I keep writing about collaboration between theatre making organizations, but until now, I haven’t given a very clear picture of what form that collaboration should take. Here’s a stab at it. The following is a collection of events that could be held, some every year others every month, to realize as much collaborative benefit as possible.
Three year season outlook: Artistic and literary leaders of theatre companies gather to share with each other candidate projects over the three upcoming years. There would be some benefit in reducing surprise conflicts, but the main goal would be to plan for at least a few multi-company artistic opportunities in each year. Some of these might take the form of co-productions. Some of them might be agreed on time frames during which several companies do a Carol Churchill play or a work that responds to Churchill’s body of work in some way. Some of them might be the choice of a particular historical or social issue that several companies will explore through works they produce or present during a specific time period. The key idea is to have a regional story to tell about a collaboration happening across the theatre scene. In a community with a modest number of companies, each company might take a turn presenting current thinking for upcoming seasons and recommending any event ideas they already have. In communities with larger numbers of companies, draft season plans could be circulated beforehand and people could request slots in the agenda to recommend specific events. Another alternative would be for each company to create a science fair style table display of upcoming projects, allowing others to wander the hall and look for opportunities. Bonus points to the community that invites other arts organizations to participate in this process as well.
Upcoming Season Meeting: Ideally held shortly before seasons are officially announced. This is a last chance opportunity to notice any synergies between projects scheduled for the upcoming year, perhaps buddying up pairs of productions in some cases that will have a particular artistic or marketing synergy. Format can be similar to the three year season outlook, which should always be held at least four months before the upcoming season meeting.
State/Municipal Advocacy Planning Meeting: Financial and fundraising leaders of theatre companies gather to plan strategy to advocate for arts funding. Held about five months before your local state or municipal budget goes to a vote for the year. This is a chance for all the companies to coordinate messaging and activities around influencing up the total local government arts funding available. If state and municipal budgets are on different calendars, this might need to happen twice each year. This particular meeting will be much more effective if other art forms are also represented.
Media Resources Review: Marketing and audience outreach leaders of theatre companies meet to review the media assets of the community and look for opportunities to assure the media are well positioned to encourage playgoing. Media is in rapid transition in many of our communities. Newspaper readership is plummeting, neighborhood and local issue bloggers are burgeoning. Patterns of social network use evolve rapidly. It is almost certainly beyond the scope of any but the largest companies to keep track of which media will be most important for creating playgoing over the next seven years. This event is intended to allow communications leaders across the community to both share insight and to make plans to support or reinforce those media that are most effective at encouraging playgoing. This same meeting might also provide an opportunity for long range discussions of coordinating the media calendar among companies.
Venue Availability/Needs Assessment Review: Production managers gather to talk about available venues in the region and needs for those venues. Ideally, some pairings of dark space time windows and space needed time windows get matched up during the meeting. Probably, the community will also be found to have either a net excess of venue nights or a net shortfall. In either case, the findings of this review can be used to drive creation of additional projects or even additional companies to fill excess nights or build advocacy to identify or create additional venues in the event of a shortfall. Some companies will probably be more adept at leveraging non-traditional venues and can share those capabilities with companies lacking that expertise. In any rate, a room full of production managers talking about space will generate some interesting ideas.
Special Event Coordination/Deconfliction Meeting: Fundraising and audience outreach leaders gather to place fundraising and friend raising events on a master calendar while still in the planning phases to avoid unfavorable conflicts and seek favorable synergies. Many arts patrons support multiple organizations. We do them no favors and potentially reduce total giving to the community when we force them to choose between conflicting events. This also represents a great opportunity for young organizations to learn from more mature organizations.
End of Season Celebrations: Alright, this will probably have to be scheduled arbitrarily in some communities. There are places where theatre doesn’t stop for the summer at all any more, which is terrific, although also exhausting for some skill sets in our organizations. Pick a date during the Special Event Coordination/Deconfliction Meeting, and make the best of it. This event should bring together both play makers and playgoers for a celebration of the most recent year of productions. It can be as formal or as casual as the community wants, but it should focus on reflecting favorably on the year gone by. The science fair table idea, this time looking primarily backwards as opposed to forwards, would be very appropriate here. The celebration has a few aims. It should encourage playgoers who attend to remember and reflect on what they’ve seen during the year. It should give play makers an opportunity to feel admired by the playgoers who saw their work in the year. It should give play makers who collaborated across organizations to have a chance to spend non-work time together, strengthening bonds across the community.
Theatrical Resources Fair: This event is presented by the theatre companies of the community with a target audience of the direct educational and social services organizations in the community. The intent of the fair is to inform these service organizations of the resources that are available within the theatre community to help them achieve their missions. It would also be an opportunity for representatives of the service community to point out gaps in our theatrical resources that, if filled, would allow our theatre companies to add more value in the broader community. Science fair tables to the rescue once again, inviting direct service providers to learn more about how they can work with and take advantage of the theatre arts.
Media Synergy Meeting: Marketing and audience outreach leaders gather to look at the upcoming two month media calendar for the community to make sure there is enough theatre news hitting the street each week to keep the general public aware of the strength and breadth of available theatre. Announcements of any news that needs a specific moment to shine should be deconflicted to give each one proper attention. Ideally, there would also be time for reflection on lessons learned from the most recent media experiences to help the whole community act as a learning organization with respect to issues of communication.
Playgoers Happy Hour: Playgoers from all organizations are invited to gather on a Monday night in one of the venues or in some public place to meet each other, discuss recent and upcoming theatre, buy drinks for any play makers who happen to show up, and generally be reminded that they are indeed playgoers who have a reason to keep going to plays and recruiting others into the hobby. All companies in the community should promote the event to their own patrons and should feel free to send representation to flog upcoming shows. The first few of these will probably have to be organized by event staff of some of the larger companies, but over time, an independent playgoers group could be fostered which would take over this chore.
Anyone have thoughts about how events like this might work in your community?
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.