so great I don't want to spill the beans on him.)

I am now addicted to "what's next". I love my job, I love going to school, but I know exactly what I would do if someone offered me $10,000 (or $100!). I know how to express my dream in one sentence. I'm not a director, but I think this is a brilliant way to approach any career in the arts.

Like your company just launched a successful new-play festival. What's next? A full production of one of the featured plays? An initiative to add a playwriting fellowship to next year's programming?

Or you just got a job at an organization you love. What's next? Thinking about going back to school part-time? Using your newfound fiscal stability to start a reading series? Writing a blog?

Or you were just selected for a prestigious directing fellowship. What's next? Setting a goal to re-mount one of your shows professionally? The Trojan Women as water-ballet? (Just kidding.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Lyn Gardner, on the possible over-use of technology in theatre:
From what I've seen of it so far, Fifty-Nine's contributions to the productions on which they collaborate, whether it is in Black Watch or the adaptation of the cartoon Alex, are integral to the production and always in service of it. But I keep seeing productions in which it appears as if playing with the technologies is the prime interest of the theatre-makers, rather than the show itself.
The Fifty-Nine Gardner refers to is director Katie Mitchell's awesome in-house video production team. This essay is worth reading for the bonanza of experimental-theatre links Gardner has packed into it alone.

Whether technology is over or under-used in theatre is, of course, a concern for American theatremakers as well. The use of technology seems to really aggravate theatremakers' insecurities about our medium's relevance; we think we need to use technology to legitimize our existence, and it ends up being weilded around like a clumsy sledgehammer. A lighting designer friend of mine likes to joke that the measure of a green, usually unskilled director is their insistence on using "slides" in their production. On the other hand, when used well, it is seamless and unbearably cool - an iPod generating random, personal music for a dance piece, or the Wooster group creating a spooky, campy, double-reality Hamlet, or a great little film I saw used in Sweet Bird of Youth at Williamstown a few seasons ago.

Clearly, I live in NY, so my perspective is decidedly Northeastern. I'd love to hear readers' thoughts on the use of technology in regional productions.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Shuffle Culture

My ex-boyfriend is a visual artist (he's very good). Hanging out with him for like 6 years made me realize how totally different the visual art and theater communities are. When it comes to innovation, visual artists outclass theatre artists like it's their job.

Why is this? Well, after years of being lead around to galleries, openings, and gallery-openings, it finally dawned on me that visual art, unlike theater, is free to look at. Anybody can waltz into the Gagosian and check out a Cy Twombly (priced up to like $4.5 million), but free theater is for the most part nonexistant. I think this leads to some other important distinctions, like if I wanted to see something new by 100+ theater artists, it would probably take me six months (a year?), and several thousands of dollars. On the other hand, if I wanted to see something new by 100+ visual artists, all I would have to do is walk around Williamsburg on the second Friday of the month (or Chelsea, or whatever).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of the art scene (there's a reason he's my ex-boyfriend). But oh, do I envy their access. And I'm not advocating a night where 100+ theatre artists open up their rehearsal processes (well... maybe). But in the spirit of communication, I would like to draw your attention to these productions, all recent or ongoing, that are doing some remarkable things:

Contains Violence, currently getting terrible reviews in the UK, which is disappointing, because it sounds awesome. Theatre audience as Hitchcockian voyeur, happening in real time and space.

Democracy in America, Annie Dorsen's open-source deconsctruction/reconsctruction of deTocqueville with the Foundry Theatre.

Conversation Storm, recently at the Frigid Festival, described by Aaron Riccio as a marriage of Phillip Glass and Chuck Mee

Of All the People in All The World, by Stan's Cafe. A play without a plot.

Small Metal Objects by Back to Back Theatre, which I've written about before. Site-specific, tech-forward, and live as anything can possibly be.

The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, a play without words; "people-watching raised to the level of art"

Along these lines, I'd also like to point out this post from the Guardian Theatre Blog, which calls for an "iPod-like relationship between careful planning and chance" in theatre (Merce Cunningham is already all over this). I love this idea, and I think the performances listed above are making real strides in this direction. The live performing arts have got to fit into the landscape of open-source, of shuffle culture, and of personal control over information. I mean, we should own this one. We're live.

Score one for the little guys

The Times weighs in on the NYTW firings a few days before I expected them to. Unsurprisingly, Campbell Robertson doesn't mention that ecoTheater scooped the New York Times.

Let's hear it for the blogosphere!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Across the Pond

And then we have Europe, where the arts are funded by the government, bold risks are taken, everyone prances about in lederhosen and wellie boots, and priorites are just as confused as anywhere else.

Take these two wildly disparate stories for example:

The Telegraph reports, on a list of the top 100 most powerful people in British culture, seven are in theatre, including the amazing Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre who comes in at #1. The man who pioneered the 10-Pound ticket and championed bizarro productions by Katie Mitchell and Melly Still gets the #1 spot. The list is full of brave, risk-taking artists and arts managers - Tom Stoppard, Michael Grandage of the Donmar Warehouse, Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorrilaz/etc., Nicholas Serota of the Tate Modern. Even dear old Kevin Spacey! I find it particularly heartwarming to have Hytner at the top of the list, as he consistently demonstrates that he is all about the work, all about access, and not at all about commercialism or ego. Makes me wonder who might get that honor in the US. Peter Gelb? Martin Scorsese? Robert Redford?

