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Theatre Hero Joyce Kulhawik Loves Boston

I LOVE BOSTON and have ever since I first arrived  here at age 17 to attend Simmons College. The only city I ever really knew before then was NYC. So I’ll never forget driving into Copley Square with my parents, looking around, and saying, “This is cute- where’s the city?” And they said, “You’re in it.” Little did I know that this small but resonant place would reveal itself to me in rich layers over the years. My whole professional life has grown as has the cultural life of this complex town. You might say we grew up together.

The first production I ever reviewed on television was MY FAIR LADY at the METROPOLITAN CENTER (now THE WANG) starring Rex Harrison in 1981!  And of course there were a handful of homegrown shows– SHEAR MADNESS at the CHARLES PLAYHOUSE welcomed me onto their stage and I raced back to the station barely making my nightly deadline. I remember THE LYRIC STAGE when it was tucked into an attic on Charles Street, so cramped a space, our camera and crew could barely fit without becoming part of the show. There was the beginning of the AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER and its new Artistic Director–fresh from Yale and his famous student Meryl Streep– Robert Brustein; he invited all the critics for lunch at THE HARVEST in Cambridge to get acquainted and welcome us into what would become one of the foremost regional theaters in the country. THE HARTMAN THEATER hosted Jane Alexander and Tammy Grimes as they played Ibsen and Saw respectively; shortly thereafter, the witty Michael Maso arrived with the wonderful HUNTINGTON THEATRE CO.

I am amazed at how many people in this community have stayed close to those roots like me: Karen McDonald who sprang from THE NEXT MOVE and later blossomed at the A.R.T. Spiro Veloudos who roamed the ramparts of THE PUBLICK THEATRE and landed at the now-expanded LYRIC STAGE; Sandra Shipley whom I first saw at BOSTON SHAKESPEARE CO. back in 1981, who continues to resurface, most recently at the BCA.

We now have, despite the harsh climate (even harsher after Obama’s latest budget cuts) a thriving, variegated, homegrown theater scene with companies large, small, grand, modest, fringe and experimental fleshing out every corner of the city. I am so excited by the new Calderwood Pavilion, the Paramount, The Modern, and The Opera House which I remember when it was still encrusted with scary things and haunted with possibility. And I am still intrigued by the tiny, mysterious spaces where companies like WHISTLER IN THE DARK spin theater out of thin air.  Spring is in the air, and yes, I am still here looking toward the sun, very happy to take my seat in the dark waiting for something to sprout.

To learn more about Joyce Kulhawik visit her blog Spontaneous Acts of Joyce

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Me, Inc.

by Jeremy Johnson

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a Luddite.  I used to state this proudly but I’ve grown to feel a bit uneasy with this mindset as I look at the rapidly changing world around me.   Ironically, I got some quick background on the original tem by Googling it and reading up on the Wikipedia entry; “Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the 19th century who protested, often by destroying mechanized looms, against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life.”

I know how they feel.

As much as I struggle to incorporate new technologies into my life, I find I have just as difficult time translating these new forms and resources into my career as a theatre artist.   I’m not completely lost in the cyber world; I enjoy having a Facebook account and I finally learned to text a while back.  I have never blogged or Tweeted anything and I don’t know what an App is.  I feel somewhat stuck in the middle of this new technological revolution; interested in some of the advancements but slow to follow the crowd and unsure of its uses.

I am currently reading Crush It! Cash in on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk and while the macho, frat-boy,  cyber-slang (“biz-dev” and “he’s totally killing it with his awesome content!”) make me a bit nauseous, the author still has some interesting points to make.    This is not the first book to tell me that I need to consider myself, my passions and my ideas as my own “personal brand”.  As distasteful as I find this idea I am attempting to let go of my judgments and preconceived notions while I absorb the reasoning.   Vaynerchuk posits that becoming an expert in your field and using every available form of social media can potentially lead to attracting the attention of those that can hire you and give you additional opportunities to “strengthen your brand equity.”

Thinking of myself in the same terms as a Nike sneaker or a bottle of Gatorade is a disturbing thought.  It feels as if there is an inordinate amount of focus on the packaging or exterior when dealing with ourselves in this way.   Have we moved from self-improvement to self-packaging?  Although the author stresses authenticity is that really possible with this approach?  At what point am I boxing myself in so that I’m only thought of as directing a certain type of play?  How does the artist use these forms of social media to support their career without oversimplifying their identity down to 140 characters?

