How Closing San Diego Opera Makes Your Life Worse

What follows is the text of an e-mail. I have friends — curiously, a great many really good friends — whip smart people — who work in and are passionate about the world of opera. To butcher Austin Powers, opera ain’t my bag, baby, but I appreciate it as an artistic expression. My particular tastes never get in the way of making sure that others can tell a story and impact lives by doing so.

Anyhow, this is in response to the whole hub-bub that’s happening at San Diego Opera. You can read a primer in this article from the LA Times. Meanwhile, all outrage and expletives below are my own.

I will attempt brevity, but I probably will not succeed because this pushes all of my arts management buttons.


It’s not over, you know, until the fat lady sings. Here’s Amalie Materna as Brunhilde in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen nearly 140 years ago. People are still coming to hear this music. Should we preserve it?

Here’s the bottom line: this is 100% — ONE HUNDRED PERCENT — about the mis-, mal- and non-feasance of this Board. Period. End of. Do not pass “Go.” Accept and move on to the next task. Because….

This is NOT the general director’s organization. This is NOT the audience’s organization. This is NOT the employees’ organization. This is the BOARD’S organization. That’s reality. That’s the legal reality of the situation.

The BOARD let Ian Campbell fail — spectacularly fail — at his job. Why? Because they were lazy. Because they forgot what they were supposed to do. Because they forgot their charge. Because they forgot — or did not know — what their job was. At at the very essence, their job was to shitcan him a decade ago.

Why? Because no one — NO ONE — should be allowed to make a career out of one artistic organization. Why? Because the art gets flabby. OR the leadership gets flabby. OR the Board gets flabby. OR all of the above.

When an arts Board forgets that they are supposed to make ART happen instead of make MONEY happen, well, they’ve lost the plot already.

So, what happens now? If no one pulls their fat out of the fire? Lots of people who can ill afford it lose their jobs. San Diego loses one of California’s/America’s/the world’s cultural treasures. And an art form dies a little. And we’re all a little bit worse off because we’ve contracted the amount of space in our world that we are willing to allot to art. And, thus, we become less and less human. That’s the esoteric nth degree, but it makes it no less sad.

This, friends, is the sad intersection of art and commerce where, unless you are the deftest of traffic cops, commerce always runs roughshod over art.

And I find the greatest of ironies in [redacted – the signature file of the original sender]: Audiences Reimagined? Okay. Good luck with that. But, I will leave you with this tiny tip: that’s a false construct. Audiences are audiences. They do not change. If you want to reimagine something WORTHWHILE THAT CAN BENEFIT SOMEONE, reimagine MARKETING to the audience. And Boards.

This fuckin’ thing raised my blood pressure too high for 10pm on a Tuesday.

Cross-posted to One Last Word

I’ll Seat You Last: Tony-Snubbed Shows Take Back Free Tickets

I’ll Seat You Last: Tony-Snubbed Shows Take Back Free Tickets –

On Tuesday the Tony Award big shots had their say, spreading around nominations to 26 Broadway plays and musicals – and shutting out several others. Now some of the scorned are striking back: The producers of Bette Midler’s hit play “I’ll Eat You Last” and Alan Cumming’s mostly-one-man version of “Macbeth” are pulling back free tickets for many of the 868 Tony voters, and instead offering to sell them at standard prices of about $135 each.


The marquee at the Barrymore Theatre for Alan Cumming’s Macbeth, which was snubbed by the Tony Awards committee. It’s one of the shows that is taking back their comps for Tony voters. (Personal Image)

from Patrick Healy’s Arts Beat blog at

Here’s the thing: I’ve been kicking around this business for a lot of years and the validity of awards of any kind are always a source for a heated conversation in the green room or the front office.

Usually the argument falls into two camps. In Camp A, we have the artists, whose motto is, “It doesn’t matter what people say, it only matters that there is art. I do not do this for awards. In Camp B, we have the producing team, whose motto is, “I need to sell tickets and an award nomination helps me do that.”


Here’s the thing: both camps put out a very valid argument. I tend to fall right in the middle. You ABSOLUTELY CAN market a play to success without award nominations, without awards and without breaking the bank on advertising, BUT you have to engage your prospective audience with interesting information in order to do it.

The Broadway model of marketing and the standard regional theatre model of marketing is outdated and should not be emulated. What you need to market your play is (A) a great script, (B) a great artistic team, and (C) savvy marketers. It also takes more time and energy my way.

Back to Healy: not sure why this is news. If I was a producer — and I have been — if I got snubbed for awards there’s NO REASON ON EARTH to comp out voters for awards that I have no chance of receiving. Screw ’em. You want to see my show? Find someone with comps or pony up at the box office like everyone else.

See ya at TKTS.

