Facilitated by Stephen Burdman – Artistic Director of NY Classical
How often are you in a room with artistic directors and artistic leaders from across the globe?
This is a very special opportunity.
I want to talk today about season planning.
We consider a lot of things in the selection of our season:
-who are we as artists?
-who is our audience?
-what is our potential income?
We have everyone here from 20k to 20M companies.
I got a call recently from someone on the board of a theatre company wanting to start an “artistic committee” because they weren’t sure the artistic director should have authority to make the season decision … Stephen diffused their worries and said “no.”
THE BOARD — open discussion with focus group participants
Free festivals – don’t have to worry about butts in seats — doesn’t necessarily mean we can do what we want because our audience members become our individual donors who we rely on for support.
Q: Why do you feel strong enough to “do whatever you want”
A: We have an audience who comes to us because they like what we do … its not about play title.
Q: How much do you rely on your audience for donations @ NY classical?
A: 60 – 65%
Group Member: Coming from a company working in NY area… doing problem plays was easier because audience is more shakespeare savvy.
Group Member: At the end of the soviet union we brought in a soviet to do a play… witty, bilingual artistic director who charmed board and energized board and audience – the board ended up asking “can we bring in more famous people?”
Group Member: In my own personal opinion there are only about 6 truly marketable comedies by shakespeare … and we feel we must put the most performances into these shows, most marketing based around this… these productions keep coming around every few years. Starting to learn to give “B” shows “A” billing by testing them out on our smaller stages first and then moving them to the MainStage after they are proven to be successful.
Group Member: I want to go back to talking about the board issue again… their concern is the bottom line… when do they become invasive in the artistic process? Earlier in my career the board of a company I was leading had a great big push to bring celebrity names in… good for fundraising but don’t want to put them onstage — difficult balance between pressures in mid-level company… financial vs. artistic pressures. How do we manage this?
Group Member: Utah shakespeare has two boards: an advisory board and a governing board… governing board only has fiduciary responsibility — this may be heresy but I am increasingly in favor of them being involved in artistic selection — we start talking about plays but then the board hasn’t read the plays… unified decision making helps when choices aren’t as successful as we had hoped. Maybe the “buy-in” is really important… when you seek out their advice the choices tend to be more successful.
Group Member: Board has a great sense of who the audience is because they are also our patrons, and they start out as patrons.
Group Member: I lead a free professional shakespeare company: season selection driven by audience… NOT JUST WHAT AUDIENCE WANTS TO SEE BUT WHAT AUDIENCE NEEDS TO SEE. — Asking audience through surveys what they want to see. “Delicate relationship of trying to bring them up on shakespeare in a way that helps them love it.”
Group Member: I am personally scared because i have seen plenty of directors who have “lost it” and are phoning it in — living a life of shakespeare, where you are doing 5 hamlets, 6 AYLI… how do you take care of YOURSELF? As an artist, director, human.
Group Member: After graduating school I told myself “I am an actor, I shall never sit behind a desk!” — … but it is so much more! We are in a position of privilege … we have a new Managing Director at Bard on the Beach who wants to take away as much management responsibility so I can focus on being an Artistic Director. Balancing life with work… as artists “we’re all in!” How do you keep it all going? It’s not easy…but the alternative is not something I am willing to address.
Group Member: I read an article in a magazine where someone said “the world doesn’t need another production of Twelfth Night.” — yes, me and my friends don’t need another production, but most of the people who speak the english language haven’t seen it yet. Setting the expectations for the next generation.
Group Member: What keeps YOU going?
Group Member: Education programs and the children. I require that my actors leave the dressing room through the lobby. You are a rockstar. Two actors say goodnight in costume every night. Audience reaction helps inspire me and “sets my soul on fire.” 200 seats cannot support 30-40 people – must supplement with education programs.
Group Member: I have a rule where I try not to repeat more than every 7 years. Time to do midsummer again – “What the fuck am I going to do?” — said to myself “find a way to re fall in love with this play.” Sometimes we find the inspiration, other times…. you are a professional. Get out there and do your work!
Group Member: Every few months or so I go to the national gallery and remind myself “Oh yeah, this is art!”
Group Member: after having done it a couple of times, I have strong opinions on the plays… maybe i need to get out of the way and hire someone I trust to direct it
Group Member: going back to season selection — anything that is a non-comedy is a slight drop-off, we cast in rep to keep equity costs down… free for anyone 18 and under, changes our selection because we won’t do TITUS for that audience.
Group Member: when we did seagull we had .05% of our audience under 18, but we more than made up for it in adult attendance.
Group Member: we create seasons by themes, and by talking to company members about what they would like to be doing — we do an “A” show in our main space and then more challenging/risky work in the “B” space. Difference in space provides variety and artistic challenge.
Group Member: did you find your audience reduced or expanded when you do the non “A” shows?
Group Member: At Utah Shakespeare Festival our numbers are down, we are saddened by this, but we also predicted this. I make sure to take time to shut my door and say “no.”
Group Member: Repeating is not terrible as long as you find variety through actors, setting… how do we keep our family-oriented space with tragedies?
Group Member: Speaking of dwindling numbers… how are you guys feeling? How are we doing?
Group Member: STA is helping us continue. This open, sharing community is keeping me afloat.
Stephen: wrap-up, we just had an incredibly successful collaboration on twelfth night – STA is a great resource. Please, collaborate, talk. We are a small group in a very big world.