Last month, we started a series to give a bit more insight into why we on the Propared team do what we do. We shared how important it was for us to create tools that can potential extend the careers of our fellow live event professionals. Since then, we have publicly launched our application and are overwhelmed at the amazing feedback we are getting. So today, we offer another of our core principles that gets us out of bed.
Have no fear, artistic friends. There are still many a corner of our theatrical world where individuals, corporations and institutions still support and fund artistic programs geared to our youth.
Sure, we read all the time about this program getting slashed, or that company folding for lack of investment (see last week’s blog Power to the Artists for more information on the effects in the professional world). But today, we want to take a little time to celebrate those places and people who still scratch and claw to proclaim the vital importance of theater and how its inclusion in a person’s education has a profound impact on future success.
Let’s start in the Midwest - Muncie, Indiana, specifically, and a heartening story out of Ball State University. It is that time of year when the state-assisted (read: public) college submits its annual capital budget requests to the State legislature. In that $108 million dollar ask is $27.5 million for the College of Architecture and Planning and $6.2 million for the Department of Theatre and Dance.
“You can make an argument that, next to athletics, no area is as important to a university’s connection with a community as the arts,” says Bill Jenkins, chairman of the department. We couldn’t agree more. Over the past 5 years, multiple studies have been conducted in several regional school districts (most notably in New York in 2009 and Missouri in 2010) citing the direct impact that access to arts resources has on high school graduation rates.
“As budgets have been slashed and programs eliminated at the secondary school level, our theater education students have taught drama to students at the Muncie Children’s Museum, Muncie Civic Theatre and Burris High School so that no student is truly left behind as the arts continue to become more and more of a luxury at the high school level,” Jenkins is quoted as saying. So not only are art, design, theater, and stage management students finding support from the university, the students are deepening their understanding of the work by sharing their knowledge with others, truly linking generations through art and lifting up the community. Bravo, Ball State.
Out in the Pacific Northwest, we took note of two more stories, highlighting companies pushing arts education forward. The first highlights new development, as Seattle Music Theatre, Solid Ground, and Theatre of Possibility have come together to create new summer theatre camps for at risk youth. We linked to this article on our Facebook the other day but wanted to feature it again. There are sound business minds behind this venture and they make a compelling case for the importance of arts education in laying the framework for significant personal growth and maturation. At the same time, Oregon Children’s Theatre received a $50,000 grant from the venerable Hearst Foundation to support its outreach programs, especially those geared to anti-bullying efforts and bringing artistic opportunities to “economically disadvantaged” schools. When these stories come across our desk, we can’t help but do a little happy dance.
Lastly, a huge round of applause for the State Theatre of New Jersey. The nonprofit, New Brunswick-based institution has maintained a balanced budget for six years running, while reporting its highest revenue in its history this past producing season. As part of that, the company’s arts education programming participation and programming levels also reached new highs and the company was able to provide more than $150,000 in free program to disadvantaged members of the community.
All of this lifts our spirits in ways we cannot even describe. So much of what we at Propared maintain as a core value is raising the bar for and providing new opportunity for the next generation of artists and managers. Without a solid arts education, we would not be in the position we are today and we worry that there are those who do not see the kinds of value creation these stories above outline. So what do we do? We provide tools that support companies willing to take risks on teaching the arts. We work with amazing educational partners - SAE Theater in California, New York University's Tisch School, North Carolina School of the Arts, and others — to help drive up return on the investment in a solid arts education. Combining solid business planning with artistic opportunity is the strongest path to ensuring the survival of our industry, especially for our younger counterparts.
It is weeks like this that make us smile.
It has been a whirlwind 10 months since Propared first embarked on this amazing journey to transform the processes by which we all manage live events. This week we proudly launched Propared in full Beta testing, inviting the first users into the system that can actually supplant the "old way" of live event management. We'll be hearing from CEO Ryan Kirk in the coming days about what this time has been like. But today, we want to spend a bit of time talking about the massive shifts in our industry over the past 5-10 years and how we see Propared stepping up to support it moving forward.
We came across an amazing article written by Rebecca Novick, founder of San Francisco's Crowded Fire Theatre Company. In it, she makes a bold case for putting artists and the work at the center of a company's financial/business decision making. In other words, a theatre or artistic collective is only as good as the art it produces and the quality of the art relies solely on the procurement and retention of the highest quality of artists. So if an institution has, over time, engaged seriously talented individuals and that institution has benefited from the work, great, right? That institution is now worthy of our patronage and financial support forever. Hang on, Ms. Novick writes. Past success alone should not be a reason for continued support of that institution. It is the artists - new, seasoned, and master - that we should invest in and it is the institution's responsibility to nurture that talent. Ultimately, she writes, what does it matter how this art is produced and in what house? Administration and support should grow up around the art out of necessity. Art should not be procured in an attempt to "pay for" that system.
