Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Watch the National Summit on Arts Journalism from Arts America

This Friday - October 2 from Noon to 4:00 EDT (9AM-1PM PDT) - is the first ever National Summit on Arts Journalism at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles. We're taking part in the presentation of ten projects in arts journalism from around America, and each we think has something to say about the future of how we cover the arts. It will be in the auditorium of the journalism school in front of an audience of 200, but it's primarily conceived of as a virtual online event. Arts America is a participating blog.

Here is a live link that will enable you to watch it live on Friday, October 2 beginning at noon EDT.

Video chat rooms at Ustream

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marketing a Show Via Twitter - Next to Normal

Beating out Coca Cola, Star Trek, HBO and Sprint, the musical Next to Normal which began at Arena Stage in Washington, DC and moved on to Broadway, won an OMMA award for its Twitter campaign. The Online Media, Marketing and Advertising Awards are for internet creativity. The promotion was recognized by the MediaPost Group which sponsors the awards.

They used tweets to retell the show's plot by having the various characters advance the plot via short 140 character messages. They were taken from the book written by the show's author, Brian Yorkey. The responses by others has brought about the creation of a new song about tweeting, to be debuted at a future date.

During the campaign, the number of people following the show's messages topped out at 750,000 or so.

The Twitter campaign for "Next to Normal," much buzzed-about due to its unusually large number of followers for a Broadway show, has picked up an OMMA (Online Media, Marketing and Advertising) Award for online marketing.

It didn't hurt that the show's campaign was promoted extensively by Twitter itself to keep new participants involved. The drop out rate at Twitter is very high, at least half, and 30% of its users - according to a recent poll - don't expect it to still be around in a few years. It is all a crap shoot. And as the story below this one indicates, it doesn't stop people from claiming that Twitter is worth a billion dollars. The owners must be tweeting a happy tune.

But I wonder how many tickets this ad campaign sold, and how much the effort actually cost compared to traditional marketing methods.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bursting the Billion Dollar Twitter Bubble

Call it froth, call it sizzle, but don't use more than 140 characters. A billion dollars. That's the value of Twitter according to the esteemed Wall Street Journal, the newspaper of record when it comes to over valuing things from mortgage derivatives to the current story on Twitter's prospects. Wall Street lays another egg. How do you say nineties nonsense?

The investors are valuing Twitter -- which has yet to generate more than a trickle of revenue -- at about $1 billion...The investor group is expected to include mutual-fund giant T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and private-equity firm Insight Venture Partners, which would be new investors to Twitter. Existing Twitter investors, including Spark Capital and Institutional Venture Partners, are also expected to participate in the round, according to the people familiar with the plan.Twitters Value is Set at $1 Billion

We're seen these speculative internet gold rushes before, when IPO's were all the rage in order to monetize some code warrior's sleepless nights of toil creating, say, a website devoted to images of her friend's piercings and tattoos. Of course, theatres, symphonies and other arts presenters have been doing backflips trying to figure out how to get people to tweet short reviews of their productions, not realizing that it is as easy to say "save your money" as it is to encourage friends to "buy a ticket." Besides, the bottom line is it takes more than a few abbreviated words to convince me to attend something. The twitterati have short and shallow attention spans, what with their multi-tasking and everything.

I am a regular visitor to and participant in both Facebook and MySpace (or My Face as my friend Shirley likes to say) and think they are better suited to the future prospects of being adjuncts to arts marketing efforts. Here in the Berkshires just about every cultural group with more than one member is now online, on My Space, and the number of writings on my wall touting this event or that far outnumber those of friends reporting on their baby's diaper condition.

Still, every once in a while somebody posts something really interesting, or novel, and makes it all worthwhile.

But not a billion dollars of worthwhile, no matter what the WSJ says. Let the investors choose their vehicles to ride over their cliffs. Thelma and Louise can do whatever they want to piss away their retirement money. This time let's just not bail them out, ok?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Taxing the History, Arts and Culture of Pennsylvania

A tax on history and the arts.

In an incredibly hostile act by the backward thinking legislators in Pennsylvania, that state's new budget will extend its sales tax to performing-arts programs, museum admissions and other cultural venue tickets, while movies and sports events will be spared.

Taxing the non-profits is clearly the latest move by this group of scoundrels while protecting for-profit businesses. It is another example of how corporate and lobbying interest are making sure nothing impedes their ability to make money. Senate Republicans, who had steadfastly opposed any new taxes, insisted on the tax. They claim some of the funds will go towards support for the arts. Of course, this was a promise, and a murky one at that, since nothing concrete was included in the legislation. Support for arts in Pennsylvania has already been sharply reduced.

