I've been spending a lot of time this summer reading Drew McManus's blog Adaptistration, after I happened on it just before the end of the school year. Drew is a prolific writer, and has published an article virtually every day since sometime in 2003. I've only made it through 2009 so far, but it's been fascinating reading.
Among the many things that Drew returns to over and over are the questions of how to make an organization socially relevant and financially solvent. That is, how to attract and keep an audience.
Throughout these early archives, Drew emphasizes relationships. He is constantly urging groups to communicate between management and performers, and reach out and genuinely listen to the concerns of stakeholders such as board members, performers, administrators, and the audience.
This has gotten me thinking about some topics that I first approached back in the spring. I work with two organizations that are trying to build an audience and a reputation. One of them, the Players Theatre Company in Conroe, claims a 50+ year heritage of community service through theatre.
And yet it has a vibrant, young competitor right across the street. Shows rarely sell out, despite a relatively small auditorium to fill. This suggests to me that their reputation doesn't speak for itself enough to attract unify the community behind them. How can they improve their standing?
The other company, The Woodlands Chamber Music Project (Facebook) (Instagram), exists in a somewhat untapped market. The northwest Houston area doesn't have any homegrown chamber music ensembles or performances. We want to bring this music to the area and generate some interest in the music, both new and old.
But so far, our three audiences have been made up almost entirely of family and close friends of the performers. How do we attract outsiders and people who aren't already invested in us personally? As we move forward, I want to discuss these things with my fellow organizers.
The live and performing arts are always struggling for their lives. Even artistically adventurous, culturally relevant organizations rely on donations and grants to help make ends meet. I still get calls from professional companies in Houston asking for donation. Is there any way a performing arts company can generate enough interest and find the correct balance of income and expenses to self perpetuate?