The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

My very last post about RENT (this week) February 27, 2009

Filed under: Marketing with Facebook,Shows — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:05 am
Tags: ,
Some of the author's RENT gak

Some of the author's RENT gak

Yes, yes, you’re rolling your eyes, you’re saying “enough, already with the RENT, Rebecca. We get it. You love RENT.”

All that is certainly true, but this is a post that is only tangentially about my favorite musical. It’s more about the power of social networking (another of my favorite things).

There was this huge caffufle about RENT last week. A new version of the show, which is cleaned up a little bit, taking out the heavy swearing and explicit bits (like “Contact”) has been specially created for High Schools to produce. One high school, Corona Del Mar in California, had it scheduled as thier spring production. Coincidentally, they’ve been having a few issues with homophobia, and the choice to produce RENT was probably deliberate.

The caffufle happened when the show got cancelled. The reaons are not entirely clear why, but there is some concern that the play was deemed, even in its less-spicy state, to be, well, too spicy. Cries of ‘homophobia!’ were heard, and a bunch of the students got the word out via social networking sites like Facebook and Bloggers.

It worked. There were stories in the LA Times, the NY Times, and lots and lots of blogs.

All’s well that ends well: the show is back on.

Let this be a lesson: don’t cross the kids. They know how to mobilize.

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Getting them in the gut, or yet ANOTHER post about Rent February 25, 2009

I took a small business class at BCIT in September of 2007. It was great, because it allowed me the time and space to finally write that business plan I’d been putting off for the last six years or so before. Part of the course included a chunk on marketing, and any basic marketing course will teach you about the basic marketing principles of features and benefits.

Features are the specific things that the product or service that you are selling possesses. For example, if you are selling a painting, you can say that its done in watercolours or oils, how large it is, its primary colour scheme.

Benefits are how the product or service can help you. That same painting, for example, might look perfect hanging above your couch, or perhaps appreciate in value, and make you a bunch of money.

Truthfully, we don’t often buy stuff because of its features. Socks, maybe. Or a juicer. Most people buy based on emotions, and as artists, I think we have an edge. When you’re happy, what kind of music do you listen to? When you’re sad, or depressed? How do you feel when you stand in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers? When you watch the final scene of The Princess Bride?

The advertising agencies of the world spend much of their time trying to elicit an emotional relation to their products, because they know that people will buy something that makes them feel a certain way.

Despite the fact that Rent is now closed, it remains, still, one of my favorite musicals. Yes, I’d go so far as to callMe, as a Renthead myself a Renthead, and be proud of that label. Why? Rent got me in the gut. Big time. I remember so clearly hearing those songs for the first time, watching the 1996 Tony Awards, and being totally blown away. I absolutely remember not being able to see most of the second act when I saw it at the Nederlander in New York, because I was crying so hard. I remember how nervous I was  singing Amazing Grace when I auditioned for the local production. I am a rabid fan, because I connected with the show’s message, lyrics and philosophy on a gut level.

What happens when you get people at a gut level is, they become passionate about your cause, passionate about your work. So the more passionate you are, and the more you are able to communicate that in a way that solicits emotions, the better chance you will have that someone will buy your CD, come to your play or film, or buy your painting, sculpture or photograph.

For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, check out this story in Marketing Magazine, written by Edward and Sheree, from a Bowen Island company called Storytellings.

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The new Provinical Budget February 23, 2009

On Feb 17, the British Columbia provincial government released its new budget. I was honestly not even going to write anything on it, because it was so depressing. But I do like to fire up the masses if I can, so I am digging myself out of my hole of self-wallowing pity.

Okay, first off, I get that these are difficult financial times. In the past few months, we have gone from “the economy is in a downturn” to the dreaded ‘R’-word: “recession.” Comparisons are being drawn to the great Depression. US President Obama is handing over kazillions (yes, that’s a technical term) of dollars in bailout money, and our own government is saying it’s going into debt, and it’s okay with that if it stimulates the economy.

I also totally get that art is the first thing to be cut back on, along with luxury items. Art is often considered to be a luxury, even at the best of times. But still, this is ridiculous.

The short version of the story is that the government cut nearly 40% of its culture budget: from $19.5 million last year to $11.9 million this year.

From The Alliance for Arts and Culture:

The cuts to arts and culture in this budget are dramatic and potentially devastating. Essentially, it amounts to a 40% cut to core funding, which will further increase over the next two years. This is particularly troubling considering that the 2008/09 Service Plan for the Ministry was planning for significant increases in investments in this sector.

In 2007, B.C.’s creative industries employed approximately 74,000 people and generated $2.3 billion – 1.6 per cent of the province’s GDP. The demand for cultural goods in this province is one of the highest in the country. Not only that, but the province gets back 138% of its cultural investment in taxes. It is more important than ever that British Columbians realize that arts and culture are not frills or luxuries – they are essential to our lives and to our ability to be competitive in the new creative economy which is emerging.