Arts administrators and support organizations were caught totally by surprise, and this statement has appeared on the website of the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance:

On Friday evening, Pennsylvania's state legislators announced a budget deal, balanced in part by a 6% sales tax on nonprofit cultural organizations.

The deal, which is expected to pass the full legislature in the next ten days, is expected to raise $100m to balance the budget.

Nonprofit cultural organizations are currently exempt from the sales tax on concert and other entertainment tickets; the proposal would lift this exemption. Other items that would be taxed to generate new revenue include an additional 25 cents per pack on cigarettes, a tax on cigarellos (small cigars), expanded gas-drilling leases on state land.

A proposal has also surfaced to dedicate a portion of the tax revenues in support of organizations affected by the tax; no details about this idea are available at this time.

The tax is likely to have a devastating effect on cultural organizations, many of which have been hit hard by the recession.

The tax on culture came the same day as the Philadelphia Orchestra announced that it was in a financial crisis, and in need of an immediate infusion of $15 million to continue operating. When Pittsburgh imposed a sales tax on tickets many decades ago, that city experienced a collapse of its cultural life as many groups closed, and others moved out, resettling elsewhere. Only in recent years has that tax been reduced, bringing hope to the resident arts organizations, only to face this new hurdle.

Legislators with no sense of basic fairness tax nonprofit tickets and admissions but leave profit making entertainment tickets tax free.

In essence taxes on the arts and culture are taxes on education since that is the purpose that the IRS grants tax exemption status of a 501(c)3.

Tyler Green writes in his Modern Art Notes blog over at Arts Journal that it is all the fault of The Philadelphia Museum. "Why are Pennsylvania institutions facing this now? It's hard to miss the confluence of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's outrageous 'Cezanne and Beyond' ticket fees and this tax proposal. Extortionately high exhibition charges -- the PMA asked a family of four for $88, over $100 with parking -- helped create this problem."

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

He goes on to say "Those fees have done two things: First, they say that the museum (and the arts in general) is a place for mostly the wealthy, so why not soak the rich with a sneaky tax no one else will notice or pay? And secondly, if a museum looks like an opportunistic business and if it acts like a greedy price-gouger, how can it be surprised when a local government wants to treat it the way it's been acting?"

So I guess to punish one big arts institution with questionable pricing policies, all the small and mid-sized operations have to deal with this new tax. And do their best to have it reversed.

The arts are an asset to a state, but clearly not in retrograde and destructive Pennsylvania. Like everyone else, the arts are suffering from the recession with a decline in contributions and tougher ticket sales, Now they now are also being asked to make up for the hit to the economy (brought about by Wall Street and the banks) by short-sighted Pennsylvania politicians.

Let's hope the voters of the Commonwealth let their legislators know that this is a very bad idea and should be dropped.

Monday, September 14, 2009

William and Margaret Gibson Remembered at Shakespeare & Company

Playwright William Gibson honored.

From Jeremy Goodwin comes news that friends and fans of the late playwright, novelist and poet William Gibson, and psychotherapist and author Margaret Gibson, gathered yesterday to remember them. There was an intimate celebration of the Gibsons’ lives at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, co-produced by S&Co. and the Berkshire Theatre Festival. A group of artists long associated with both S&Co. and BTF gathered to perform scenes from Mr. Gibson’s plays, as well as to read from Mrs. Gibson’s writings.

Tina Packer and Dennis Krausnick

Tina Packer, S&Co.’s Founding Artistic Director, recalled meeting the Gibsons shortly after founding S&Co., and described Mrs. Gibson’s impact as an early member of S&Co.’s Board of Trustees. Kate Maguire, BTF’s Artistic Director, shared stories about Mr. Gibson’s time as BTF’s Artistic Director, and his deep and long-running working relationship with the festival.

Berkshire Theatre Festival Artistic Director Kate Maguire

Maguire and Packer were joined by fellow actors Jonathan Epstein, Eric Hill, Dennis Krausnick (S&Co. Director of Training), and Annette Miller. Miller opened the program with a performance of a scene from Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony. This was followed by reminiscences about the Gibsons and readings from Mr. Gibson’s Jonah’s Dream, American Primitive, A Cry of Players, and The Miracle Worker. Eric Tucker directed the program and read aloud from Mrs. Gibson’s work. After the hour-long program, the invited crowd of about fifty adjourned for a reception, slideshow, and further discussion about their old friends.

