WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eyes on the Prize, Words in the Air: Erika on The BTC '11

Once upon a time, I was asked to blog for the Boston Theatre Conference 2011. I started writing the following statements:

“Why NOT Boston?”

“Boston theatre scene. Slow arts movement. Slow food movement. Progress. The next step.”

“I have this conversation at least one a month:
‘What do you do?’
‘I'm an actress.’
‘What are you doing here? Why aren't you in New York?’”

As you can see, I didn’t get very far. I didn’t have a really clear vision of what I wanted to write about because I didn’t have a clear vision of what the point of the conference was. Obviously, I knew that we were there to discuss the state of Boston Theatre and its future, but I didn’t know what I personally wanted to get out of the conference. As Kenny put it, “past [conferences] focused on our identity as a theatrical center, and this year I've noticed that we are at a turning point in that journey. We are a theatrical center.” After attending last Monday, however, I’m energized and stirred up about this “theatrical center” but I’m nervous. In her closing remarks, Julie Hennrikus reminded us that the conference is important, but continuing the conversation is more important.

And I couldn’t agree more. But how? We’re all so busy – many of us little guys (the fringier theatres, the smaller companies) work many jobs: 40 hours a week at a paying gig, 15+ hours at rehearsals, PLUS any additional hours we spend in meetings planning and producing our individual shows. That’s a lot of time and effort. And we want to make sure we’ll sustain for an extended period of time and not burn out. So how do we continue to share these ideas and have conversations? What do we do? Apparently, it’s as easy as One. Two. Three… 4.5.6. and 7.

I've got a clearer vision of what I want to say than when I was originally asked to blog. Thanks to my mother, a first grade teacher with a propensity for exploring new ideas when its comes to literacy, I've discovered a technique called Six Traits Plus One. She may be using it get her first graders to become better writers, but this lost actress is using it to organize her thoughts on The BTC 2011. Here we go.

1. IDEAS: We've obviously got 'em. And they were flying everywhere at the conference. But we've got to start small as a way to dream big. The ideas that stuck out to me as the most immediate are: selling local/Boston as way of keeping/expanding local audiences, cross-promotion (we already do it between the smaller companies, why can't different sized companies help promote each other?), conversations between larger, established organizations and fringe organizations, demystifying the rehearsal process by letting the audience in, and rebranding

2. ORGANIZATION: We're all busy. We've already established this. It's hard to promote your show sometimes when 55 hours of your week are already taken up by other things. So let's use each other. In my lunch breakout, we spoke about creating a pass that could be used at multiple shows in a season so that patrons can purchase a pass and see both a show at The Huntington and at The Factory. How? Email me at colabtheatre@gmail.com. I've got some ideas.

3. VOICE: We have a BOSTONIAN voice. Let's keep singing it out. We talked about how people support The Red Sox as their home town team. Why can't we rebrand theatre in much the same way? In Vaquero Playground's Bear Patrol the Boston references kept me rolling last weekend. Mill 6's T-Plays connected us through one universal annoyance - public transportation. 11:11's Her Red Umbrella told us a story about Harvard Students. Later this season, The Great Heathersby Heist gets its inspiration from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum. Some companies are already selling Boston, it's definitely a good thing to keep working on.

4. WORD CHOICE: The idea that "going to theatre" scares people off as elitist, expensive, and boring kept coming up. Someone put it like this, "Shakespeare is hard and Our Town is boring." So let's change the language we use to market. One idea from the conference, non-theatre folk don't know what a staged/workshop reading is -- why not call it a tasting?

5. SENTENCE FLUENCY: Seriously, though, let's continue the conversation. I don't want to be talking about the same exact issues at the 2013 conference. You may have noticed that conversations between larger, established organizations and fringe organizations was in bold before. I believe so strongly that this is a MAJOR missing link. We have two different types of audiences. Let's talk about melding them.

6. CONVENTIONS: We all have ideas on traditional theatrical conventions, but if audience size is decreasing, we might have to shake it up a bit. Workshops, family involvement, open rehearsals, found spaces. These are all great ideas. Let's keep brainstorming.

PLUS 1. PRESENTATION: We all know about presentation. Putting on a show. From the sounds of things, we all want to keep doing this. I'm looking forward to seeing some changes, however small, in the next few months in Boston. I believe in this place as a cultural hub, and so do you. Let's keep cultivating.

These are my thoughts. Hopefully something here caught your eye. Let's talk. Email me at colabtheatre@gmail.com. We'll converse. And collaborate.

- Erika


  1. Thanx for keeping the conversation going, Erika!

    So much good in what you say above, that I hesitate to leave a cautionary comment as my reply - but I want to talk a little bit more about the "home town team" analogy that seems to be gaining a little steam in the home-grown discussions. I found myself going on and on, so just decided to make my own post about it. Feel free to check out:

    That's Not What We Do. We Survive.

    if you'd like to see me get more verbal.

    In short, however:

    Sports are cool. But what we do is different. And it's ok to not only know that but EMBRACE the more challenging sell that we will always have.

  2. Hi j are is,

    Read your blog -- and I totally agree with you. Sports and theatre are structurally two different things. It's true that I won't be logging on to yahootheatre later tonight and drafting my fantasy cast for A Death of a Salesman, but that's okay.

    HOWEVER, a sporting event is no less of a performance than putting on a play. It's live, anything can happen, and it's better with an audience. I definitely would never want someone to bet money on a show I've worked on, but I absolutely want people to come it!

    If you ask people to name a few key descriptors for NYC, you'll hear BOTH "Yankees" and "Broadway." Why can't we hear "Red Sox" and "Tremont Street*" when people talk about coming to Boston? I don't think that theatre should be packaged like Cracker Jacks and Monster Seats, but I do think that taking a few tips from the Red Sox when it comes to marketing hometown pride (and we've got a lot of that here in Boston) is absolutely something to keep exploring when it comes to putting butts in our bleachers.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation! Looking forward to more!

    - Erika

    *Just an example!! I'm aware theatre happens all over!!!