Sunday, December 19, 2010

Is There Life For the Live Performing Arts After the Internet?

A Spoonful of Sugar

Can the live performing arts survive the Internet? Ben Cameron thinks it can. The Arts Administrator who serves as the Arts Program Director for the Doris Duke Foundation is speaking out on the subject. This past February, Cameron spoke with passion and enthusiasm to an anxious crowd-- his feelings and hopes for the continued prosperity of the performing arts.

Ben Cameron, Arts Administrator
Cameron expresses what many in the industry feel, a fear that the Internet and immediate accessibility of entertainment online, will affect who attends live events and how often. Should we be concerned? Yes. Is it the beginning of the end? No. He emphasizes that the live performing arts must be part of a new reformation in order to survive.

Probably the most important point Cameron expressed was that the arts “invite us to look at our fellow human beings with generosity and curiosity”. He goes on to state, “We work to promote healthy vibrant societies, to ameliorate human suffering, to promote a more thoughtful, substantive, empathic world order”.

In his speech, Cameron doesn’t offer any suggestion of how the arts will survive or what we need to do protect them. Instead, he offers a call to action; not to fight technology and change, but to search for ways to co-exist.

Initially, I was inspired by this speech. After several viewings, what really impressed me, was what is missing from it... Answers.

Will Technology Be the Downfall of Civilization?

As technology evolves, it becomes easier for us to be lazy and ineffective. The very tools we have to enhance our abilities to communicate, allow us to communicate less. People need to talk! Email, texting and access to new worlds of information through the Internet are only effective if we are effective. They were created as tools to use, not as a replacement for good old-fashioned communication.

How many times have you misinterpreted an email, reading in a thought or emotion that wasn’t there? The fact is, without face-to-face visual communication, it is too easy to read between the lines and miss the point entirely. When we communicate in person, we take in the speaker’s tone, speech pattern, energy and mannerisms and the actual words may take on an entirely different meaning. As it develops, communicating through video chat can be more effective. It fills in some of the gaps allowed by email and texting, but if you cannot see the speaker’s hand gestures and feel the energy or intensity that exist in the moment, there is still an opportunity for misunderstanding.

How Does This Relate to the Live Performing Arts?

As wonderful as technology is, nothing can replace the actual true experience of being there. When we watch world events unfold on television or online, we get a sense of what is happening, we may even feel something, but it’s not the same as living the experience. We are only distant spectators.

Nothing will ever replace the feeling or experience of attending a live event. If you haven’t witnessed this already, watch a video of an event that you witnessed first-hand. Ideally, make it something that made a huge impression on you. Good or bad, it won’t feel the same. One of the main reasons (aside from lost revenue) that there is such an outcry against bootlegged recording of events is the loss of integrity that  occurs. A live performance is ever changing. Performers aren’t ever going to be perfect—but that perception of a performance in a live situation is completely different when viewed recorded online.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had students watch performances on YouTube and make negative assumptions about a performer or production. It is not the same. It is completely unfair to try and judge a medium when it is viewed as it was never intended to be conveyed. What may be seen as a flaw when viewed online, may be the very element that makes a performance exhilarating, live and in person.

I have a friend that will say about a location or point of interest, “I don’t need to go there, I’ve seen pictures”.  This is so untrue! A picture may be worth a thousand words… but it can never equal the actual experience of being there.

Live performance is organic. You see, hear, feel, touch, smell and experience it. If we want the performing arts to survive, we have to remind people of that. We must encourage people that have never experienced a live show to do so. Most important, we ourselves, that profess to love the art form, must attend as many live events as possible. Otherwise, it could disappear. Then, technology ceases to be a tool and becomes our master misintrepreter.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Broadway Awarding the Best of Today…Building the Winners of Tomorrow

I Want To Be A Producer

Have you ever considered becoming a Broadway producer or investing in a show? Are you a producer or investor looking for some assistance in building the success of your show?

