Theater For The Future

The Art in the Business of Theater – Collaboration Tools and Technology and the Storefront Theater Movement

Archive for September, 2009

Air Traffic Control

September 29, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: productivity

Why are this blog (and other blogs) so quiet these days? We’re all landing planes, folks.

Sandy on Marshall Creative:

if you work in project management, you “land planes.” Big projects, small projects — all planes that need to land safely and in one piece. Some are built for transatlantic flights, some have already been in flight for a week and we’ve been brought on board to refuel and and recalibrate. Some are gliders out for a quick spin.

I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am on days like this for fairly simple and reliable technology like Basecamp and Omnifocus, but more importantly, good collaborators: Sandy, Dan, New Leaf, and most especially Marni have been landing some pretty critical planes in some pretty stormy weather.

Today was one of those days that I knew could have been a day of crisis, of disaster. In chaos there’s always the chance of mid-air collision. Everything needed to be grounded ASAP. We had about seven planes running on fumes, and fourteen more on the way in the next couple weeks. And the team responded. And the planes lined up. They’re still coming in, but now they’re neatly spaced, with plenty of room between them.

It’s a real good feeling when you earn your beer at the end of the night.

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Theatrical El Nino

September 27, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, projects

One apparent result of Chicago theaters’ collective reactions of the economic climate change was to predictably shift rehearsals away from August and December to reduce overhead during those budget-sapping months, which resulted in a massive glut of show openings that began about two weeks ago and will continue pretty much unabated through November.

I feel lucky that the four shows I’m working on in various stages this week are all awesome.

  • Stoop Stories – Goodman (two performances today!)
  • Lucinda’s Bed – Chicago Dramatists (cueing this morning!)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday – New Leaf (finalizing cue list!)
  • End Days – Next Theatre (first rehearsal this week!)

Here is one of them for you.

(and yes… this is also a reminder: Come talk to me about what your theatre wants to do for a video for Theatre-a-day, and help spread the word that we are looking for a video mini-feature from EVERY theatre in Chicago – one a day until June. The countdown will begin when we can put together 20 videos to start us off.

In the works for that project: Stage Channel and several theatres including New Leaf are offering support in the form of training, flip cam usage, and other resources. Details coming soon.

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A Challenge: Chicago-Theater-A-Day

September 20, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Collaboration, Community Building

So perhaps you haven’t heard yet:

The TCG National Conference is coming to Chicago in 269 days (as of this post).

At the recent host committee planning session at the League of Chicago Theatres for Chicago’s contribution to the festivities (many many cool events, opportunities, and ideas are in the works for all sizes of theaters, and we’ll need your help putting them together) someone made a pretty simple observation: 269 is approximately the number of active theaters in Chicago.

So someone else threw out the idea: What if we created a youtube channel, and featured a video of a Chicago Theater each day until the conference? 3-5 minutes, something that gets at the heart of what makes each individual theater unique. Like the World Theater Day Tumblr feed, those videos then become a living document of all kinds of information and voices in the Chicago scene. As the TCG Conference makes plans to arrive in Chicago, they’re also getting a really accurate cross-section of the full breadth of Chicago Theater – yes, the Goodmans and Steppenwolfs, but also the Timelines, the Griffins, the WNEPs, the Steeps, the Ruckuses and the Factories. Take this video from the Neo-Futurists, which sums up nicely the energy contained in their shows:

So I put it to you Chicago: Can we make this happen? Can your theater put together a low-investment, quick and dirty feature video that perhaps communicates the content of your work, or the communities that you serve – the heart of what makes your theater exciting and unique? Maybe this video is something you can put together quickly, maybe it’s a clip of something you’ve already made, maybe it’s a 5-miniute flip cam video (I promise you: you know someone who has one. We’ve got three.)

Here’s what I see as the potential benefits of this project:

  • Create More, Think Less.
    Translating the energy of live performance or the way we put live performances together to the video format takes a certain amount of creativity. It’s super-easy to not do it well, and like anything, it takes practice, and takes a strong conceptual impulse to do right. As someone whose theater has gotten a lot of mileage out of a low-cost trailer video, I can tell you it’s a good skill to develop if you want to have an audience, no matter what kind of marketing budget you have. It doesn’t need to be polished – though it can be if that’s your identity – it needs to simply communicate who you are and what you do and what it’s like to be there.
  • It’s an effective visual census
    I have this nagging doubt that one of our biggest challenges as a theater community in Chicago (though the problem is shared by other theater communities) is that each theater, especially small theaters, has a delusion of uniqueness. Yes, of course we are unique – we’re different collectives of artists, with different resources and interests – but we are often off the mark when we try to pin down and communicate WHY we are unique. It’s clear to me after the past few years that data alone isn’t enough to convince us of this. Of the seventeen-or-so new companies out there this year, even in a post-Rob Kozlowski/CTDB world – I’m still seeing a predictable amount of repetition of purpose, mission, positioning, and communications. (Don’t feel bad if I singled you out here – you’re so very not alone. But… fix it.) There is a lot of “we are going to change the entire world. Through theater.” But as we all learned in our first acting class: Show Us instead of Telling Us. Putting our faces and our work out there in a public, shareable format lets us collect and really see ourselves and what we are really capable of creating in a greater context, and releases us from the temptation of hiding behind shiny words. It lets us learn by comparison, while also showing the country the true diversity of what we have here.
  • It equalizes the playing field while Chicago Theater itself has a platform
    One of the dangers facing the theater industry is that the financial structures that currently have a ton of money and influence aren’t necessarily the models that will survive in the future. The climate is changing fast for the arts: The dinosaurs may die out, and the rats and cockroaches may have an evolutionary advantage. Even if that idea is dismaying to you, you gotta deal with it to survive. By showcasing all of chicago theater’s various models and approaches in an equalizing format (everyone can get to youtube, but not everyone can fit into the Side Project), we get much closer to a real theater lab environment – we can see what is truly exciting, even if it doesn’t currently have the marketing power to push itself into the forefront of the conference.

Contact me via email or via twitter with your video, or if you need help. Spread the word, and let’s help each other get real, rich exposure to every theater company in town. And stay tuned as we put this together – I think the results will be exciting and eye-opening.

This post brought to you by Ian Martin of Atomic Fez Independant Publishing, who bought me a bottomless cup of coffee at a delightful brunch this morning. My hands are still vibrating with excitement and caffeine.

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The Big List

September 03, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

An exciting announcement from the League of Chicago Theatres today:

In Jan. 2010, the Chicago Theatre community gets a city-wide patron database.

Boom. Right? There’s the necessary checks and balances to retain patron privacy and list autonomy. But even League member theaters who have *not* been tracking data will now be able to use this pre-built and pre-calibrated system as part of their League membership. As someone who both knows how to build a versatile database but still finds his company using a big obnoxious excel spreadsheet for this task, I say yay.

Theoretically, the big list would allow for the tracking of deep patron data – such as city-wide theatergoing habits of individual patrons. This would be a massive first step for small storefront theaters who are trying to gather real, actionable marketing data.

On a large scale, it’s also conceivable that this kind of data gathering could really shed light on exactly how big the Chicago theater-going audience is – and how big it needs to be to support operating companies.

I found some interesting thoughts on the TRG website, as well that comes from data culled from other cities that have tried this system – such as this finding that rented mailing lists and a season subscription campaign don’t exactly lead to success – specifically, rented lists can usually only scrounge up a 0.4% subscription rate. Huh. I knew it didn’t work, but I didn’t realize it was equivalent to setting all those season brochures on fire in a hobo oil drum.

Way to go, League. You’ve earned this:

(h/t ZeFrank)

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