Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marketing 101

One of my last posts was about Surviving the Four Year Curse where I talked about Budgeting in a very general way. But, how exactly does Twenty-Something Theatre break down its expenses? Where does most of the money go? The two largest chunks of change, for us, go towards a) the Venue and b) the Marketing & Publicity.

For established companies that rely on their reputation or the reputation of their plays, this might not be the case. But for a new company that doesn’t have the luxury of relying on reputation, spreading the word of who you are and why people should come to see your shows should probably be your most important task. (Dare I say even more important than the work itself). Obviously, you have to have quality shows, or no one is ever going to come back, but if they’ve never heard of you in the first place well my question is: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

So, where to start? With a little thing we call branding. It’s the who, what, where, why and how of your product (or in this case production). Again, I was super lucky to have been put into contact with Sarah Gordon (who did the Marketing & Publicity for both Gateway and Playhouse before going into “semi-retirement” to raise her kids). I had a bit of a leg up with my background working in Marketing but her knowledge regarding the specifics of Marketing & Publicity for the arts was invaluable. She basically showed me the ropes and asked for absolutely nothing in return. I still can’t thank her enough. She gave me copies of her press releases so I could format my own. She gave me her entire industry contact list (!), told me the timeline and how to connect with the media.

But the very first thing she asked me was those 5 very important questions. She asked me to identify my target audience (ie, What age? Where do they live? What media do they tune into/read, etc?] and then she asked me to identity what makes us unique. All of these questions made me look at what we were doing, our productions, from an outside perspective. Essentially that is what Marketing is: looking at the product (production) from the consumer (audience) point of view so that we can anticipate their needs/wants and “market” the product (production) directly to them.

This is SO important. More often than not, as theatre artists, we get so caught up in the work that we forget to ask ourselves why anyone would want to pay money to come out and see our shows; however, I believe, this should be one of the very first things we consider when we choose our next play or production. How does this play relate to the local Vancouver audiences? Why should they choose to come to see this play rather than go to the next blockbuster movie, or concert at the Commodore or a Canucks playoff game (GO, CANUCKS, GO).

When you ask yourself these questions, you force yourself to identify what exactly that you, or your company, is selling to your audience. Then every time you go to produce another show you should go back and use those exact same criteria to choose your next play/production; thereby, creating a “brand” for yourself.

Your “brand” will then reflect the personality of your organization and audiences will “buy into” your product (production). People who become invested in your “brand” are more likely to return because they believe in the product and they know exactly what they are getting. Why do you think people still go Starbucks? Because trust me, it isn’t for the quality of the coffee, it is because people know exactly what they will get and it is familiar to them.

Theatre is no different than the Starbucks’ of the world; therein, lies part of the problem. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as different than any other business. A business is a business and the same principles apply.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Rest of the Gang

And, now…the rest of the management team:

Jamie Desjardins – Production Assistant

Jamie is currently a BFA student at UBC who will be graduating this May. During his time at UBC he has worked on many shows and most recently produced their production of “The Greeks”. I’ve only had one meeting with Jamie since the initial interview but I am already impressed with his degree of professionalism. He is very passionate about what he does and takes the initiative to get things done. (He’s organizing auditions as we speak). I rely heavily on the production assistant to get things done especially when I get into rehearsals with the cast. There is no question in my mind that he will have it covered.

Ted Harrison – Stage Manager

I had never met or heard about Ted before he showed up to the interviews. Currently he resides in Vernon and is looking to break into the Vancouver theatre scene. Hiring Ted was an easy decision. He showed up to the interview wearing a suit and tie. Seriously. He also brought a couple prompt books to show me. Now, if any of you know how huge a SM’s prompt book can get, you know carrying these things around is no easy task. I was pleasantly surprised. On top of all this he was super friendly, personable and enthusiastic. I just couldn’t say no. He gave me no choice but to hire him. And, really, that is all you need to know about Ted to know that he will be a great SM to work with.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer/Director

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Could Theatre Learn From Politics?

I posted a blog, not that long ago, about theatre needing to reach out to younger audiences. Well it seems like theatre isn’t the only one looking to mobilize a younger audience because politics is now jumping on the 18-35 demographic bandwagon.