Ok, that's encouraging, but don't get too excited: apparently the UK isn't the only place in Europe experiencing an arts funding crisis. In language eerily similar to reports on this fall's UK arts funding crisis comes this report from Prague, which goes into excruciating detail on the pitfalls of public funding. From the first paragraph of the article:
The relationship between Prague’s nonprofit arts organizations and City Hall has long been strained by a series of culture policy changes and grant delays. But the latest funding flare-up brought the situation to a fever pitch, and this week arts groups started a petition calling for policy revisions and the resignation of involved city officials.
Yikes. You've got to love Europe - extolling the virtues of their arts community in one paragraph, snatching their money away in the next. Oh well.

Along these lines, if you're not maxed-out on the shrill discourse surrounding the UK funding crisis, here's an interview with the new head of the English Arts Council. That man has his work cut out for him.

On Priorities

Last semester, the big assignment in one of my classes was a group case study of a performing arts organization. On the day of our final projects, my very wise professor asked each group what the artists thought about working for these organizations. Most of us were stumped (luckily, my group had an answer). In all of our diligent research, ours was the only group to reach out to the artists employed by the company, and I'll admit that our efforts were pretty weak. Talk about a wake-up call.

No matter how basic this sounds, when you're sticking your arms elbow deep into Forms 990, balance sheets, and industry trend reports, it's hard to keep your priorities where they ought to be: on the art. Clearly, this effect can cause some big problems. I mean, why on earth would a respectable institution like the New York Theatre Workshop build a costume and scene shop, then promptly fire its entire production staff (see: ecoTheater)? I'm sure there are things going on there that I don't get, but it seems like a pretty lopsided decision to me.

To counter this disappointing turn of events, here's a story I came across via the Fractured Atlas blog: Luis Cancel, the newly appointed Director of Cultural Affairs for the City and County of San Francisco, declares that affordable housing for the city’s artists is a top priority. Hooray!

So, a New York theater fires its production staff in a move to stay fiscally afloat (so they say), and on the other side of the country, an entire city declares that artists are so important that keeping them around is a top priority.

I keep thinking about those blank stares offered up by myself and my classmates when asked about the artists' opinions. I mean, shouldn't that have been the first thing we checked? We were all pretty well prepared for questions about the institutions' fiscal health... but if the artists aren't happy, then you've really got nothing to sell. I'm not a big advocate for artist-managers, but this seems like a compelling argument for more direct managerial involvement in the production of art. (See the excellent 99 Seats for more thoughts on artist-manager integration.)

By the way, I'll say it again: Fractured Atlas is cool as hell. Read their blog. It is wonderful.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekend Reading

Ian David Moss did something really cool today at Createquity - he live-blogged what sounds like a killer conference at Yale (Jennifer Kiger, Gigi Sohn, Sergio Munoz Sarmiento... sigh). Moss writes up some top-notch discussions on intellectual property and audience development for our reading pleasure.

By the way, how many of you have signed up for the NPAC conference? I can't make it this year, but it's going to be a major event, housing all these organizations:

Alternate Roots • American Association of Community Theatre • American Composers Forum • American Music Center • Americans for the Arts • Association of Performing Arts Presenters • Chamber Music America • Chorus America • Conductors Guild • Creative Capital • Dance/USA • Early Music America • Folk Alliance • Grantmakers in the Arts • International Association for Jazz Education • International Performing Arts for Youth • International Society of Performing Arts Administrators • Kaiser Permanente Educational Theater Program • League of American Orchestras • Meet The Composer • Music Critics Association of North America • National Assembly of State Arts Agencies • National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts • National Performance Network • North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents • OPERA America • Theatre Communications Group • University/Resident Theatre Association

Crazy. ArtsJournal started an NPAC blog, which I read mostly to make myself sad that I can't go to the conference.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Did anyone notice that the Lucille Lortel awards revoked Daniel Fish's nomination for Paradise Park, and gave it to Annie Dorsen? Not that I don't think Ms. Dorsen deserves it, she is awesome, but was it necessary to snatch back Fish's nomination?

This just baffles me. It makes everyone look bad - especially the Lortel awards. Why not just say "oops, please add Annie Dorsen to the list"? It's not like they have to give the award to Fish just because he's nominated. And wow, I would hate to be Annie Dorsen in this situation.

And how did this happen in the first place? This is the kind of thing I would read over once or twice before I released it to the media. I would be really curious to know where this communication broke down - whether it was a press agent, or management, or what.

There must have been a better way to handle this. I don't get it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Am I totally cynical if I think this is kind of lame?

Newsflash: MTC has announced an initiative to offer tickets for $30 to people under 30. These under-30-year-olds will have to log on to the MTC website and join a group or something.