As you can tell, I’ve struggled through this book, however I hit a paragraph that chilled me and is forcing me to reexamine my point of view; “If you’re not using Twitter because you’re in the camp that believes it’s stupid, you’re going to lose out.  It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid, it’s free communication.  That in and of itself has value and you should take advantage of it.”  It is easy for me to judge the communication and think it worthless or superficial but I am in a business that relies on communication of all kinds.

I am the first to admit that I have grown to love following my friends’ lives and careers through social media and I have seen many theatre companies embrace these tools as well.  I have read stories of artists documenting their work and reaching potential donors through YouTube.    In coming to terms with this new and intimidating technology I’ve decided that the best approach should be the creative one.  Rather than looking down my nose at these changes, how can I use these various tools in the ways that I choose to use them?  We are in an exciting and new landscape of no rules.  There is no “one way” to do anything and as artists it’s our responsibility to learn the new technologies in order to expand what they can do.   Up until now, I’ve feared that I have to change myself to meet the technology rather than change the technology to meet my own individual needs.

A quick look back at my predecessors is enough to get me thinking.   In 1813 in York, England three Luddites continued to fight progress and after killing a mill-owner were hanged in the public square.

Excuse me, I’m going to go check out that Tumblr website again.

About the author

Jeremy Johnson is a director living in Boston, MA.

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The Regulars Part 2

by Marco Paulo Carneiro

How well are we doing at knowing our patrons? Many of them were with us the week before, and they’re back to see our show a second or third time, this time with friends. Are we doing enough to remember them, and truly say thank you for their support? Are we recognizing their continued contributions and applause, their commitment to our work through the good and bad times? Some of them are what allow us to exist (especially for we Fringe-ers).

There is so much (necessary) talk about what we can do to create an interactive experience for our audience. But how far can this go if the audience doesn’t feel they could comfortably fit in with us at a mixer, post-show talk or even in a piece of interactive theater? We should know our regulars. Remember their faces, remember their “orders,” try to remember their name and make sure they know who you are. Find out what their needs are, what would make for a better patron experience. Invite their thoughts in person. Online forums and discussion boards are invaluable, but I guarantee they will feel like they are literally part of our team if you take some time –make some time- to get their views right there in the theater. And feeling like a team member leads to dedicated patrons who are just as excited for the next production as you are. They might not be the hotshot reviewer you want to impress, but their insight and opinions -especially when they start contrasting past, current and future plans for repertoire, facilities, etc- are incredible ways of knowing if what we’re doing is clear and consistent with our mission and vision; their opinion is a way of knowing if we’re having an affect at all. They wield incredible sway power within their own communities and can help make or break the public success of our work, even if the success isn’t what we’re after. They help keep us grounded so that we don’t overlook the basics. And all of that makes for the beginnings of a great foundation for dialogue-driven community.

In the end, knowing our patrons is all about the community we’re all building together with each passing day of readings, productions, exhibitions and conversations. Knowing them gives us feedback, provides us with loyal support, and allows us to keep growing in our Boston community. The more we know our patrons, the more they’ll want to know us. So please, take some time to remember who gets the extra-toasted bagel. It could be the best thing you’ll ever do to help keep the homegrown movement alive.

 

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The Regulars Part 1

By Marco Paulo Carneiro

I’m still working towards my undergraduate degree, and it’s been a long way coming. Granted, I took time off/sometimes lightened the course load in order to work some fantastic freelance gigs and develop self-started arts opportunities throughout Boston and beyond. I even got paid! But, as grateful as I am for all of those wonderful jobs, I’ve always had to look for part-time work to put some extra coins in the piggy bank. For the most part, it’s been in retail or the food industry.

For a while now I’ve worked at a coffee shop. While serving out beverages and pastries, you start to remember the regulars who come in everyday ordering the same drink or asking for their bagel to be extra toasted. From there, we start being able to converse with them about the products they like, what they did on the weekend, and how their grandmother’s gallbladder surgery went (if nothing else, it helps pass the time when they’re awkwardly staring at you, impatient for the milk to finish steaming…) Right then and there, we’ve connected and discovered something about our customers, and we’re also able to find special ways to fill their needs. All this is from simple conversation – the “filler” stuff. For some of us, it’s only natural that we should remember and be able to create this experience; they come in everyday and we are good at making those connections. For others, it’s actually a big effort to remember so they too can make the customer feel welcomed and known while expediting a regular’s order. Either way, the customer will walk away feeling appreciated and special; we accomplish that much through simple conversation and maybe even a familiar smile.

