There Are No Small Parts

Researching facts and figures prior to starting my consulting business, I learned several things about theater in Connecticut that I hadn’t know before. Read on even if you’re not in Connecticut—this applies to you too.

Obviously one of the first things I looked for was potential clients. I found quite a few web pages with theaters around the state listed and linked. When I started looking closely and combining those lists though, I realized that there are over one hundred theater companies in the small state of Connecticut. (There are only one hundred sixty-nine towns in this third-smallest state.) And that number of theaters doesn’t include many children’s and summer theaters or most of the theaters at colleges and universities. It certainly doesn’t include theater programs at high schools or middle schools or many other drama conservatories or clubs either. A large list of professional and community theaters in Connecticut is now located here at this website. (If you know of one that I’ve missed, please comment or email and let me know.)

I also learned, from a December 2006 study released by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, what a significant economic impact the arts have on the state. As a whole, the arts (which includes dance, music, opera and visual and literary arts as well as theater) provide more than 27,000 jobs in the state and support a total of 44,000 other jobs. The gross state product generated annually from the arts is more than $3.8 billion including $2.6 billion in personal income. Combined with other cultural sectors (film, history and tourism), cultural jobs account for ten percent of the state’s labor force and $14 billion in economic activity. That’s more jobs created and more gross product generated than by either the aerospace or the pharmaceutical industries in Connecticut—both of which have a significant presence in the state—but not as significant, apparently, as the arts.

Putting all of this information together, it’s clear that the great economic impact that the arts have on the state of Connecticut doesn’t come only from bigger organizations such as the Long Wharf Theatre or Hartford Stage. It’s not coming only from Yale University art museums or the Wadsworth Atheneum. It’s a combined effort of the hundreds of arts organizations—both large and small—that operate, employ, and culturally and economically impact Connecticut.

Certainly, these facts and figures aren’t unique to Connecticut. In New York, the Alliance of Resident Theatres has long noticed that the fastest growing sector of its membership is smaller theaters with budgets under $100,000. And New York is definitely aware of the economic impact that the arts have in the state as well. Across the country, theaters and other arts organizations are generating income, paying employees, encouraging patrons and volunteers to spend money in restaurants and shops, and circulating those monies in their communities.

Why is this important for every theater to know? Because it’s the information that donors and sponsors and patrons need to hear—that they’re not only supporting culture and a few hungry artists, but that they’re contributing to a significant economic impact in their communities as well.

So, if you’re not in Connecticut, go find some comparable facts and figures for your own state.  In any state, mention these facts in a few marketing materials and funding applications. And congratulate yourselves for having made such an impact.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Theater…

No, I don’t know everything there is to know about theater. But I do know where to find answers. You do too—because you’re already there.

When I first worked in professional theater about twenty years ago, every production management office had some form of a resource guide. These guides listed leads for finding everything from acrylic paints to zip lights. They were especially great resources for finding unusual props, set pieces, or costume materials. I spent a few years away from theater, and when I came back production resource books weren’t so common. In their place was—and is—the Internet.

The Internet may be more useful to theater and entertainment than just about any other industry. Theater productions are always incorporating new ideas and materials. Manufacturers usually take in one piece and produce another, but in theater there’s always a challenge to find something out of the ordinary or a new way to do something. Each production might call for some new or unusual effect, lighting equipment, set material, rigging, prop or costume.

Resources on the Internet are just as useful for theater managers, marketers and fundraisers. Here are just a few of the ways a theater can benefit from the Internet:

• Shopping and purchases. Theaters used to rely on catalogs and special orders for anything they couldn’t track down locally. Now, just about any item can be searched for and ordered online. This not only takes less time, but prices can be compared to save money too.

• Production resources, effects, equipment, and sound files. Production managers, tech directors, and designers can do more than just order on the Internet. New materials and equipment and ways to use them can be researched. Sound designers and engineers can even find sound effects available for download.

• Play directories. Not only are plays available to purchase and license at sites such as MTI and Samuel French, but theaters can also find many sites to search for plays in specific genres or with specific size casts.

• Press contacts. Marketing directors can use the Internet to find contacts at local newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations. Theaters might even search for press and media in an area and find some that they hadn’t remembered or known about before.