I don't know about you, but for most of my under-30 life, $30 was like half of my weekly budget. I wouldn't even spend $30 on shoes.

Ok, I'm exaggerating a little. Why am I complaining? I'm such a crank.

On Bringing up the Rear

Do the words "America's Giving Challenge" ring a bell? Yes? No? The recent experiment/competition exploring how Web2.0 tools (blogs, social media, etc.) can be used for fundraising? That's detailed nicely in this New York Times Article?

Well, the winners were recently announced, and I noticed two really interesting trends in the results:
1. The winners are all tiny, grassroots organizations
2. No arts organizations!

Sean Stannard-Stockton of the Tactical Philanthropy blog goes over the America's Giving Challenge winners in this post, suggesting that small nonprofits are way ahead of larger companies in terms of adopting these new tools. Well, he's right - for example, the United Way used a Superbowl commercial to announce a campaign using text messaging as a tool for rescue workers. Good for the United Way! But excuse me, where are the arts?

Bringing up the rear, as usual.

I'll admit, it's hard to warm up to some of these Web2.0 resources... like Twitter, which seems like possibly the most annoying thing anyone ever thought of. But then again, I thought YouTube seemed pretty annoying until someone pointed me in the direction of some deeply weird old public access clips. Even Twitter shows some promise when applied to common problems in our community. Maybe Twitter might be helpful in sharing leads for jobs, internships, auditions, or calls for submissions? Or actors trying to sublet their apartments while they go out of town? Or sharing micro-reviews of performances and readings?

These resources are free, and the people who use them are young, smart, and savvy - exactly the demographic every arts manager is desperately trying to recruit. There's more to this problem than creating a Facebook page, or starting a blog (although those are good steps in the right direction). Wouldn't you want to be the person who cracked this one open?

In the meantime, here are some theatre-type Web2.0 resources:

Slideshare is by far the nerdiest Web2.0 application, which makes it by default my favorite. It's like YouTube for Powerpoint-type slideshows... but I promise, it is fascinating and amazing. I recommend this presentation on how the Web is transforming arts organizations.

TCG challenges theatres to make a 3-minute video about their companies

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

This is Cool... and Kind of Weird

In today's edition of Oddball Theatre News, the Seattle Shakespeare Company and the Wooden O Theatre Company have decided to "merge their nonprofit operations", as reported in the Seattle Times.

What's going on over there? Is this an example of Big Shakespeare Company eats Little Shakespeare Company, or is something much, much cooler happening?

The number of nonprofits (and specifically nonprofit arts organizations) continues to grow at an exponential rate (click here for an excellent report on this phenomenon). Many new companies have a hard time distinguishing themselves, and for good reason. How many new companies have you heard of that are "dedicated to new work" or "dedicated to supporting the emerging artist"? What does that even mean?

To be clear, I'm not hating on companies that say they want to support new work, or support emerging artists. There is no nobler mission, in my opinion. And I'm not saying MTC and the Roundabout should get married because they do basically the same thing. (Let's be honest, they do.) I'm just totally fascinated by the idea that two similar theater companies could look at each other, see two sides of the same mirror, and decide that they would be better off working together.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lyn Gardner on Producing

I am truly, madly, deeply devoted to Lyn Gardner's theatre coverage in the Guardian, and my ardor deepens with her current blog posting, "Producers are theatre's true champions".

I mean, how's this for a clear-eyed perspective:
These producers are not just supporting projects, booking tours and raising money but also providing the creative spark that brings particular artists together and actually initiates projects. Their work is artist-centred and does not diminish the role of the artist but actually enhances and enables it.
I think it's often hard to see producers/managers as anything other than nasty gatekeepers... which sometimes true, and sometimes way off the mark. But I think we've all known a few really great managers - people you feel totally comfortable talking to, and you feel confident that whatever you say or ask will be heard, and addressed fairly. People who are genuinely excited just to make art possible.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Lesson in Grant Writing from the Editorial Staff of the Onion

Want a free lesson in grant writing? The philanthropy desk at the Onion writes a near-perfect request for funding... for a fictional pole-vaulting foundation.

A friend once told me her singing coach regularly advised her to mimic how she thought an opera star would sound in order to sing well. This little article makes me wonder wonder if that approach could work for grant writing - write something you think is so outlandishly over-the-top in order to hit the mark.

Anyway, here's a quote from the article... it's very, very funny.
The statistics are sobering. Studies have shown that less than 5 percent of the poorest urban youth have adequate pole-vaulting facilities. Sadly enough, many schoolchildren have never even pole-vaulted at all, and less than 1 percent go on to pursue a career in pole-vaulting after leaving school. By comparison, 9 percent of American college students have received some exposure to the valuable character-building experience that sprinting full speed, stopping suddenly, and then elevating many feet into the air due to altered angular momentum around a fulcrum can be.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I. Love. This. Essay

David Cote gets it 100% right over at Time Out New York.

It would be my wildest wish to send any discussion of contemporary theatre in this direction. Positive, thoughtful, hopeful.

Three cheers!