Broadway League Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin
Photo credit: Connie ashley

There are many industry and trade associations that exist to support the performing arts throughout the United States and worldwide. Some are broad-based organizations whose mission is simply to provide networking opportunities while others may have very specific goals and are tailored to niche markets. One of the most visible, and yet invisible, is The Broadway League, Inc. One look at the masthead on their site says it all: The official website of the Broadway theatre industry. Currently under the leadership of Executive Director, Charlotte St. Martin, The league focuses on education, professional development and building audiences for today and the future.

Never heard of them? Maybe you are familiar with the their work and just didn’t know it.

Founded in 1930 by theater owners and operators, their original goal was to assist in negotiations with the unions. They first expanded to include producers, and then touring productions and today leads the way in supporting the growth and financial viability of professional theatre on Broadway and beyond.

Still haven’t heard of them? Here are some of the many programs and services they provide:

The Tony Awards. Co-produced annually with the American Theatre Wing, the Tony Awards honor the best of Broadway each season. Probably one of the most visible things The Broadway League does, the nationally televised event honors some of the best contributions to theatre each year, behind the scenes and on stage.

The Broadway Concierge & Ticket Center. The League operates this valuable service inside the Times Square Information Center in the heart of Broadway (1560 Broadway). There you can purchase theatre tickets, find restaurant and hotel reservations and parking information in six languages. 

The Broadway Fan Club. If you want to stay current on the latest shows, promotions and ticket discounts, you can sign up online to receive regular updates.

Touring Broadway.Com. Looking for a touring production of a Broadway show? Search the database and find what shows and special events are coming to one of over 240 theatres across the America. You can search by show, theatre, or location.

Internet Broadway Database (IBDB). The most extensive archive of its kind, the IBDB is a searchable source for productions, people, songs, awards, theatres and much more. IBDB archives shows back to the earliest available information about New York theatre.

The Broadway league also sponsors two huge events geared towards audience development: Broadway on Broadway, a big Times Square concert event, featuring performances by the stars of current and upcoming Broadway shows; and Kids’ Night on Broadway, offering free tickets, special activities and education events to children, giving them their first magical Broadway experience. This event has expanded to add over 30 theatres hosting touring productions across the United States.

The most important work the League provides to the industry is in the areas of education and professional development:

New Producers Alliance.  Established and maintained by the Broadway League, the New Producers Alliance promotes the development of future producers and gives them a place to network and dialogue with established, working producers and other would-be producers. They hold an average of six panel discussions and networking opportunities annually that are also available to the public.

Commercial Theater Institute (CTI). In cooperation with the Theatre Development Fund, the League provides this invaluable training program for individuals pursuing commercial theatre producing. The two main programs they provide include an intensive three-day program that is open to the general public and a 14-week program available to a small number of professionals selected through an application process. They also published an excellent book, The Commercial Theatre Institute’s Guide to Producing Plays and Musicals (2007). The book is an invaluable source of interviews, advice and resource directory for producing professional plays and musicals throughout North America.

Research and Information. The League maintains the most detailed reports of statistics and demographics for Broadway shows and touring productions I have been able to locate anywhere online. There is a searchable database of Broadway grosses and attendance arranged by year, economic studies, and detailed studies of attendance for national tours. Some of the information is readily available to anyone and some is available for purchase if you are not a league member. They also manage a one-of-a-kind database available on a subscription basis, Stage Specs, A Technical Guide to Theatres. This is a current source of all the theatre technical specifications for many live performance venues across the United States and Canada. Here you will find current contact information, stage dimensions, seating capacities, load in and rigging specs and much more.

I just found The Broadway League website a few months ago and having been using it regularly ever since. Actual membership in the League is highly selective and is made up primarily of producing theatre professionals in New York and several other metropolitan cities. The services and information they provide are available to everyone. This year’s CTI Chicago Weekend Intensive will be held in March. I’m hoping to attend. The opportunity to explore the possibilities of producing commercial theatre with working producers would be an invaluable experience.


The Broadway Concierge & Ticket Center

Internet Broadway Database