Now, I go out of my way to treat retail and food service workers well; I know how hard they are working – I’ve been there, I sympathize. But, it’s not often I get that special treatment I try to give out, mostly because I’m not really a regular anywhere. But when it does happen, I have to admit it feels great. Suddenly you’re a VIP whose name and needs everyone knows and the other people around can only wish they had their product delivered with such love. Right? (RIGHT?) Anyway, you can imagine how great I felt when I had a similar experience when I walked into a small-town, family-owned, homegrown bakery while visiting my parents over the holidays. I hadn’t been there in years and I was bundled up with a scarf and furry hat covering most of my face. I was hardly halfway through the door when the saleswoman looked up, remembered me from at least five years earlier and said, “You’re picking up for Olivia?” (Olivia is my mother). To think that after years of being away and being half-mummified in polyester-blend winter wear, she could still remember me and whose son I am. Maybe she just has a good memory; she certainly has a flair for being familiar with customers. And she even thanked me for coming in again. “Again.” As if I was just there the week before. And that’s where this is going.

About the Author

Marco Carneiro is the Managing Artistic Director of the Boston Stage Company. www.bostonstagecompany.org

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Heart, Head & Hands: Food/Theater/Community Part 2

by Candelaria Silva-Collins, copyright 2011

The audience is there, we just have to build it.  I will share a few ways that I have built appreciators In both my dedication to home-cooking/breaking bread with others and in bringing people to theater.

Invite people – consistently, frequently, in a variety of ways.

I invite people to meals cooked by me at my home regularly.  A lot of the invitees have been surprised because they are not my friends, they are acquaintances.  Nearly everyone comes.

I never go to theater without a companion – from performances at Huntington Theatre, by Company One, Wheelock Family Theatre, Speak Easy Stage Company  and the African-American Theatre Festival (to name but a few) – I bring someone with me.

Inform people

I share recipes and theatre reviews & information both informally through emails and more formally through blog posts.  If I like something, if I find something provocative or interesting, I share it.

Throw the net widely/reach beyond usual comfort zone

When I was Director of ACT Roxbury, I informed broad networks of people about our events.  I didn’t presume to know who would or would not be interested in our events and initiatives.  I didn’t let geography hamper me.  So I invited Roxbury residents, residents of surrounding communities and people in the metropolitan area.  I participated in the Multicultural Committee of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to inform visitors about the plays we produced and the Roxbury Film Festival, for example.

Organizations like StageSource, Underground Railway Theater, and Bank of America Celebrity Series were open enough to have events at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, coming outside of their usual territory to meet the audiences we attracted.  Similarly, we hosted events featuring Roxbury-based artists in other communities including National Heritage Museum (Lexington) and Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (Boston seaport).

Collaborate

There is strength and expanded capacity in collaborating with other organizations on joint projects and in promoting each other’s events.  No organization is ever the only game in town.  No organization ever has an exclusive hold on or right to an audience.  People like variety, choice and to try new theater and food on for size.  We have to make it as effortless as possible for this to happen.

Educate and Nurture Future Audiences

Exposing children to well-prepared food and excellent theater prepares them to get hooked on these kinds of experiences.  We have to create future audiences and artists by going into the schools and community centers where young people are.

And don’t forget adults. Go to where adults are – community organizations, churches, gathering spots like restaurants, hair salons, and the Super Stop & Shop in the South Bay Mall, for example.  There are communities of seniors who would relish the opportunity to attend theater. (I work with Door2Door to the Arts to bring senior citizens to arts and cultural events using the vans that were previously mainly used to transport them to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping.  In one year, we have brought seniors to nearly 50 events!)

Affordability/Marketing

In addition to the pay-what-you-can performances, ticket give-ways, discounts to community organizations, and ticket discounts through Bostix, we need to empower venues and staff to aggressively market unsold seats in the moment.

We need to pretend that no one knows who we are and what we do and inform them through public theater in places like South Station and Copley Square.

Food and theater connect people in a world where many people are becoming more comfortable with the remotely connecting through electronic portals than face-to-face. We all need food, we all need art in real time and actual space.

Holla!

