Okay so in case you don’t have time to read the whole manifesto I have a few, simple practical recommendations for fixing theaters – and arts organizations in general. If you’re interested in help, I’d be happy to help your organization innovate and thrive. But for now I will break out three simple things to keep in mind:
TRANSPARENCY is the most important thing. In this day and age its all going to come out in the wash eventually, so you might as well start from a place of openness and transparency. Open up your process, do away with secrecy and clandestine attitudes, invite your constituents into the process so they feel invited, informed and empowered.
ACCOUNTABILITY. Just own it. Whether you succeed or fail, own it. People are generally okay with failure if you’ve been open and honest going into a situation and if you really accept responsibility for your actions. If your constituents are on board with what you are doing and it doesn’t succeed as expected, its just a setback, not an existential crisis. Make sure everyone is informed, be transparent and open, identify who is responsible for what and hold yourself – and everyone – accountable for the situation.
PARTICIPATION. We no longer live in a one-way age . Everything is at least bidirectional if not multidirectional, so invite participation in your organization. Not just giving money, not just talkbacks, but honest to god participation. Have a town hall and listen to your audience/community -what do they want? how can they be a part of what is going on? don’t just offer them a season and hope for the best, reach out and ask – what issues are they interested in? what forms? how do we connect to your lives? how do we connect you to each other? its not about building audiences, its about building community, real community.
As I wrote in my response to Jaime – I’m not suggesting that ALL theaters or venues crash and burn. I’m suggesting – nay, imploring – that mainstream theaters embark on a process of reinvention. Part of that process is unleashing the creativity that already exists within organizations – listen to that 25 year old entry level person. Listen to the intern. Listen to the new generation – don’t just “market” to them the same old crap. Really listen and be open to change.
This existential hysteria has people paralyzed – but its not an existential crisis. Its an identity crisis that can be solved through vision, imagination and perseverance.
I have always been delighted and inspired by how adventurous and forgiving audiences can be if you give them a chance. Invite them into the process of transformation. Become more transparent. Create dialogue. Engage. Don’t think of them as audience members but as participants. Live performance is special because it only exists when people are watching, listening, being present.
The Establishment needs to radically renegotiate their relationship to their constituents and re-imagine themselves not as “live entertainment providers” but as facilitators in the great discussions of our times, cultivators of compassion, insight and wisdom, participants in cultural conversations.
If we start down this path and really, profoundly commit to growth and change, there is great possibility for success, reinvention and reengagement.
Footnote: you can check out in depth coverage of TCG over at feisty newcomer fat kid, who has a much more insider-baseball write-up on the whole thing.