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#BTC11 Isn’t Over

The conference is over, sure. But the conversation, and the work, continues.

First of all, thank you to everyone who came to the conference, participated, ran a break out, sat on a panel, volunteered, worked (for months) on the committee and participated virtually. As you all know, a conversation started on Sunday, with Chef Lynch’s speech and the panel. And then on Monday afternoon, after some very productive lunch discussions, the conversation continued, and morphed into ideas that are going to be hashed out in working groups. And finally, Michael Maso provided some context, and inspiration, in his closing address.

Though I started at StageSource on February 7, I feel as though my first day was last Tuesday, the day after the conference. I was both exhausted and exhilarated. Mostly exhilarated. And the feedback I’ve been getting this past week has fueled more ideas.

We have started a StageSource blog where we will be posting some of the information from the conference (including reports from breakouts, my speech, Michael Maso’s speech and information about work groups). And we will continue to use the #BTC11 hashtag on Twitter to share ideas, or keep the conversation moving.

I am so thrilled to be working at StageSource during this exciting time. And I look forward to working with all of you.

Julie

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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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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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Whistler In The Dark’s Meg Taintor Talks About Community

I talk about community a lot. About getting artists and lovers of art together and starting conversations about the work that we’re doing: how it is, what it needs, how it could be better.

In fact, last summer, I was being interviewed for a preview piece in the Globe about the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston‘s upcoming FeverFest and the reporter interrupted me at one point to tell me that all my talk of “getting the community together” and “getting the conversation going” wasn’t actually going to make it into the final piece that she would run, because it felt too touchy-feely. Which is odd, right? That the idea of community-building and talking about the work being done in that community has the faint smell of patchouli attached.

I didn’t end up giving her that much more to work with, because what has always excited me about FeverFest and what excites me about the Alliance itself is that very idea: that something crucially important happens when people who make art in a city come together in a room to talk about and support the art being made. And that the conversation that starts in that room continues into other rooms and other theatres and takes on a life of its own.

True to her word, not a sentence about that idea made it into her article.

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I grew up outside Boston, coming to shows in the city throughout my childhood and teenage years, but I hadn’t lived in the area since high school. So when I moved back to the city and founded Whistler in the Dark Theatre six years ago, I had no community here: I didn’t really know anyone. And I’m kind of pathologically shy about meeting new people, so finding a way into the community that was here was daunting.

So, I took a different approach. If I didn’t know the people making the art, I could at least familiarize myself with the art. So I went to dozens of plays – not nearly as many as Larry and Barry, but a lot – and I got to know Boston through the work that was being done. And then, slowly, I started asking people whose work I respected out for coffee, to talk about the work and the city and the community that I was discovering. Those conversations helped shaped the niche that Whistler carved for itself – our place in the ongoing artistic conversation became clear through watching and listening to what the other companies were choosing to present, and how they were choosing to work.

The process that I went through, of meeting this city’s artists through the work that they do, is what our audiences do every time they walk into one of our theatres. And from my experience of our audiences at Whistler, if we give those audiences the chance to deepen that moment of meeting, they will. Our audiences are generally smarter and more curious than we give them credit for being – if we can find a way to include them into our work beyond simply sitting back and appreciating it, they will.

So we, like many of the other theatres in the city, have been doing just that: a more approachable presence online with Facebook and our blog (we’re still figuring out what that whole Twitter-thing is about…); Friday and Saturday night post-show receptions in the theatre where we encourage the audience to stay and share a snack and a drink with us and talk about the show; semi-monthly new-work readings followed by moderated discussions between the playwright and the audience. And now, when I greet our patrons in pre-show, or talk with them after the performance, or respond to the emails I get in the mornings after shows, I feel like my community of collaborators has expanded out one more circle to touch all the people who choose to spend an evening with us in the theatre, working with us to understand the play we’re presenting.

The next step, the one I’m so curious about now, is how to make that conversation one that our audience wants to continue long after they’ve left the theatre – one that expands out not only to bring in more audience, but that sends our audience members on the same journey I went on – of exploring the full range of Boson theatres in an expanding circle of knowledge. I know my audiences will and do see shows by our close collaborators, companies like imaginary beasts or Mill 6, and often shows by other companies in the Alliance, thanks to our new cross-promotional program insert, but how do we engage in the audience on a city-wide level, not just theatre by theatre?

This is an exciting time to be in Boston. The emergence of so many new small and fringe companies, and the growth and development of our midsize theatres mean that we have more artists working and more artists engaged in the process of making this town a more exciting place to be. The Small Theatre Alliance of Boston is fostering conversation and collaboration among the emerging artists in the city. And the Boston Theatre Conference aims at focusing our attention on continuing to open up the conversation to include and empower our audiences.

I so look forward to getting in the room with you all in February, and talking about art, and life, and collaborations.

Meg Taintor is the Artistic Director of Whistler in the Dark Theatre. She is also a proud founding member and the President of the Board of the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston, an organization dedicated to fostering the growth of small theatres and emerging artists in the Boston theatre community.

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