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You Got To, ACCENTUATE…

If you have ever been blessed enough to spend quality time with me in a planning meeting for any theatrical endeavor you are sick to death of hearing me say, “We have two things: time and people.”

So I’m sorry Will and Megan.

On an indie theatre level you probably don’t have space, or money, but you have people who are passionate about what they do, and you have time.

Argue with me all you want on the time front, short of 6 shows a year you have enough time to do things the hard way. If you are doing 6 or more shows a year on an indie theatre level I would argue that you should buy a healthy life insurance policy.

Wrangling about “but my life is so hard” aside, given that you have only time and people: leverage them.

Look around your grocery store, how many celebrity magazines are there? 3.5 trillion? People love people. It’s a true truth. But looking around at theatre marketing in town (and previously in San Francisco) groups try to sell concept. I know I’ve been guilty of it.

 

(April Perez in Elektra)

Sell your people.

Put them on your posters. Put them front and center in your press releases. Build your pitches to local media around them.

Create shots they can use going forward.

Link your people to roles prominently so you can create a true history for your company.

A community needs it’s stars. It’s needs a talent base that it feels invested in, or it’s never going to commit.

Self Ad

While I’m thinking about it:

Bootstrapping video game designers in Austin?

I will do free voiceover for your game. I would appreciate a copy of the finished game, but I’ll even waive that if you’re really stingy.

You need the free talent, I want more VO experience. We all win.

Contact info is all over the place.

Big Shiny Hammers!

I do love a good exclamation point.

Adam Thurman is on point again, so we’re going to have to respond.

Mr. Thurman points out in his post, “Choose Your Weapons Wisely”, that it’s easy in a world of Software of the Day to try do be present on every service at the expense of doing anything of note on any of them…. so cut it out.

Which is off course correct. So please don;t read this as disagreement. To paraphrase Josh from the West Wing, I make it a habit not to disagree with Adam when he’s right. I am however going to repurpose his message a bit for people who aren’t representing established institutions. Like say… me.

When representing an established institution it’s easy to get message creep the further you spread yourself. It’s easy to waste the time you should be using on point for you next production or fundraiser in learning / fiddling / socializing. There is no real value add (for the company/theatre) in the extra granularity of the online relationship providing by something like Twitter.

If you’re part of a two man shop? That granularity, that fleeting one-on-one with someone a world away can lead to the resources you need to stop reinventing the wheel. Or a first step in creating a relationship.

I have been blogging here for a minute and built relationships with other bloggers, and to some extent made in roads with the theatre community here in Austin. But in my quest to keep this blog on task and not allow it to devolve into a personal mishmash of what’s in my head at any given moment (THE CARDINALS!??!?!) makes it difficult to just have a conversation.

I am very much in retail audience building right now. I had 253 people show up to my last show (nine performances). To be fully self-supporting I need (roughly) double that. For the next 2 years that means a lot of hand shaking and baby kissing. I need to be accessible, and to build relationship as broadly as possible.

Thankfully we do good work, so once we get a person we can get them to come back without begging.  But that first exposure is still a lot of legwork, and (I) you need to use whatever tools you can.

So circuitous story summarized: Don’t just use it because it’s new and shiny. But neither should you discard it immediately because it’s new and shiny. Check it out. Kick it around, and see if it can work for you. Does it help your workflow? Can it make your art/company more accessible and transparent?  You probably won’t know until you try it.

And for goodness sake, grab your name and your companies name on whatever it is that is gaining steam. Just in case.

In the dawn.. in the beginnings

As I mentioned, I’m trying to get my thoughts together about what an Austin Indie Theatre Alliance should be. For me this begins with my own exploration of what I think are the problems with Indie Theatre here, and from that base of problems to solve, looking at how “unionizing” can help solve them.

Unfortunately this leads to a lot of thinking about negativity, because I’m dwelling on the problems… so forgive me, I’ll be more than happen to post about solutions and positivity when we get there.

The thing about indie theatre is: how often do successful startups get founded by middle management?

This isn’t a slam on directors. It’s just applying their position in terms of a business model to the way companies are founded, and in my experience most indie companies are founded by a strong director with loosely affiliated actors and maybe a writer.

Speaking in loose generalities:

They have no business training or inclination, and the last task that gets done is the Work task. Promotion, publicity, and fundraising all take a back seat to doing the “fun” stuff and so we have the never ending cycle of startup and crash.

There is no slow buildup. There is no coproduction. There is no pitch to an existing company to work with them. There is conception, production and then business failure, because there IS no business.

Theatre companies don’t see themselves as startups. I haven’t been to a single Bootstrap Austin. Directors attend play readings not marketing seminars.

How do we change that mindset?

I’m not sure that a town the size of Austin needs more than 20 core (i.e. persistent) companies and 15 to twenty in the churn pile. But we need to find a way to help the persistent companies function more efficiently. Better long term planning. Better communication with other companies and with venues.

