I got into a discussion with a board member of a fiscally challenged non-profit theater over the weekend. (Is there any other kind lately?) I asked her what she thought were the biggest traps that non-profs could fall into, and what were the most important elements to a successful non-commercial theater.
After talking about donor bases and subscription models and audience developement, she and I pretty much came to the same conclusion that the most important asset a non-profit could have was an Artistic Director with the right attitude.
She and I have both seen quite a few theaters led by Artistic Directors who chose to use the theater as their own personal "play"-ground. Rather than blending the mission statement with what the audience wanted, the ADs chose selfish seasons, satsifying their own desires rather than their audiences.
And that's a quick way to drive away a consituency . . . and in today's world of high ticket prices and oodles of other forms of entertainment, it's five times as hard to get them back if they bolt.
It's a challenge for ADs, because their job is to serve a mission, challenge an audience, stretch, push, educate, etc . . . but they must remember that if the audience doesn't enjoy what they are seeing, they'll go somewhere else. Period.
In fact, I'd say ADs are like politicians. We hire them to be smarter than we are . . . to take us into a new day . . . to have our best interests at heart (even when we might not realize it's in our best interests).
But disappoint us? And we'll try the new guy faster than you can say "bankruptcy."
My two tips to ADs out there?
- Find out exactly what your audience wants using surveys, focus groups, or even an online contest to pick your season.
- Find a way to give them what they want while stretching them at the same time. (Just because they want a musical, doesn't mean you have to give them No, No, Nanette.)
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