Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Watermark Magazine

Two of my very talented business associates just got a nice honor. The cover of a magazine!  See below.

Drew Mancuso (professional makeup artist and wardrobe for New England Ballet) and Kenneth Hopkins (professional photographer and Artistic director of New England Ballet) photographed comedienne, Christine O'Leary, for Watermark Magazine. It's adorable and to make it even more incredible, she was in a hot tub.  They are just that good.

This is just one example of the talented professionals that NPT will be working with and can hook other folks up with! Both Jamibeth and myself know a ton of industry professionals who will be great for the "mentoring" aspects of our theatre.

Different than a class on acting or photography. It's professional "mentoring".  Imagine getting to watch and work with Drew and Kenn on a professional shoot as a high school senior.  Or getting to turn pages for a professional accompanist while they play for a Broadway audition.  Or getting to "shadow" a corporate event planner as she makes her rounds for the day.  Maybe you get to sit in on a meeting of sales reps for Broadway shows or get to watch and help a professional Broadway sound or lighting designer at work. Side by side with the professionals.  All of that is "theatre" in the broader sense and certainly something that we could set up given our contacts.

You would also get insider info like, "How the heck did you get that makeup to stay on in a hot tub?".  Drew Mancuso recommends "Motives, by Loren Riddinger".  It stays on your face for Broadway shows too!

Friend them on Facebook:
Kenn Hopkins Photographer  and 

Drew Mancuso 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Children's theatre

This weekend I made a good connection with a non profit group called Quill.
http://quillentertainment.org/  Quill Entertainment creates, produces, and distributes enjoyable. family-oriented musicals based on American history to educate children and families about our country's ideals.

As NPT is not in the market to create children's theater and yet has "mentoring" as one of it's objectives, this might be a good "sister" non profit.  We brainstormed utilizing their expertise in creating shows for children, and our expertise in promotion, teaching and connections to schools.  One of their founders is Stephen Lawrence, who composed about 250 songs for Sesame Street in addition to other award winning songs and scores.  

This group is also very connected in Greenwich and they know one of the key people in that original drive to start a performing arts center there years ago.  Just a good thing to put in my mind for later....

I can think of about 17 ways we could work together with Quill and further each other's interests.  Networking always has to go both ways, and they get this as well.  I suggested a few ideas to help them with some PR for their group, get them into more schools, perhaps work with us over the holidays. 

Again, working on a model that has non profits working together as a collective whole supported by other for profits that would benefit from being associated with us. Making it a no-brainer for everyone. 

Speaking of Greenwich, we booked another non profit gala for NPT to help with in September.  This group supports seniors and we will be performing at the Greenwich Hyatt.  At Home, in Greenwich http://www.athomeingreenwich.org/

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ideal model for developing a "Cultural Identity"

This model is the ideal I think:

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has transformed a downtrodden section of Downtown Pittsburgh into a world-class Cultural District that stands as a national model of urban revitalization through the arts) 

Their website starts out like this:

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has overseen one of Pittsburgh’s most historic transformations: turning a seedy red-light district into a magnet destination for arts lovers, residents, visitors, and business owners. Founded in 1984, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is a non-profit arts organization whose mission is the cultural and economic revitalization of a 14-block arts and entertainment/residential neighborhood called the Cultural District. The District is one of the country’s largest land masses “curated” by a single nonprofit arts organization. A major catalytic force in the city, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is a unique model of how public-private partnerships can reinvent a city with authenticity, innovation and creativity.
Using the arts as an economic catalyst, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has holistically created a world-renowned Cultural District that is revitalizing the city, improving the regional economy and enhancing Pittsburgh’s quality of life. Thanks to the support of foundations, corporations, government agencies and thousands of private citizens, the Trust stands as a national model of urban redevelopment through the arts.
 I have worked for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera http://www.pittsburghclo.org/ (not actually an opera company, they bring in Broadway performers etc for musical theatre shows) and I got my Equity card there. 
My favorite part is the part I have bolded in the section above.  This is a model that is proven and that works.  The city was transformed through it's cultural arts in partnership with it's smart developers.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dressing up

REpost from NY producer (Godspell) Ken Davenport.

I agree with this.  The community in which we are thinking of locating would also support this I believe. Again, you can create your own "shock and awe" if you set the bar high enough and if you have a "tribe" of folks that will help you set the example.  So if you see others around you coming to theatre in a nice suit or dress, modeling upscale behavior, I think you pick that up as well and it makes the whole "event" more special.