This morning I jumped in my car to head out to an appointment. I turned on the radio in my underground parkade and the fuzzy, crackling voice coming from the speaker sounded like the all too familiar voice of Gordon Campbell. I thought it couldn’t possibly be him because at that moment my radio was tuned to 94.5 The Beat and their morning show with Kid Carson. This show is decidedly marketed towards the young, mainstream, top 40’s loving crowd (No judgment here. I am one of THOSE people). As I drove up through the concrete towards the grey-blue sky the voice on the radio became crystal clear and I realized that, yes, in fact, it was most definitely Gordon Campbell. Live on the The Kid Carson show. I nearly died from shock.

[IMPORTANT: This is by no means an endorsement of any one political party just an observation on the state of politics]

Now, I believe this could be a first. I have been listening to various Top 40 radio stations since I was 10 and throughout all that time, not once has a politician come on the radio to talk during an election, let alone the Premier of British Columbia. Back in the early 90’s I used to tape the top 8 at 8 off LG73 (God, that sentence dates me), then throughout high school it was Z95.3 (before it became Crave and now Virgin) and about 3-4 years ago 94.5 The Beat took over as the #1 Top 40’s/Hits radio station.

Seems, the times they are a changin’.

We started seeing it happen in November with the American elections and the inauguration of President Obama. According to an article on the “Youth Vote may have been key in Obama’s win”. In 2004, 20.1 million 18- to 29-year-olds voted. In this past election, 2008, at least 50 percent more young people voted than they did in the 2004 election in every state except New York, which stayed flat. In some states, voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds doubled or tripled. How did this happen? With organizations like Rock the Vote, whose mandate is “building political power for young people”, making voting a cool thing to do. They had celebs and rock stars, from Leonardo Dicaprio to Snoop Dog to Bono promoting the importance of getting your vote on. Rock the Vote "uses music, popular culture and new technologies to engage and incite young people to register and vote in every election" AND, they sell cool rock n’ roll style t-shirts and merchandise.

President Obama, himself, also rocked the new technology. He got himself on Facebook and “through a steady stream of texts and Twitter” Obama managed “to excite young voters by meeting them where they live — online”. Hmmmm…looks like Premier Gordon Campbell is taking a page from the book of President Obama. He’s definitely trying to “Rock the Vote” by chatting live on the radio with youngsters like Kid Carson and co-host/sidekick Nira Aurora. What were they discussing? Social Media. The conversation started with Kid and Nira asking the Premiere about the NDP candidate who put “inappropriate pictures” on facebook and ended with the fact that he, Gordon Campbell, was on Twitter. Now if that isn't a turning of the tides I don't know what is.

And, I hate to say it, but maybe we could actually learn a thing or two from these politicians? Could you imagine the voice theatre could have if we managed to mobilize young people the way politics has?

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer [who will “Rock the Vote” on May 12th. You should too.]

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Little "Please", "Thank You" and Appreciation Go A Long Way

Over the last couple of years it seems as though the more and more I work with “professionals” the less and less I feel appreciated for all the hard work that I put into a show. Now, I’m not talking about recognition because that I could care less about. It is the “please” and “thank you’” that mean the most. All I need to hear from someone is something along the lines of “Thank you so much for all your hard work. It has been greatly appreciated” and I am a happy camper.

I put a lot of time, hard work and dedication into each show that I work on. I stress over it. I stay up late working on it. I will basically do whatever you ask of me or you need done; however, lately it seems I am getting to a place where I feel like I’m not interested in going that extra mile anymore. Why?! Because I just end up feeling underappreciated and undervalued. Why would I (or anyone for that matter) want to continuously go that extra mile when they are only greeted with ingratitude.

This seems like a sorry state of affairs to me. I started in the theatre because it was fun and created this wonderful sense of community and belonging. Now, sometimes, all I feel is depleted and a horrible sense of detachment. Where did the fun go? Where did the sense of community go? When and why was it replaced by the Ego?

That is the one thing I love about having my own company. It may be a lot of hard work for which I pay myself nothing. Yes, you heard me. Not one dime. But, what it lacks in monetary value it makes up for with a sense of fulfillment. This doesn’t mean I will never pay myself. One day I hope to be able to write that cheque because we should expect that making art can pay the bills (another blog, another day); however, until then I am happy to do it for free because at least I feel like I am making a contribution that is appreciated by others. And, furthermore, that everyone feels appreciated by me. That is my goal. Whenever I gather a group of people together to mount a show I try my hardest to make everyone feel valued and appreciated. Granted there will always be moments of conflict but I think for the most part my goal is achieved.

