Monday, March 21, 2011



How do we keep them coming back?  

You get a young person to come to a show once.  How do you get them to come back again for the next show, and the next. Then as they get older, how do you get them to not only buy season subscriptions, but to spread the word to their friends?

Given the free options like Wii, Hulu and Xbox, etc how do we get young people to understand that what Pete Seeger said is true, “Participation: That’s what’s going to save the human race.” 

I’ll tell you what not to do.  I sat through a chamber music concert this weekend and while the performers were highly talented and had the credits to prove it, I had my doubts that the three young people there (out of 65 audience members) would be inspired to come to another concert.   

I would love to say that having talent and the appreciation of the arts should be enough to draw an audience.  But “if you build it they will come” just ain’t working anymore!
Instead of having five, over fifty, great string players performing yet another 5 movement Mozart and 6 movement Brahmns in the typical fashion why not make it more interesting to today’s MTV crowd?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking the musicians to wear Hawaiian shirts and dance around the room, although there are fun groups that do that.  I am simply asking for some creative marketing/performing from people who want their art form to survive.  When the blue hairs die, who will take their place?  

You may say that is the job of education/outreach programs and I agree, but since every single one of the performers yesterday also taught at a college, why not employ some ‘educational’ aspects for the rest of us? There is also the trickle down effect of music programs being severely cut back in schools.  Who is picking up the slack? Performers need to.

For instance, please talk beforehand and explain to me some of what I am hearing and why Mozart wrote it. Use props. Play a bit of the themes to listen for and fun stuff instead of sending me in blind.   I am a musician and I was bored.

One of you listed that you played on the recording of a movie score.  Maybe you could program your concert with one fun, movie score type thing for the youngsters.  One of you listed in your credits that you were a photographer and graphic artist.  Bring along a big screen with slides of your work that goes along with one of the pieces.  Visual aspects that keep us involved are what will help keep the teens interested. And some of the adults. 

We can’t all be YoYo Ma, but we can learn from his charisma and showmanship. It’s important that we not only offer our talent and the artwork, but that we build our tribes by keeping them involved, educated, entertained and engaged.  We can’t just force our world view as artists on other folks if we want to keep our audiences coming back. We do have to meet them where they are and entice them to come back.

Relate this to our theatre project.  We met with the Economic Development office this week.  As I started to explain the project to the head of this department, I realized quickly that I needed to pull back my energy.  I get very excited and speak quickly, which is good for some folks and overwhelming for others. Usually I just tell folks to “keep up” but since we needed this woman to get excited about the project so that we can keep building our tribe, I switched gears and adopted some of her style, with Deb and Keyan by my side, and presented our ideas.

In a week we will be going to the town meeting for “Reinventing Stamford”.
We have to pick a group to attend while we are there. Mine is Group #2 Winning the Future through Mentoring.  And I quote from their download: “The development of a diverse and complex society can only be achieved by engaged citizens in every segmentof our community.” Armed with our Four Points we will all spread out and find even more folks who we can educate and engage.  Now is the time to build the audience and potential donors. Now is the time to meet people and understand their world view so we can move ahead in a way that benefits them as well as us. We can’t force our ideas but instead we have to find out the problems and goals of this city and offer what we think to be a good solution.

It is extra work. Yes.  We do have to think like business people even though we are artists.  Yes.  Would I just like to present great theatre and hope they all come to see it? Yes!  But as I analyze theatres that have gone under recently, that is what they seemed to have done. Just presented their world view of why live theatre should exist.

Randy West, Executive director of the Way Off Broadway theatre in Iowa is one of those directors who is taking aggressive steps to getting more youth to the theatre.  He has a great program that offers discounts to the theatre/speech kids.  He actively educates his audiences and involves them. I am lucky to have his advice and experience a phone call away. 

Advice to my Western Connecticut State students who now subscribe to this blog: Think about how you can use these ideas in your music programs to help parents and kids understand the importance of music by making it exciting and relevant to them.  Bring in a good local rock band.  Create a “battle of the bands” concert.  Involve the sports teams/coaches in some fun way.  Create a “Glee” of your own.

Remember the goal: The more people who are exposed to the arts and who can learn from the arts, the more creative problem solvers we can develop in the world. That participation really does benefit the human race.

Recommended Reading:  Neurolinguistic Programming for Dummies.

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