I have a travel outfit.
I sleep on planes (sometimes more than I do at home), so I snuggle up in a pair of cozy track pants, the softest and loosest long sleeve shirt I can find, and a sweatshirt that sometimes doubles as a pillow.
I am wearing that ensemble right this second as I prepare to board a red eye from Portland to JFK.  And as I look around the terminal, everyone else looks pretty casually dressed as well.  Some, to be honest, look pretty sloppily dressed.
But that wasn’t always the case, now was it?
Used to be that you dressed up to fly.  Remember that?  It was a high class event to board a plane, and it deserved the respect of a nice outfit, maybe even a tie . . . but certainly not track pants.
See where I’m going with this?
Used to be the same thing for the theater.
It’s really quite amazing how trends in the airline industry parallel so many of the trends in our industry.  Premium seating, intense discounting, high priced union labor . . . and even dress.
Obviously, it’s more practical to dress more casually when traveling, especially long ways, and especially on red eyes.
And, dressing more casually requires less effort and is more comfortable if you’re going to the theater as well, right?
But here’s the rub . . . dressing up actually helps assign a greater value (and yes, a higher price) to the experience.  Seeing a bunch of suits and dresses make other attendees believe that they are at a higher class function.  And higher class functions are more expensive by definition (think Galas, Black Tie events, Weddings, etc., etc. ).
So, if more of your audience is dressing up, they are probably more willing to pay a higher ticket price . . . just because the value seems higher.
I’m not saying you’d see some kind of massive uptick in full price sales if you had a dress code at your theater (and we’d have to be careful about audience attrition if they didn’t feel like they belonged), but I do wonder if as unofficial dress codes in this country disappeared, discounting started to pop up at the same time.  (I don’t have that timeline data, but it feels like they occurred at similar times, doesn’t it?)
People are not price resistant.  They are value resistant.  If we want people to pay our prices (which are high and always will be high), we have to make sure the value of the experience is even higher.  We do that by making great shows, first and foremost.  But the environment our theatergoers are in can have more of an effect than we think.
I’m going to make an effort to dress better when I go to the theater from now on.  Who’s with me?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Triple Threat

A triple threat in the theatre world is someone who can sing, dance and act. It is what we strive to be.  Now that the world has seen "Sweeney Todd" and "Company" on Broadway there is also a new term, "Quadruple threat" as we all played instruments as well.

As an actor, the more skills you can offer on your resume under the "Special skills" category the more you have a chance to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes it is: "sings parts well, works with children well, juggles, tumbles, plays flute" etc.   Sometimes it's fun, as in: "terrific scream, can recite alphabet backwards" etc.

We actors are trained to not only be exceptional at our craft but to be interesting additions to ensembles and casts.  A smart theatre highlights the skills of the actor in PR and marketing the shows they offer because newspapers and TV folks need a "hook" that is more than just your next show.

An actor also must network and keep in touch with the important people who can cast them in shows. Must. It's not how good you are in most high end circumstances because everyone is good, it's who you know and how well you fit the "breakdown" of what the director is looking for in that character.

Apply to theatre:  Theatre is the "actor".  Not the building.  If a theatre is great at offering it's "shows",  that might be one skill set.  If it wants to make it in today's "one stop shopping" world, it should expand it's skill set.  Perhaps by being great at PR, or being the "connection" to stars in other fields like rock, pop, jazz, art.  Maybe it offers good classes to corporations. Perhaps it creates it's own buzz with paparazzi that draws attention to the restaurants, gyms, boutiques in town. Maybe it lines up fashion shows for the local dress shops and utilizes it's reach to models and photographers.  All of that goes under "special skills for a "theatre".

What if they also were good at organizing events such as "The Arts and Ideas" festival in New Haven? Or The Newport Jazz Festival in RI.  Or The Lancaster Festival in OH.  Or Jazz at the Lake in Lake George.  A little outside the normal skills that are required of a theatre, but certainly a plus to a community in terms of drawing in a new set of folks to the area as well as business to local stores, hotels and restaurants.  A cultural "arm" and reach that a community might not already have.

Then, what if it also adopted the attitude most successful actors have?  "Here is what I can do for you in this show.  If you want it, great, if not, someone else will".  I'll keep on auditioning.

Now if you are a "normal" theatre, that has set down roots (a building)  first and you have already defined yourself as just a "show-offering entity" you are stuck if that is not all that the community needs and supports.  But if you stay "virtual" for a while, you get to be part of "auditioning" the areas that need you.  You can find out what they need in addition to your professional shows.  You can fit the "breakdown" more if you get to know the community.

Networking will be necessary and goes both ways. Them with you, and you networking them out to your own contacts.  Side note: Between Jamibeth and me we have so many industry contacts and such a long reach, that it's almost hard to find a person we can't reach.

In the beginning of an actor's career we sometimes have to go over and beyond the norm to be able to add that show or theatre credit to our resumes.  We have to be flexible and unique and open-minded if we want to be "working actors".