In my perfect world indie theatre companies would operate more like record labels. They produce shows in the style they want to champion, putting a back end on projects they believe in, rather than simply being a platform for one or two directors or writers to take whichever projects appeal to them at this moment.

SIDEBAR!!!

Given $20,000 and venue time I would produce:

2 Cambiare shows

3 works by other creators in line with the Cambiare Productions thrust which at this moment is derived works and “mash-ups”, and new media.

1 Monthly reading series driven by community choice (i.e. I’ve always wanted to direct this, I want to at least hear it Out Loud… I’ve always wanted to perform this role and I will NEVER be cast in it.)

1 Quarterly Festival  focused on spurring creation (writing) with a cash prize.

2 for me 5 for other/community. Because growing the whole is good for me. Poppa ain’t no altruist.

We’ll get there.

This year will see 1 Cambiare show, Out Loud, and some form of the festival.

/SIDEBAR!!!

We just need to stop the idea that focusing on the business of theatre is somehow antithetical to the creation of theatre.

(unless you know a money/venue fairy… then call me)

Resolute?

The theatrical tribal area of blog-o-stan is populated by pretty fiercely liberal progressives (socially at least, there is some variance economically). The cheering and weeping and hootin’ and hollerin’ over the electoral win of Barack Obama barely even hit a lull in between the win and Inauguration next week.

Now what?

He keeps rolling out what he’s going to do ($1T stimulus and waffle on Israel) but the slogan is Yes WE Can.

Ask not what 44 can do for you, your art, and your community – what the hell are YOU going to do?

For my part, this is the year I take my community building philosophies and see if they have legs. We’ll be meeting in the next couple of weeks to see what an Austin Indie Theatre Alliance wants to be, and we’re going to raise the profile of the Austin Garagetroupe Theatres.

What about you? How are you going to be the change you voted for?

Challenge to myself…

And to the search indexing spiders who are always listening…

I am going to track my time for my theatre work, paid or unpaid,  like any freelance consultant would for work.

Why?

  1. This is a job not a hobby.
    Tracking time will add a higher level of self-accountability
  2. I undervalue myself and my time.
  3. I underestimate how much work goes into each project.
  4. It gives information and ammunition for grant writing.

(now whether or not I can track total man-hours for a project is another thing)

There are plenty of web resources for doing this, and I will avail myself of them.

While Rome burns…

It seems idiotic to be as focused as I am on such miniscule matters as an Austin Small Theatre Alliance, or two new development programs, or the pre-production for Orestes while Gaza and our economy are burning. But there’s nothing I can do about the Macro so I’m going to fiddle away here in the Micro.

I have whatever the opposite of blogger’s block is. My brain is so full of things I need to get on paper that they’ve stopped making any sense. So I have to being parceling it out to get it in order for the first meeting of the Austin Small Theatre Alliance later this month and you are the lucky recipients of my excavations.


It’s not a secret that small theatre groups are bad at business. Heck, it may be a defining characteristic of small theatre that they are bad at business. But as I begin to lay out in my own mind what I think the goals of any sort of alliance of small theatre producers here in Austin should be it occurs to me exactly the depths of our ineptitude.

Small theatre has a massive self-induced perception problem. We (guilty as charged) have cast ourselves as Big Theatre’s impoverished country cousins. We whine incessantly about the lack of money in public, and try to excuse away our insistence on trying to make the same theatre that $10M Businesses do out of tape and cardboard.

We begin our interaction with the public by declaring that we are less than!

Let us instead look to a better, truer, and frankly more successful model shall we?

The indie musician.

I live in a town that has chosen to brand itself the Live Music Capital of the World. You would be hard pressed to find a restaurant, bar or pub that doesn’t have someone playing in a corner somewhere. But while they may complain about not getting paid as much as the big boys, they aren’t less than, they just aren’t recognized. It is acknowledged that what they do is no different than what The Stars

They also get the benefit of receiving the More Authentic badge for not having Sold Out to The Man.

I gotta get me some of that.

We are at a profound disadvantage because anyone with functional hearing can listen to both the Established Music Artist and the Independent Music Artist, and make a more or less informed decision vis-a-vis their merits. The same is not true of our indie theatre artists. Most people don’t have a lot of experience viewing professional theatre on any level, and they sure as hell aren’t watching a lot of indie theatre. So I can tell them I’m doing the same thing as any indie theatre company, and that my theatre is on par with Off-Off, but they have no real way of knowing.

And without knowing, we’re only going to get a fraction of a percent of the non-theatre involved populace in the doors. So we need to get to them. We need to be in the corners of the pubs and restaurants and bars showing them that they actually enjoy what we do. That we are part of their experience, not separate from it. We need to be the “gritty” authentic local artists that we already are, we just need to be all of that in front of them.

How?
Lord knows I’m not sure yet, and lord knows I’m not advocating an aesthetic shift for myself to “bar theatre”. But lord also knows that I will be burnt out on this by forty if the hordes of people avoiding my work continue to avoid my work.

A Picasso is art in a locked room. Theatre isn’t art until it is seen.