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Heart, Head & Hands: Food/Theater/Community Part 1

by Candelaria Silva-Collins, copyright 2011

A good meal, like a good play, requires the best ingredients no matter how straight-forward or complex it is.  As an appreciator of live theater and home-cooked, food, I see the connection between these two life-affirming, life-sustaining entities.

Food, slow food, lovingly home-cooked (and locally source when possible) requires a lot of collaborative efforts.  I cook with the memories, cooking lessons, and history of meals tasted and meals cooked coursing through my hands. I learned to cook by being in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother.  I refined those lessons through pouring over cook-books, recipes, cooking shows and videos.  I count on the farmers and their staff, the grocery stores and farmer’s markets to bring that food to me.  I rely on the hungry mouths of children, husband, friends and family to appreciate my artistry.  My cooking means nothing without appreciative (or even just hungry) mouths to eat it.  There has often been theatricality in the rooms where I’ve dined, especially with family.

Theater, too, is a collaborative art.  It springs from the imagination of the playwright and all of those who nurtured a love for language and stories in that playwrights’ mind.  The playwright needs the director and stage manager and crew and the actors, of course, the actors who are the spice and heat and utensils that bring the play to life.  An unseen play is an empty vessel indeed.  Theater needs audiences to experience, appreciate (or denigrate) the food it provides.

Meals and theater spring from, reinforce and invigorate community.  Food is sustenance, a necessity that can be elevated to an art and is most special when delivered with love.  Theater is sustenance, necessary to souls and intellect.  Both are repositories of history and hope and visions for the future.

Great food and theater are cultural mirrors that yearn beyond the particular to achieving universality.

In this age of multiple appointments, rushing and busyness, quick food and quick entertainment have more adherents, it seems, then slow food and real theater. Yet there has always been and will continue to be a desire for food and theater that have been well-crafted.  This desire is not just the province of afficiandos  – it is bubbling throughout society.

About the author:

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a Facillitator, Consultant, and writer living in Boston, MA.  Follow Candelaria’s blog  Good and Plenty or visit her website www.candelariasilva.com .

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Reconciling Institutional Success with Audience Engagement

In today’s global marketplace, arts organizations of all types are vying for the attention of an increasingly busy clientele. Contemporary audiences have less time to attend more functions and events than ever before, and potential concertgoers are always on the lookout for experiences that are unique and valuable, on their own terms.  In order to confront this dilemma, orchestras, opera companies, and other arts institutions, including theater companies are redefining their role as intermediaries in the performance process. Indeed, incorporating the artistic voices of audience members through participatory behavior has become a principal operating mechanism for many organizations.

I’ve recently spent some time trying to come up with a conceptual framework that helps us understand how arts organizations can engage potential audience members by reconciling traditional institutional practices with the blurring of professional and amateur performance culture (i.e. the Pro-Am Revolution). Arts organizations of all types have experienced a shift in the way young audiences associate with art, as they move beyond simple interaction by helping to imagine, plan, execute, and evaluate artistic events as equal stakeholders. Although much of my own work has taken place in the context of the orchestra world, it seems to me that theater is uniquely situated to foster lasting relationships with new audiences. Many of the characteristics inherent in theater: including drama, tension and resolution, and communication?make it an especially effective medium for impacting and inspiring audiences?especially new, young audiences.

Case in point: in my recent work with the University Musical Society (UMS) a major arts presenter in Ann Arbor, MI, I oversaw a study questioning how organizations might create innovative participatory experiences for the next generation of artists and audiences. The result: a new series that has UMS working with professional actors, student leaders, and a major business school to introduce non-arts students to various facets of artistic creativity through a theater skills workshop. The reception has been almost universally positive, with students and faculty alike praising the applicability of theater techniques to life off the stage.

So what do you all think?  What do non-artists (if there is such a thing) have to learn from us, and what might we learn from them in return? Does such an exchange hold value for audiences and arts institutions alike?

Michael Mauskapf is a PhD candidate in Musicology at the University of Michigan, where his work investigates the intersections between musical and organizational practices in America. He has presented his work at conference in the U.S. and abroad, and his research has been published in various journals and books, including 20Under40: Re-Inventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. He is currently managing partner of Symphony Bros., LLC, a consultancy that helps artists and arts organizations tackle the unique challenges they face. (see www.symphonybros.com;  blog: http://symphonybros.wordpress.com; twitter: http://twitter.com/symphonybros;  facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Symphony-Bros-LLC/110406145676610)

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