Jonathan Epstein

According to Broadway World, Gibson's most famous play is The Miracle Worker (1959), the story of Helen Keller's childhood education, which won him the Tony Award for Best Play. His other works include Dinny and the Witches (1948, revised 1961), in which a jazz musician incurs the wrath of three Shakespearean witches by blowing a riff which stops time; the Tony Award-nominated Two for the Seesaw (1958), a recounting of which production appeared the following year in Gibson's nonfiction book The Seesaw Log; the book for the musical version of Clifford Odets's Golden Boy (1964), which earned him yet another Tony nomination; A Mass for the Dead (1968), an autobiographical family chronicle; A Cry of Players (1968), a speculative account of the life of young William Shakespeare; Goodly Creatures (1980), about Puritan dissident Anne Hutchinson; Monday After the Miracle (1982), a continuation of the Keller story; and Golda (1977), a work about the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, which in its revised version Golda's Balcony (2003) set a record as the longest-running one-woman play in Broadway history on January 2, 2005.

Eric Tucker and Eric Hill

In 1954 he published a novel, The Cobweb, set at a psychiatric hospital resembling the Menninger Clinic. In 1955, the novel was adapted as a movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Gibson married Margaret Brenman-Gibson, a psychotherapist and biographer of Odets, in 1940. She died in 2004.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Delightful Peter Pan at Berkshire Theatre Festival

Miranda Hope Shea and Victoria Aldam in Peter Pan.

Berkshire Theatre Festival continues its family programming season with Peter Pan, a musical based on the play by Sir James M. Barrie. The show, which is directed by E. Gray Simons III and Travis Daly, opened on the BTF Main Stage on September 4th.

While not open for formal review, I have to pass along my personal recommendation, having seen it. The production is a real crowd pleaser, well rehearsed and utterly charming. How so many children can appear on stage in the blink of an eye and then flow off again is truly amazing.

This popular children’s story follows the tale of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, and the Darling children as they journey through Neverland, all the while evading the evil Captain Hook. This is the fourth year of BTF’s community-wide theatre productions. Children from all thirteen school districts are represented in the program.

Ralph Petillo as Captain Hook and the Pirate Chorus in Peter Pan.

Peter Pan runs on the Main Stage until September 13, Friday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at (413) 298-5576 or online. Proceeds benefit the BTF PLAYS!, Berkshire Theatre Festival's Year- Round Education Program.

The cast features over 150 actors composed entirely from the Berkshire County community. Miranda Hope Shea will be playing the title role, opposite Victoria Aldam, who will be playing Wendy. Miranda returns to the BTF Main Stage following her successful debut in Oliver! She has been in the previous BTF productions of A Christmas Carol and was seen most recently as young Edward Einstein in The Einstein Project on the Main Stage. She is joined by her sister Fiona Shea, who is making her BTF debut in the role of Jane Darling. Victoria Flower returns to BTF in the role of Slightly, one of the Lost Boys. She has been in all of the community productions BTF has done and has been seen in A Christmas Carol and Coastal Disturbances.

Mr. and Mrs. Darling are being portrayed by Ralph Petillo and Kathy Jo Grover, both of whom are returning to the BTF stage. Petillo will also being playing the part of Hook for this production. Petillo played the part of Fagin in the BTF production of Oliver! and most recently finished directing the successful BTF Unicorn production of Candide. Grover was also seen in last year’s production of Oliver! as the Undertaker’s Wife. Rider, Tyler, and Cooper Stanton are making a family return to the BTF stage. They have previously been seen in a variety of shows including Coastal Disturbances, Waiting for Godot, and A Christmas Carol.

The Lost Boys in Peter Pan.

This year’s production of Peter Pan also features a number of returning designers and artistic staff members. Carlton Maaia II is the musical director for the show and has worked on all the BTF community shows including Oliver! and The Wizard of Oz. He also worked as musical director for the BTF Unicorn production of I Do! I Do!

Rachel Plaine is returning as the choreographer for the show. She just finished a year as a BTF Artist-In-Residence, working with local schools in the BTF PLAYS! program and was the choreographer for Oliver! Keating Helfrich, who is currently the BTF Costume Shop Supervisor, is the costume designer for the show. She worked previously as costume designer for Oliver!

New to the BTF community productions are Chesapeake Westveer and Jaime Davidson, working as scenic designer and lighting designer, respectively. Chesapeake Westveer is also the BTF Props Master and recently completed the scenic design for Faith Healer. Jaime Davidson is the PR and Marketing Director for BTF and also did the lighting design for Candide.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bill Finn Weekend at Barrington Stage Company

William Finn has been nominated or won Tony's for his Falsettos and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, as well as numerous Drama Desk nominations and awards.