(By the way, I’m about to post a piece by Seth Godin along these same lines. It’s a must read!)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ever-Brilliant Seth Godin

An original and helpful voice on this landscape of digital connection for which there are no maps. Seth Godin is a singular thought leader and innovator in what he describes as our post-industrial, post-geography “connection economy.” Rather than merely tolerate change, he says, we are all called now to rise to it. We are invited and stretched in whatever we do to be artists — to create in ways that matter to other people.

via Seth Godin on the Art of Noticing, and Then Creating | On Being.

lead_sethgodin-altThe greatest, most empowering hour I’ve spent listening to the “radio” in a good long time. I can’t tell you how passionately I believe in Godin and how eloquently he shares his message.

When he defines “marketing,” I just wanted to stand up and cheer. It’s so simple, it’s so powerful, it’s so RIGHT!

Pretty much on a daily basis, when I tell people just about the same things that he’s speaking of, I get looked at like I’m from another planet. I am gratified today to have spent this time in the company of someone who well and truly gets in.

If marketing, if cultural shifts, if development of new things holds any interest to you, take a few minutes and listen to this.

(“Radio” is in quotation marks above because I actually listened to this via podcast after the program was broadcast. Just so ya know!)

Bieber Fever in Facebookistan – Living Proof of Social Media ROI

Imagine a World Without Justin Bieber, It’s Easy If You Try | Commentary and analysis from Simon Dumenco – Advertising Age.

Great article by  Simon Dumenco.

Do not underestimate the Bieber-Industrial Complex. For one thing, Bieber, estimated by Forbes to have pulled down $55 million between May 2011 and May 2012, outearns Adele, Katy Perry, Rihanna and even Lady Gaga. Forbes also reports that his fragrance Someday — just one of countless Bieber-brand products — rang up $60 million at retail in its first six months, which helps give him the pocket change needed to be a budding tech investor (in Spotify, Tinychat, etc.).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t drunk the entire pitcher of social-media Kool-Aid. I’m more than happy to question some of the more dubious precepts of the social-media faith. In fact, after I spoke at yet another conference a couple weeks ago, a member of the audience came up to me and said, “Thank you for calling bullshit on social media!” (Which I guess I sort of did, somewhat.)

I’m with Dumenco on the social media Kool-Aid. I’ve probably only consumed a half of a glass myself. Still, it’s worth noting what’s happening in the world and WHERE it’s happening. It ain’t about the old farts like me, campers, it’s the babies that have the Bieber Fever and are texting and tweeting and YouTubing like a house a-fire.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it 5 million more times, I’m sure, watch what the damn kids are doing. And figure out how to translate that into meaningful marketing for you.

That’s all. Read the article.

H/T – Media Bistro

Why Students Are Taking Over Kickstarter

Why Students Are Taking Over Kickstarter – Online Business Degree.

This is worth a read — especially for younger companies — or The Cassii as I used to call them. (That’s an oblique Shakespeare reference, dontcha know. “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”) A N Y W A Y ….

There’s something to be said for this crowdsourcing to raise funds. Innovative way to get people talking about you on the social web, etc. Put on a play, a concert/showcase, recital, gallery show, etc and get friends and interested parties to pony up five bucks a head.

The trick is, make it the best five bucks they’ve ever spent. Treat them like royalty. Yes, all for a lousy five bucks.

Recently, I shelled out a C-Note to help an online soap opera production. I kinda enjoyed it and was interested in seeing someone move this infant genre ahead a bit, so I ponied up. They did not make their crowdsourcing goal, but they did produce a “season” of short programs and they went above and beyond what they said they were going to do for contributors. If they go ahead for another season will I open my checkbook (read: PayPal account) again? My Magic Eight-Ball says “highly likely.”

The Persistence of the Doggedly-Determined

Earlham College Podcast | Ep. 93 | Week of Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2012 | Earlham College.

For my day job, I interviewed Jason Neulander last week. He’s the creator of something called The Intergalactic Nemesis — a fascinating hybrid of radio play, stage show, comic book and music. Our students went gaga for it. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you probably will shortly.

Anyhow, it’s a great lesson in being fearless and committing completely to a product without corporate backing, foundation funding or venture capital. Neulander was a great interview subject.

(Someday I am going to get around to writing my treatise on my I believe that all the real entrepreneurs in the world are artists.)

Seth’s Blog: Art fears business fears art

Good short think piece from Seth Godin. Actually, just about everything on his blog is a must-read. I ran up against this business vs. art conundrum every day marketing the arts.

Art fears business fears art

The artist says,”that sounds like business, and I want nothing to do with it. It will corrupt me and make me think small.”

The businessperson says, “art is frightening, unpredictable and won’t pay.”

Because the artist fears business, she hesitates to think as big as she could, to imagine the impact she might be able to make, to envision the leverage that’s available to her.

And because thebusinessperson fears art, she holds back, looks for a map, follows the existing path and works hard to fit in, never understanding just how vivid her new ideas might be and how powerful her art could make her.

There’s often a route, a way to combine the original, human and connected work you want to do with a market-based solution that will enable it to scale. Once you see it, it’s easier to call your bluff and make what you’re capable of.

Posted by Seth Godin on July 08, 2012 | Permalink

via Seth’s Blog: Art fears business fears art.