• Foundations and corporations. Development directors can research foundations, corporations and government agencies that might donate or sponsor programs at their theaters. Not only are giving histories and guidelines easy to find, but many funders now allow or even require that requests be made online.

• Service organizations and arts councils. Almost all theater organizations have websites now, including national organizations such as Theater Communications Group and the American Association of Community Theatres. Theaters can find local organizations and advocates to benefit from their programs and resources.

• Theater directories and rental spaces. Among the resources that some service organizations provide are access to their membership lists or directories of spaces that available for rent. Some rental spaces might even have virtual tours available online.

• Sample contracts. Not only might directories of rental spaces be available, but theaters can also find sample contracts for renting a space, hiring a consultant, licensing a play, booking a performer, or almost anything else an agreement might be needed for.

• Interns or internship programs. Searches can provide lists of local colleges, universities and even high schools to find contacts for sending internship notices. On the other hand, students can use the Internet to find local theaters and arts organizations for possible internships.

• Forums. If you can’t find answers anywhere else, post a question on a forum especially for theater producers and managers. You’re likely to find someone who has dealt with an issue before or, at the very least, you’ll find a good social networking site. Some good theater forums I’ve found are the AACT Forum, the Community Theatre Green Room, and the discussion boards at Musicals.net.

There are probably countless ways a theater can use the Internet—posting audition notices, researching union guidelines, and advertising job openings are just a few others. One more is reading theater blogs, which can be either official blogs of theater companies, reviews by professional or amateur playgoers, journals of theater artists, or articles and discussions by people who care about the future of theater. Check out the few that I’ve included in a new blogroll—each of them is a great resource too.

Could This Be a Good Time for Fundraising? Surviving the Financial Crisis

There are jobs that are recession proof—teaching, health care, some technology, undertakers.  Their work will continue despite a downturn—a severe downturn—in the economy.  And then there’s us.  When money is tight, entertainment budgets are often the first to go.  So there go ticket sales.

Unfortunately, a bad economy doesn’t just affect ticket buyers.  Corporate sponsors, donors and foundations are also feeling the squeeze in decreased earnings, decreased interest, and devalued investments that they rely on to finance their funding.  There goes unearned income too.

Will nonprofit arts organizations be able to ride out this bad economy?  Debate in forums such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy online is strong on both sides.  The good news—if there is any good news—is that some experts think that giving will at least remain steady.  The bad news is that some others think that fundamental changes in the way that nonprofits are financed may be ahead.  Not all nonprofits will make it through to the other side and, some think, maybe not all of them should.  Like their commercial counterparts, nonprofits should deal with some competition in the marketplace.  If there’s no market for their services, or their target population is overserved, economics might dictate who survives and who doesn’t.

So, what’s the best way to survive the worst economy in decades and possibly a complete change in how nonprofit financing works?  The answer is to look internally.  Nonprofit organizations with the sharpest sense of who they are and what they do will have a fighting chance.  If a nonprofit can convey a clear mission and argue that its target population will go unserved without its programs, that organization is likely to find sources of funding. In other words, know who you are, what you do, and be as unique as possible.  Create a thorough list of questions (or contact me for one) for your board and staff to discuss where you are, where you’re going, and who you know that can help you to get there.

I also recommend, even during this bad economy, that arts organizations continue to seek new sources of funding from foundations and corporations.  But—and here’s the weird part—don’t expect to get it.  A large part of fundraising is socializing and persuasion.  Often, even in a good economy, a funder wants to get to know a nonprofit organization before committing to a significant grant or gift.  Rejections to applications don’t always mean that funders aren’t a good match or don’t understand or care about your programs; they often come with encouragement to apply again so the funder has more time to follow your organizational growth.  And you never know—you might impress some funders on your first try.  If not, don’t get discouraged by rejections or smaller-than-expected donations.  Use the bad economy as a time to build relationships, which is often a necessary phase of fundraising anyway.

So buck up and get to work.  Even though we’re not in an economic cycle where a lot of nonprofit arts organizations will grow, it is a good time for setting the groundwork for later growth.  Look inward, look outward, and start on the road to becoming stronger and more secure in the future.