Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Change We Need

Now the holidays are over, we can start thinking about resolutions, new years and fresh starts. Especially with one of the most historically significant events in my lifetime looming, it's worth thinking about change.

I'm a bit of a political junkie and this past fall, the internet was the equivalent of a crack house for me. I bounced around from blog to blog, obsessively pouring over polls, policy, strategy, as did most of the people I know. Several other theatre bloggers, like Isaac and Matthew, regularly post about politics. I've approached this blog with a fairly narrow focus, but I think there are lessons to be learned about how to change theatre from what we've all just experienced.

There is a correlation between the worlds of theatre and politics, in terms of culture. Both feature a cumbersome, white male-with-money dominated power structure. Both are ostensibly meant to serve the greater good, or the largest number of people, but, in practice, wind up serving those who can afford to participate. There are similar entrenchments and entitlements to each. I could go on, but you get the picture.

So we've just seen something of a revolution in politics. Not necessarily a political revolution (there's a lot that remains to be seen), but definitely a break with the strategies, patterns and processes that have heretofore "worked." In the end, not only were they successful in terms of electoral goals, they also brought a large number of new people into the conversation. Since "audience development" is one of the biggest, emptiest buzzwords in theatre circles, looking at how the Obama campaign did what they did as a huge exercise in audience development could be very interesting.

It's sort of a thought experiment. What could a theatre built on the principles of the Obama campaign look like? So, it's driven primarily by small donations. We cap donations at, say, $2,000. That levels the playing field a bit, because money does dictate influence. We move away from institutional/governmental funding, since there are limits to what they can give and, certainly in the case of theatre, limits to what the money can do in many cases. We create space for interactivity, actual communication between the theatre and our constituents. Generally, when theatres talk about interactivity, new media or whatever, it boils down to one thing: how can we tell them about our show? It's mainly one-sided. But people crave connection, not information. Whether it was ultimately true or not, the Obama campaign gave the feeling that the door was always open and the conversation was two-sided. We would make and depend on True Fans as our base and to carry our message. This is more than word of mouth; it's prostelytizing. It's commitment from the audience to what you're doing.

Obviously, in the end, a ton of other factors were involved, but the underlying structures are adaptable. Why shouldn't we try?


Anonymous said...

Awesome. It's the theatres,(or any type of company) that strive to communicate, to talk with instead of talk to, to connect with their audiences who will survive this time. As odd as it sounds, it feels like we're heading into a time of necessary human interaction. Should be interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you 100%!