12 March 2008

New Jersey Is Not Such a Bad Place

Producing Associate Adam Immerwahr* has a fantastic post up on the McCarter Theatre blog about the evolution of Regional Theatres and how developmental productions like Steppenwolf's First Look Series and "third theatres" like Roundabout Underground and LCT3 (McCarter's own IN-Festival fits, I think, between those two models) are a good and important thing. It's a conversation we've been having at work a lot as we look to reformat (and reframe) our public readings. I do a lot of talking out of my ass on instinct about how public (and publicized) developmental work can strengthen existing audiences and build new ones (subscribers see how we're supporting new work and new artists, and get exposed to some weirder writers; the audience for new/weirder work comes to the developmental stuff and builds a connection to the institution as a whole) - it's often easier (and, in pushing for what I want and think we need, probably more effective) to come at it from that angle, rather than "this is good for the American Theatre," but, as Adam points out, it's really good for the American Theatre, too.

(I don't frequent lots of theatre's blogs - do lots of other theatres have them? - but Adam is doing great things for McCarter in cyberspace.** I loved this post about the costumes for Argonautika, but maybe that's because I am a huge dork.)

*Okay, full disclosure, I knew him in college, but you know what? I also knew John Krasinski in college, and you don't see him blogging about me, do you? Or do you?

**I think I have not used or seen the word "cyberspace" in about seven years.


Adam said...

from a thoroughly regional perspective:

Both of our theaters (I don't know if I've explained our chimera to you before or not) have blogs. Neither of them often say anything useful, partly because they're 9 parts marketing tool to 1 part actual expression of our point of view, and that 1 part is extremely restrained so as to not threaten the function of the 9.

As the other Adam points out, except for the fortunate few in thriving markets, it's a very difficult line to walk between being in any way progressive and maintaining an already anemic subscriber base. So difficult, in fact, that the behind-closed-doors discussion more often revolves around how to walk the line than exactly what it is we're after on the 'progress' side. The result is a general feeling of aimlessness, and a total lack of success in getting a wider audience invested in any sort of artistic vision (since we're not exactly making it clear to them, or ourselves, what that vision is).

For example: the only genuinely contentious (and view driven) conversation on our blog in recent memory was over the prickly issue of LORT membership, and a local critic's naive insistence that our market's lack of a LORT theater was a mark against the quality of work that gets done locally, and a reason for artists moving to larger markets. The theater wrote a post explaining some of the mechanics (since it's all a bit arcane to your average patron), and then putting on the kid gloves and very carefully trying to assert that our inability to justify the high cost of LORT membership was a symptom rather than a problem.

Apart from that, our blogs are purely marketing organs (and, if we're honest, that discussion was marketing driven as well, attempting to spin what was some really bad press).

I'm not sure exactly what that goes to show (apart from that the post you link is dead dead on), but that's what I've been seeing for the past couple of years.

Adam said...

Because I'm incapable of completing a thought in a single comment, or of being totally relevant:

For a while we did run a "third theatre" style program, and there's a good bit of grumbling over its demise. The problem with it was twofold:

First, in addition to being on a smaller scale the productions were also a lower priority, and with one theater's worth of production staff building two seasons already, it just wasn't sustainable at an appropriate level of quality.

Second, and far more important though purely speculative, there's a persistent complaint from some quarters that we have a monopoly on the artistic vision of theater in our market. It's just not healthy to have one AD overseeing everything it's claimed (and, to some extent, I'm sympathetic to this view). There's a sense in which our running a "third theatre" was strangling out smaller companies with riskier programming, and this has been borne out by an explosion of new players since that season was nixed a few years ago. It remains to be seen whether any of these startups will be able to sustain themselves or provide a quality forum for more vital work, but their mere existence is encouraging, and perhaps a sign that we made the right decision in (at least temporarily) suspending that aspect of our project.

Adam #1 said...

Hey Adam. This is a very confusing thread, since both of us are named Adam. Hopefully Adam Szymkowicz will jump in next.

It was so interesting to hear you talk about the challenges of being a theater that blogs. I think McCarter has gotten around some of those challenges because our blog isn't driven by our marketing department, but rather by our artistic department. That means there is a staffing challenge (we get busy doing other things--like producing our season--and don't always have time to write blog entries), but it also means that our blog's mandate isn't to sell tickets. Rather, we are trying to educate and cultivate our patrons by broadening and deepening their relationship to our programming. I think of it like an online backstage tour.

And Jaime--thanks for the mention! Aah, those good old college days.

Adam said...

Hi. This is adam szymkowicz. It's hard to be a playwright that blogs too.

Adam said...

So many Adams...I wish there were a term for this. Something that implies that we're individually useful, but collectively excessive.

A too-many...no, too strong...a more-than-necessary...closer...

Aha! A surplus of Adams.

(aaaand my speaking privileges are officially revoked)