Why shouldn't a theatre have the same mind-set?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sing for your supper

My latest obsession is to find successful models for the development of a community that involve a major cultural expression alongside of the commercial development.

One of our Advisory Board members took Andy and me to Jersey City a couple weeks ago to check out Mana Contemporary.  http://www.manafinearts.com/   "Advancing Relationships and creating a single community" sounded right up our alley.

Mana started as a moving/storing company of fine art and they bought an old factory (as well as other buildings) in Jersey City and turned it into this wonderful 6 story cultural center. They store fine art on one floor in a state-of-the-art warehouse (that is their commercial side), they have a gallery on the 6th floor (pix below) of wonderful artwork and two floors of artist studios (which are completely rented out and have a waiting list-also commercial) and they give some non profits the chance to use their huge rooms for dance, exhibits etc.  They are putting in a little shop for artist materials (commercial) There is even a wonderful cafe that has juice, muffins, sandwiches, coffee and great cookies.   All in this one super large space. Artwork that can be viewed (but not a museum), side by side with commercial use.

A cool part is that a lot of the employees are also...the artists!  So the security guard, front door receptionist, etc, are actually some of the artists that display in the building! They have a "stake" in the success of the venture.

We got a great tour of the building and also heard about upcoming free fine art events.

Now, I am biased, but I think if they are doing that well, about the same distance from NYC as Stamford, why wouldn't a performing arts organization be able to do even better in a building that that performing arts group helps to manage? Sort of like when you are the caretaker for a mansion and you live there in exchange for running the place in a commercial type way.

Be in charge of renting it out to other performing groups, events, non profit galas, dance studios, choir competitions and concerts, bands, photography groups, corporate trainings and so on to make money for the owner.  That can be the commercial side. Especially if it's a space that has a theatre stage, pull down screen etc, and also removable seats.  The theatre helps to book it out for free since they "live" there.  Then that theatre group can do their season of shows there too.  Many of the booked groups would be staying overnight or bringing business to the area and can stay at the nearby hotel. Obviously so would the theatre's shows.

Not only that, the theatre company could be the "entertainment division" of the owner of that building or corporation and be able to help with booking stars, or performers for anything that corporation needs. Working hand in hand with the event planner and freeing up some time for them.  Kind of like singing for your supper.  AND what if they had a series of classes to offer the employees of that corporation/landowner like "Public speaking" or "Professional look" or whatever was needed. Free for them because, we live there.

Add to this the fact that this theatre has major credits in working with Non profits. So they can be the sponsoring corporation's "Charity Navigator" and make them look really good just by doing what they always do, which is entertain and help raise funds for other non profits.  The corporations name is always attached now to any non profit work that the theatre does thus increasing their "reach" of goodwill.

The same way Mana combines their commercial use and their non profit art in one space, is one model I find impressive and successful and that can be applied to theatre.  If you expand the idea of what "theatre" can be for a community and you let them Sing for their Supper.  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Change is good

I love to repost marketing guru Seth Godin when it applies to theatre. 

"Understanding stuck

Is there a human being alive who is capable of getting to an airplane who doesn't know how to buckle his seatbelt?
Given that we have 100% seatbelt understanding among the flying population, why do flight attendants repeat the instructions literally millions of times a year? (Low and flat across the waist...)
It's stuck.
Like so many policies, beliefs and procedures in our organizations, this is a ritual that's stuck. To get unstuck, organizations need two things:
a. a vacuum and,
b. a willingness to ignore dissent
Change gets made by people who care, who have some sort of authority and are willing to take responsibility. Often, though, finding all three is tough, particularly when faced with the immovable object of the stuck organization.
One approach to getting unstuck is the clean sheet of paper. Dictate that the speech before flight is going to change, that the menu will be redone, that the qualifications are going to start over, from zero.
Now, instead of needing an unanimous vote to remove something, merely demand that you need a passionate voice to add something.
For years, the Yahoo home page was stuck, with literally hundreds of links on it. No one could take a link off the page, because unanimous consent was impossible. Once Google decided to start with a completely blank page, a different approach was possible.
Move your team across the street, open a new location, completely rewrite the employee handbook, throw out the standard sales script--by creating a vacuum, you give your team permission to invent."
Kinda like starting a theatre company without the actual "space" first and pushing the boundaries of how"theatre" has normally been defined for a community. 
Side note: it helps tremendously if you have a team that believes, contributes and enjoys the ride with you!  When I first started speaking to people about the idea, one businessman suggested I just start a "Goodspeed 2".  I agree with Seth, it's much easier to just start with something fresh and create a new model from that.  IF you are passionate and have a plan, you can enroll others in that mission.  Shun the non believers and move forward.    :)