Some very big ideas - granted, her piece was written in 2011. But looking at the events of the past few years, clearly, something needs to change. Let's start with some big news over the past two months. We were saddened to hear of the continued struggles of the Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC), as it fights to regain solvency and retain its powerful voice in the development of thoughtful, provoking new American theatrical work. There is still a distinct possible the company will find angels in the community to financially support it for its 40th season and beyond.
(Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News)
However, there was no 11th hour reprieve for San Jose Repertory, which was forced to shutter its doors under increasingly heavy financial obligations and decreasing sales (side note: erstwhile SJ Rep artistic director, Rick Lombardo is currently helming The Snow Queen at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, having first premiered it in San Jose in 2013). Carousel Dinner Theatre in Ohio, Intiman in Seattle, Theatre of the Stars in Atlanta, NYC Opera...the list of reorganized, gutted, or outright shuttered companies over the past 5 years, many of them venerable old standards is alarming.
While there is no smoking gun that points to the crux of the problem, one thing is certain. This damaging cycle hurts individual artists, managers, and stage crew the most. When a company goes under, not only does an artist lose an outlet for work, the very freedom and creativity that ultimately drives them to take on so many different projects becomes stifled in a search for "safe" and "secure" employment. It is completely understandable. How long can a person be expected to take risks without the promise of stability? Doubtless this applies to producers and managers as well. Bills need to be paid - it must be incredibly difficult to make the decision to pass on a new, challenging piece of art because it won't meet debt obligations the way a 40th revival production of an older, tested work will.
As freelancers ourselves, we understand this stress. And we also know that we can't change the decisions that companies make - how to staff, create, market, and innovate within their frameworks (for-profit or non). What we can do is try to offer as much power and efficiency as we can to the individuals. This is one of the principal tenets behind the development of Propared - to give the power back to the artist. And when we say artist, we truly believe that everyone who works on a show or a live event production is an artist in his or her own right. When we lay a foundation of sound business practices, it can create a greater sense of freedom, encourage more risk taking, and hopefully increase the engagement of our audiences. We would see longer careers, increased diversity and variety of work, and stability where there is currently little to none.
Of course, Propared is just a program, right? Or is it part of the new way artists create and manage live events in years to come?
We at Propared are always seeking out new and inventive ideas that push the arts forward. So you can imagine how excited we were to come across an amazing new application from the creative minds at 2wice. The artistic nonprofit based in New York City lives at the intersection of art and technology – generating work that educates and inspires through alternative mediums. Its most recent app, entitled Passe-Partout is no exception and it gets a lovely walkthrough this week, courtesy of the New York Times.
This got us thinking about our role in education. What is our responsibility to not just build a product that aids our colleagues today, but assists in developing the stage and production managers of tomorrow? Passe-Partout is providing new insight into what it means to choreograph. This has serious implications not just for fans of the art form but for aspiring choreographers seeking creative spark from novel sources.
So how does Propared get involved in education? And what exactly does it mean to “educate” someone?
Many of our colleagues came through traditional institutions of higher learning – they studied and honed their craft. Many of them would also tell you that the real learning didn’t happen until they booked their first jobs. With complete respect to teachers everywhere, this is completely understandable and natural. There is only so much a person can absorb by watching. Eventually, we must get out and DO. We must be thrust into a real environment with real problems, real stress and learn on the fly. Yes, make mistakes but also learn. Allow our supervisors and managers to educate us in the methods they have developed over years of trial and error. Some companies out in the corporate world believe so strongly in this principle, they create their own universities!
This has its flaws, too. We think back on our own processes and marvel at the length of the learning curve. How long it took us to get to the point where we were actually managing. Which seems crazy, in retrospect – the word manager is right in the job title!
So we come back around to Passe and Propared’s educational duty. We want to give the next generation of industry professionals a stronger, sharper, more powerful set of tools. We want to deepen our collective learning and accelerate growth potential. We want to reclaim our job titles! And most importantly, we want push our industry forward through the harnessed power of creative innovation.
Some big, hairy, awesome goals to wake us up on a Thursday, no?