Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Storefront Theater Summit?

So, some general thinking out loud about the Summit this weekend...

All and all I would say that this "summit" had humble beginnings. And maybe that's to it's credit.

1) At the end of the evening, I spoke to one of the guys who had helped set the parameters of the meeting. He said that it hadn't occurred to him that folks had previously tried for years to organize and maintain these sorts of collectives. Some of us who mentioned this fact on the blogosphere wondered if we would be heard. And I think we might have. The question was asked, "what were the obstacles/roadblocks to previous attempts?"

2) I was asked if I thought the evening was productive... I said I'd know in 30 days. The reason is that the evening's coordinator, Andrew Hobgood, said it would take him and his team that long to process the data they had collected, disseminate it back to us, and figure out the parameters of the next meeting.

Ambitious, but nobody ever got anything done, but not being ambitious.

3)The majority of the evening was spent attempting to discover what folks in the room needed/wanted. The theme of "communication" was the launching point, but with so wide a premise, the ideas and issues brought up were extensive. I'll stick primarily to the items exchanged at my table, but I reserve the right to jump on any idea that I fancy.

The notion of smaller/younger companies getting a big brother/mentor company was brought up. I wonder who out there has had any success with this sort of thing in an official and sustained capacity?

(Warning-I expect some folks to disagree with the following)

Some things to look out for if you are entertaining the notion of a mentor theatre company. You should make sure that your mentor isn't too successful yet. Why? Because day to day issues and tactics of a larger company aren't going to always work for a smaller company, and for alot of organizations once they reach a certain threshold, how they do business as a six figure theater company is exponentially different then how they did business as a five figure company. Finding someone who is maybe just a few seasons ahead of you (approximately 5 lets say) might actually produce more tangible instruction. Everything from house management, budget allocation, press interaction, marketing, etc... is going to be a little closer to home, a little more immediate, a little more meaningful.

Also, I am not sure who/which companies out there really have the time/energy to plan any sort of comprehensive mentorship. The folks who are succeeding don't suddenly have alot of free time on their hands to address another company's concerns. Actually, with success comes less time to consider another's plight.

I like the idea I call "Show Me a Page in Your Playbook". This idea might be in line with what others envisioned as "Best Practices". Rather than committing to any sort of standing big brother relationship to a single company, if there are participants at the summit that believe they have something valuable to share, then condense the lesson, and make it a powerpoint, or present it as ten minute talk. This could be anything from top 5 open source software apps that keep your company running, how to interview freelance technicians, how we sell tickets/fill houses without subscriptions, etc.

Another idea we talked about was using the "summit" to get as many theatres into the room as possible, but stop trying to find an all encompassing vision or goal that say all 25 companies would employ. Rather strive to find out who in the room would make part of a good subset of the summit. Find just two or three other companies that you have an affinity with that you believe is significant. Same size budgets, striving for a perceived similar audience, individual companies that are struggling in the same ways your company is. You don't need a "summit" to hunt out those people, but it doesn't hurt. Less city wide thinking and more attuned networking.

One thing I was very thankful that didn't come up (seriously thank you all for not going there) was the idea of rebranding Chicago Storefront Theatre. Whereas, I agree branding is essential for individual companies, engineering a city wide umbrella brand is in my opinion jumping out of the frying pan into the fire when it comes to accurately communicating to audiences what we do.

Not to throw the branding baby out with the bathwater...If we are going to focus branding efforts as a group, perhaps the thing to brand is the CTDB? Would a brand help get more people excited about this?

I have trepidation to adopting a code of ethics as an body of theatres. Ethics are essential, but they're either so established as to be not worthy of mention, or they start to get refined in a way that requires negotiating the various shades of grey to each others' principles. A code of ethics invites us to analyse not only ourselves but also each other in a way that is wasteful and distasteful. Any code of ethics that could be reached easily would, I fear, be tepid enough to be meaningless. Is this a bad idea... I will say that I think it a waste of our collective time together.

Other folks who were there... what other ideas did you find interesting, entertaining, bogus, promising? I think it is worth talking about. Give the folks who are running it time to collect their thoughts, but a little discussion can keep our momentum going.

Prop Co-ops
Hubs for communication
Other Ideas?


RebeccaZ said...

Deb Clapp was sitting at our table and said that the League offers a Mentor/Mentee - ship, but that the smaller theatre has to approach them first, which I questioned her about because it would be nice to know what theatres would be interested as Mentors.

And, again, for those of us who don't want to pay the League membership fee, it would be great to come up with alternatives to what the League offers. The more you pay, the more they offer, but if your budget is so thin that you can't pay and don't find it worth it, in the long run, then what good is it for the little guy?

devilvet said...

it isnt that I don't want to pay the membership fee... It is that I need a clearly communicated value. Everytime I email or talk to someone at the league... I'm told there is alot of benefit (and maybe there is), but then they point to hottix, and when I say "ok what else?"... I usually dont get a solid response.

Deb and her team probably have something to share, but I dont know where to go and find it... And I am not in a position to pay them any money until I get to see everything.

Here's a idea, if you want companies to consider league member, how about a test drive? Let me in gratis for six months... if it is worth it, I'll discover that in six months and then continue.

Deb? Are you listening? Forgot Don for a minute and talk to the Devilvet.

Dianna said...

How was the "tenor" of the evening? Were people very open to new ideas, or did you sense a lot of resistance?
What was the general makeup of the room? (3 people each from 10 companies, or 1 person each from 30companies, etc)
I'm no longer affiliated with a theatre company, so I didn't feel it appropriate for me to go, but I'm interested in how it all went down. The good the bad and the ugly.

I think your LOCT "test drive" theory is an AWESOME one.

devilvet said...

The overall tenor was positive, hopeful. There were perhaps a dozen or so companies... a number of folks who were there and work consistent with companies, but established themselves as sort freelancers first. There was even an actress who (if I am remembering right was new to the city). League was there. Well established but smaller storefronts like NEO-Futurists to folks who are new to the scene like Bare Bones Theatre Co. (less then 5 years is new, anything less than 3 is zygote).

Where there was hope that something could come out of this, many of us were local that until follow through happens, it aint nothing but free beer and bullshit.

I think that there is potential, I think most people felt that way. Many of us are now waiting and wondering. As I said in the post, I think most folks are reserving judgement until 30 days from now.