Is it wrong of me to expect the same courtesy from the other people and companies that I work for? I find it odd that “certain behaviors” by people are ignored or condoned through inaction. By doing or saying nothing basically you are telling them that it is ok to treat people as though their hard work and time is worthless. This to me is unacceptable. It also seems to me like “certain behaviors” exhibited by “professionals” is just accepted. I hear people say “oh, that is just how it is”. Well just because it is doesn’t mean it should be. Are we really saying that to be a “professional” means that when you throw a five-year old tantrum everyone should just coddle and mollify you.

This is a scary thought to me. And, truthfully, I want no part of it. As I have said before, I don’t work with prima donna’s of any kind. I don’t care who you are, what film you’ve done, how many awards you’ve won. It doesn’t give you the right to treat any one as though they are less than you.

~Sabrina Evertt,
Artistic Producer

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Auditioning: A Little Advice

We’ve got auditions coming up at the end of the month. I have a love-hate relationship with auditions. Love: it is great to see all the talent out there in Vancouver. Hate: so many people do not know how to deliver a good audition. It isn’t just about your monologue. From the second you arrive (or don’t arrive) you are being judged. So from the perspective of one director/artistic producer here are the things I look for in a good audition:

1. SHOW UP ON TIME. Seriously. If you can’t show up to an audition on time, what makes me think that you will show up to rehearsals on time? Please don’t waste my time (or anyone else’s for that matter).

*Also, if you fail to show at all, don’t expect me to look at you the following year.

2. BRING A HARD COPY OF BOTH YOUR RESUME & HEADSHOT. Again, so many people show up without these things. If I see 100 hundred people audition for me, how am I supposed to remember who you are without a headshot or a resume?

3. WEAR NEUTRAL CLOTHING. A little story/anecdote: once upon a time a young lady came to an audition wearing sweatpants underneath a skirt, some oversized peasant-type top and her hair in pigtails. The director could only picture her playing a bag-lady on Little House on the Prairie. The End.

4. NO PROPS REQUIRED. Another little story: once upon a time a different young lady came to an audition with a bag full of clothes. She took 5 minutes setting them up all over the room then proceeded to throw them around the room in a fit throughout the monologue. The director could only picture her playing a psychopath. The End.

* Seriously though, worry about the delivery of your monologue, not your props. I want to see YOU not how well you can work with a prop.

5. MEMORIZE YOUR MONOLOGUE. Again. If you don’t spend the time preparing and learning your lines for an audition, what makes me think that you will be able to do this during rehearsals? And last but not least…

6. RELAX. I know how nerve racking it can be (if I was you I would be shaking uncontrollably) and I promise I won’t bite. If you f#%k up and need to start over, don’t sweat it. If you need to take a moment to gather yourself, do it. I don’t know about other directors but I want you to do well. I want you to blow me away and most importantly I want to support and encourage you. So just relax and show me what you’ve got.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer/Director

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Surviving the Four Year Curse

I didn’t even know there was a curse (Again. Ignorance. Just dived right in). I only found out about the existence of the “four year curse” when I received an email from the Alliance for Arts & Culture advertising an upcoming workshop entitled “Surviving the First Four Years: Starting a Production Company”. It was being moderated by Kim Collier (Electric Company) and Maiko Yamamoto (Theatre Replacement), both of whose work I highly respect, so I signed up hoping to learn a little from their success.

What did I come to realize? How have I managed to survive this long (four years this September)? Budget. Budget. Budget.

Ok, that is one word repeated 3 times but it is that important that it deserves to be said over and over again.

Now, talking about budgeting isn’t glamorous or terribly exciting, but it is absolutely essential. Up to this point we’ve secured all these wonderful sponsorships, gotten individuals/companies to donate to our production and participated in some lucrative fundraising events but how are we now going to manage these funds? Wisely and with restraint.

Of the few companies that I do know that have gone under (unfortunately) management of money is usually a key factor in the decision to dissolve. Us artistic types are not well known for our money-management skills. I am just lucky that I grew up with a family business where I learned the ropes while working for them throughout high school and university. My last position with my family’s business was doing the Marketing so I had a little edge when I started my own company; however, Theatre is no different than Healthcare (in terms of the business aspect). A business is a business, artistic or otherwise, and if you don’t manage your money well you go under. That is the bottom line.