If it's Labor Day Weekend, it means it's time for Bill Finn, a composer of many award winning Broadway shows to put his pen down and direct the spotlight to the young, up and coming writers of music and lyrics whom he has been mentoring. With Finn there are always pleasant surprises that we are fortunate enough to share. As busy as he is, Finn found a few minutes to bring us up to date.

"The process of getting established is difficult," says Finn, so "we introduce the new voices first to the Berkshires, and then the world." Turns out Finn has a special twist up his sleeve for this weekend, too. Something beyond the annual rendition of Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists you probably don’t know but should... which plays Friday, September 4 and Saturday, September 5. He has surprises slated for that show of course.

But as the announcer in the infomercial says, But wait! There's more!

A second event has been added on BSC's Stage 2 where Finn's Musical Theatre Lab, now in its fourth season, will present a reading of a new musical, Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom by Zachary Elder and Sara Cooper. Performances will take place at BSC’s Stage 2 space, 36 Linden Street , Pittsfield , on Saturday, September 5 at 4pm and Sunday, September 6 at 7:00pm. The show stars Catherine Cox and Leslie Kritzer, with direction by Joe Calarco.

Finn has put aside his current work on the score for Little Miss Sunshine for these end of summer shows. (The musical version of this classic will be directed by James Lapine and is destined for Broadway.) Though we won't hear any music by Finn, he promises a night to remember. Finn takes the stage to tell the stories behind the music, how it begins as an idea and takes shape.

"It's a really interesting look into the creative process," says Finn, people always enjoy a look behind the curtain. "You're constantly amazed at how talented some of these young people are." Finn is more like a coach than a teacher, and loves working with the evolving composers and lyricists. "Besides, seeing them before they are known names, and trying to pick out the ones who are going to succeed is always fun," he adds.

Most of what happens on stage is unique, surprising, and collaborative, with the creative hand of BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd guiding it all. Things are tinkered with right up to the last minute. All the work is fresh and new, though if you are a musical theatre addict you probably have heard one or two of the songs at earlier Theatre Lab events. Finn narrates this fresh, fun introduction to new voices in musical theatre.

(LtoR) Singers Sally Wilfert, Nikki Renee Daniels, Pearl Sun

Directed by Julianne Boyd, this is a Labor Day weekend celebration of extraordinary new songs. Finn shares with the audience what makes a good lyric, why some work and others don’t – you’ll feel as if you’re in a master class in songwriting taught by the master himself. Matt Castle serves as musical director.

Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists you probably don’t know but should… features the talents of Nikki Renee Daniels (Les Miserables), Frank Galgano (Naked Boys Singing), Doug Kreeger (BSC’s The Human Comedy and off-B’way’s ROOMS: A Rock Romance, Howie Michael Smith (Avenue Q), Pearl Sun (Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas), and Sally Wilfert (BSC’s Spelling Bee and Off-B’way's Make Me A Song).

(L to R) Singers Frank Galgano, Doug Kreeger, Howie Michael Smith

The composers and lyricists represented are Becca Anderson, Will Aronson, Sara Cooper, Eric Day, William Finn, Kat Harris, Yui Kitamura, Hannah Kohl, Dimitri Landrain, Dan Marshall, Bill Nelson, Yea Bin Diana Oh, Sean Patterson, Eric Price, Frank Terry, Joel Waggoner, and Chris Widney.

The songs of Eric Price and Kat Harris will be included.

Meanwhile, on Stage 2, Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom (MITMOAW) is a two-person comic tragedy about the troubled relationship of a woman who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and her estranged daughter who moves back home to Brighton Beach to take care of her.

Finn describes Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom as "Funny and heartbreaking; and moving in many unimaginable ways. This is a story of a mother and daughter trying gamely to hold on to what they remember of each's amazing how painful hilarious can be.”

Directed by Joe Calarco (BSC’s The Burnt Part Boys and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick), with music direction by Vadim Feichtner (Spelling Bee), Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom stars Catherine Cox (Footloose, Baby - Drama Desk Award, Oh, Coward!) and Leslie Kritzer (A Catered Affair, Rooms: A Rock Romance, Legally Blonde, Hairspray).

Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom was developed at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, where Elder and Copper met and received their graduate degrees.

Barrington Stage Company’s Musical Theatre Lab fourth annual edition of Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists you probably don’t know but should… will play Friday, September 4 and Saturday, September 5 at 8pm at Barrington Stage ( 30 Union Street ). Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom will take place at BSC’s Stage 2 space, 36 Linden Street , Pittsfield , on Saturday, September 5 at 4pm and Sunday, September 6 at 7:00pm. $15 suggested donation for Stage 2 while the Main Stage Tickets are $35. You can call 413-236-8888, or order online at