Monday, January 12, 2009

Round and Round

I like this little blurb in Entertainment Weekly because it seems to give a fairly balanced view of what’s happening on Broadway. Yes, a lot of shows have closed but there are also a bunch of productions getting ready to open.

I’ve been thinking about the discussion that’s been simmering along about production values, professionalism, and the state of Richmond theater. I have to admit, there are many business-related and functional aspects of theater that I have only marginal familiarity with. I don’t build sets or raise money or develop marketing for local theaters, I mostly just judge the results.

But some lines of thought in this discussion are familiar to me from a longer-than-10-year relationship with a private school in Richmond called the Waldorf School. The school uses an alternative education model, all of my children have attended, I’ve served as the school’s administrator as well as on its Board, yadda yadda yadda. Anyway – growing the school’s attendance has been a recurring problem. We always think if more people knew about the school, more would send their children there. But particularly when we were smaller and growing, there were often administrative and functional glitches that would turn people off. This, plus the problem some people would have anyway with an alternative model, has tended to keep attendance down.

This is a huge oversimplification, but what I’m getting at is that there is a chicken / egg problem with many small or growing organizations. Getting people through the door is key but what people see when they get through the door has to impress them to keep them coming. To impress people, you need resources. To get resources, you need people. And round and round it goes. At the same time, you have to get people past the fundamental hump of viewing theater as an “alternative” form of entertainment versus something as bread-and-butter as TV or the movies.

I don’t have anything like the answers here (if I did, attendance at the Waldorf School would be much higher!) But it does seem like one crucial aspect of success is turning the potential downward spiral (low resources = low production values and less professional productions = low audience interest = low resources) into a positive spiral (high audience interest = more resources = better production values = higher audience interest).

Theater companies have done this; for Theatre IV, I think the production of “Quilters” many years ago was one of the keys to kicking things into a positive spiral (that, plus hours and hours of tireless work by Bruce and Phil). I am hopeful Stage 1 may have done this with their first two outings (Ragtime and tick, tick…Boom!) I also realize that it’s just one piece of a very complicated puzzle. Still, I tend to think it’s a key piece.


Anonymous said...

I thought Quilters was at HTC around 2000, or was there another production as well?

Grant Mudge said...


Have been interested in the ongoing commentary. Will echo your urging in a previous post; I'm encouraging all those involved in the discussion thus far to attend Cultural Action Plan discussions---2 left, tomorrow afternoon and evening. Here are the times & locations again:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Cultural Center of India
6641 Ironbridge Parkway
Chester, Va. 23831

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen
2880 Mountain Road
Glen Allen, VA 23060

I'll be at the evening one at the Cultural Arts Center. Tonight's turnout was great at Pine Camp.

Dave T said...

Theatre IV first did "Quilters" back in 1985-86. FYI!

Anonymous said...

Ah, okay. Thanks for clarifying on Quilters, Dave. Had only remembered the Glen Allen version.