So how do I manage my money?

1) I never EVER budget for more than 30% audience attendance for estimated box office returns. Is that my aim or my goal? No. Do I hope for more? Yes, but I don’t count or rely on it.

2) Unless someone has written me a cheque, I have put it in the bank, and the money is sitting safely in the account, I never EVER count it as part of the Revenue stream.

3) I never EVER spend more than I have. Now, this might seem like an easy concept but in the age of consumerism and instant gratification this is a little harder to grasp than it would seem. For example, the first year our summer show went up, I couldn’t afford to have someone professionally design the graphics and posters so one of the members of the production team (who also had considerable skills in graphics [which I noted when she sent in her resume and was part of the reason I hired her]) designed them. The next year through contacts and the securing of a corporate sponsor I was able to hire a professional to design my posters and graphics which leads me to the last item on my list…

4) Set small goals. I firmly believe slow and steady wins the race. Don’t take on the whole world and do an entire season of 4 shows your first year out of the gate. I didn’t even attempt to add a second show until I felt like I had the summer show under control. Even then, our additional winter show isn’t a huge production. It is a fraction of what the summer production is (in terms of budget). And for now, the two shows are enough. I have other small goals to attain before I would even consider adding more. One thing at a time.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Meet The Gang

Interviews done. Decisions made. I am really excited to announce the design team for this year’s production. We’ve got some wonderfully talented people so without further ado:

Jergus Oprsal – Set & Lighting Design

Jergus most recently did the Lighting Design for “Jocasta” at Studio 58 and before that the Set & Lights for Pi Theatre’s most recent production of “Bashzir Lashir”. I actually first worked with Jergus when we both participated in Pi Theatre’s (now defunct) Emerging Artist program called Prime at Pi and their production of “Werewolves”. I was the Costume Designer. He was the Set Designer. There was a dirt floor and a free-standing wall that collapsed at one point during the show leaving only the door frame. I think that says it all.

Amy McDougall – Costume Design

Amy is back again this year after designing the costumes for last summer’s production of “SubUrbia”. She did a great job of creating a distinctive and individual look for each of the characters. I was so impressed by her work that I asked her to assist me on the costume design for the Firehall Arts Centre’s production of “Stuff Happens” the following fall. This summer she will also be working in the wardrobe department at Bard on the Beach and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with for "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love".

This year I decided not to have a sound designer. I am interested in experimenting with silence and then using the voices of the actors and their words to create an underscore to the play. We’ll see how it works out but that is the plan at the moment. I'll keep you posted.

~Sabrina Evertt,
Artistic Producer/Director
[And, just in case you are wondering, 'what the heck is all this talk of doing costume design', during the regular theatre season, September/October – May/June, I also work as a professional Costume Designer].

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Popularizing Theatre for a Younger Audience: Part II

Wow! I am SO very happy that my blog post incited more conversation about this topic. I am also humbled by the response.

This may be an oxymoron considering I am a “theatre person” but I can be quite shy and am not comfortable being in the spotlight at all. I always tell people: this is why I work behind the scenes! The ultimate example of this is the pre-show speech (or Opening Night speech). I hate doing it. I would rather poke my eyes out with a pencil then do that speech. I will avoid it at all costs. For those of you who have heard me give one of those speeches you know what I am talking about. I get SUPER nervous. I start speaking like I’m an idiot or something. This happens to me even when I have to speak up at a workshop or something. It’s ridiculous really. However, at our last show this past February, I made myself do the pre-show speech every night because practice makes perfect, right?! (Also because I wasn’t directing the show there wasn’t as much at stake and it took the pressure off slightly).

But this is what we (or should I just say “I”) must do to get out there and reach our audiences. Networking (social or the old-fashioned kind) is an absolute must. Theatre is about the people. And, it must be working because each year our audience attendance increases and we have created a strong and supportive audience base that only grows each year. [Warning: I am going to talk numbers for a second] Between our first and second year alone our audience attendance increased by 34% (and the same thing just happened between the first and second year of our additional winter show). Jo Ledingham, of the Vancouver Courier, (who has reviewed all our summer shows) remarked in her review last summer that Twenty-Something Theatre “is reaching out to—and getting—younger audiences with plays like The Shape of Things (in 2007) and now Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia”. What is the saying? If you build it, they will come.

So while I find the social media aspect of it much easier (I can hide behind my computer) I will continue working at the in-person stuff. In the meantime, thanks to all of you for your comments, blog posts and overall support. It will make me a little less nauseous next time I prepare myself for one of those dreaded speeches.

~Sabrina Evertt,
Artistic Producer

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Popularizing Theatre for a Younger Audience

This is my mission in life. It isn’t called Twenty-Something Theatre for nothing. In the last couple months I have come across of few different articles that have addressed this issue but prior to that I haven’t heard many people talk about it. (But then again maybe I just live in a bubble). This idea, which really isn’t an “idea” at all but an absolute “necessity”, is the main reason I started this company 4 years ago.

Four years ago I was just your average mid twenty-something girl. Most of my non-theatre friends didn’t go to theatre much (unless it was one of my shows). My sister and her friends (all in their late teens at the time) didn’t go to “regular” theatre much either. Large scale, touring productions of “The Phantom of the Opera”? Yes, definitely! Your local theatre? No, not so much. My brother and his friends (in their early twenties) ditto. I think this speaks for a LARGE majority of people in their twenties.

So, what happens when the blue-rinse crowd that constitutes the majority of the crowds at some of our larger regional theatres (you know the ones) die off? Who will be in the audience? Rebecca Coleman started discussing this very issue in her blog, The Art of the Biz, after going to see a production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” at the Playhouse, called “Where is our future audience?”. I also went to see that production. Who did I go with? My parents. Enough said. Then I noted in an interview with Craig Hall (Question #7), on The Next Stage by Simon Ogden, that he also mentions this very thing. I thought to myself, holy crap, are people ACTUALLY starting to recognize that this is a very REAL issue that needs to be addressed. Then most recently I read another article called “Eat, Drink and Stage a New Play: 10 things theatre’s must do to save themselves” where #4 is Get Them Young.

If we don’t start thinking about ways to get the twenty-something crowd into the theatre NOW then down the road we may be very sorry indeed. It is all well and good to think of all the wacky, crazy, creative, out-there shows that would stimulate and satisfy us as artists BUT if we aren’t connecting with our audiences at a very real & emotional level, that makes them feel like they NEED to come back again, then there really isn’t much point. Our audiences are our bread and butter. If we aren’t creating theatre for them then who the heck are we doing it for?

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Production Manager

I started working with Twenty-Something Theatre in the Spring of 2007. I was newly settled in Vancouver, and looking for opportunities to get involved in the Vancouver Theatre Community. I was immediately drawn to Twenty-Something, for the sense of contributing to the creation of opportunities for young Artists, which is something I am passionate about. Opportunities are the birthplace of creation, expression, skill refinement, collaboration, and a sense of belonging. If it wasn’t for the less experienced Actors, we would be staring at the very same faces all the time. If it wasn’t for the fresh design ideas and styles, artistic expression would dry up. If it wasn’t for the birth of new theatre companies, we would only have CATS and A Nutcracker to watch on stage.

My Career Path has been extremely varied. I started out as a Stage Manager in Edmonton 18 years ago, mostly Fringe Festival shows and very few paid very well, but those shows were the only dependable opportunities for a young artist to get involved in theatre - at least once a year. From that experience I developed two things- a love for collaboration based production, and a desire to make a living taking concepts and ideas and transforming them to reality. I graduated from two top Canadian theatre schools, the first to teach me to be a well rounded Tech, and the second to teach me to be a Manager. My Education and Festival background took me all around the world, and each experience taught me new skills, but I gradually drifted from the creation of theatre to the production of large scale events and festival management. I love my work very much, and am very fulfilled, but I do miss the theatre. I feel that perhaps my path would have been different if there were more opportunities to develop my skills as I was starting on my journey.

This will be my third summer as Production Manager with Twenty-Something Theatre, and I am very excited to be back. I love the company’s mandate, but perhaps what I mostly love is working with the Design and Management team to help them get the most of this experience, by sharing a little of what I know and to hopefully inspire once in a while. It’s all about what they take away with them. Their experience with Twenty Something Theatre leads to personal and creative growth which only benefits a burgeoning career as well as leads to a legacy of the creation of more opportunities.

Heather Young,
Production Manager