The Georgia Straight says:

Don’t let the rhetoric of the throne speech confuse you. The B.C. Liberal government has declared war on the arts in its budget. And it did so to score cheap political points in rural B.C. to try to win the next provincial election.

The Alliance ends with a call to action: write to your MLA and let them know how important the Arts are. Anyone who attended The Wrecking Ball will know that we can be force to be reckoned with.

Read the entire Alliance article here.

Read the entire Georgia Straight article here.

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How Artists are Using Social Media February 20, 2009

Here in Vancouver, there’s  a local gal who is an actor and a social media enthusiast, called Monica Hamburg. While our paths have not crossed at auditions (that I know of), they have crossed on Twitter.  A while back, she posted a survey on her blog, Me Like the Interweb, to see how and why artists are using Social Media.

It’s fascinating. From the introduction, in which Monica talks about a favorite subject of mine, nicheing:

Innovative and ambitious artists are choosing to carve out their niche, realizing that although there are many artists out there, someone with true talent, drive, determination, and the will to learn can find their place, find their fans, and hopefully a way to make their work successful (in whatever way that is measurable to them).

You can read the entire post here.

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Building an Audience for the Future February 18, 2009

In December, I wrote a blog post about a show I went to see that was well attended, but the median age of those present was in the 40-50 range. A big issue for a lot of theatre companies right now is looking to the future, and trying to figure out how we can build new audiences, specifically younger audiences. Diane Ragsdale’s keynote address Surviving the Culture Change, which I wrote about on Monday, has some specific ideas. And here are a few more:

First up, from the UK: A Night Less Ordinary offers free theatre tickets to those who are under 26. An initiative of the Arts Council of England, it’s meant to help build younger audiences. Launched in February 2009, the scheme offers thousands of free tickets to theatre events including comedy, tragedies, musical theatre, dance, modern mime, plays, circus and much more. More than 200 theatres across England are participating.

On a similar theme, but closer to home: Free Night of Theatre took place on October 16, 2008. More than 650 theatres nationwide, in the States, held free performances that night, to introduce themselves to people who perhaps had never seen theatre before. Hosted by the Theatre Communications Group, “Free Night is aimed at people who can (and do) become paying customers, while still successfully reaching groups that are currently under-represented in theatre audiences across the country.” Nothing on the website indicates plans for 2009, but it’s still early in the year.

Also from the UK, Up… Up… and a Play! To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, The Gate Theatre sent invitations that included a red balloon to its mailing list. The idea was for people to receive the balloon, take a digital photo of it, then upload it to a Flickr page with thier name, location and story. The photos are now part of a free exhibition at The Gate. Click here to read more.

Locally, there are a few programs to try to entice the younger generation into the theatre. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre has a Telus Youth Pass, which allows those aged 12-19 to get into any Clutch shows for free. In addition, The Cultch has a youth program that assists young people to write, direct and produce their own work. Many theatre companies in Vancouver participate in the “I Go” program that allows high school students to get into shows for $5.

What kind of initiatives are your theatre companies implementing to engage with new audiences?

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Surviving The Culture Change February 16, 2009

This was recently forwarded to me by Mirjana Galovich, who is the director of marketing and sales for the Vancouver Museum. It is US arts philanthropy expert Diane Ragsdale’s keynote address on the subject “Surviving the Culture Change,” which she gave to the Australia Council Arts Marketing Summit held in Melbourne on 3-4 July 2008.

Here is an excerpt:

As a result of new technologies, generational shifts and economic divides, changing demographics, increasing diversity in cities and town across America, a trend towards anti-intellectualism, increased competition for people’s leisure time, cuts in funding for the arts in K-12 education, the decline in arts coverage in newspapers, and many other forces, we are seeing a profound shift in the interrelated relationships between people, space, time, and art, and changes in the ways that people create, consume, commune, and communicate. This is the culture change to which I am referring…

…podcasts can save us? How about Facebook? I keep having this picture in my mind of arts organizations huddled up, frantically flipping through some metaphorical 21st century audience development playbook, trying to figure out the perfect combination of plays that will win over younger audiences: Should we get rid of subscriptions? Stream podcasts? Produce videos for YouTube? Hire DJs and VJs to play in the lobby after the show? Have a MySpace page? Text our patrons on their cell phones? Remake the season brochure? Host some sort of amateur art competition?

Maybe! But we can’t answer these questions until we answer some more fundamental questions. Yes, we need to bring our marketing into the 21st century; but first, we need to bring our missions into the 21st century. This is less a failure to sell well, and more a failure to see well – a failure to see that our communities have changed, and that art and artists have changed, and that we, perhaps, as institutions that exist to broker a relationship between the two (communities and artists) have not changed in response.

What I love about this keynote, is that she is talking about all good marketing, which is, at its very basis, simply relationship marketing. It’s always been that way. But if we are to survive the shrinking of the traditional media and the aging of our subscription audience and the fact that we are in a recession, we have to start thinking about relationship marketing in different ways. If we think of it as building a community.

You can read Diane’s entire keynote here. And tune in to the blog on Wednesday for some ideas that theatres around the world are implementing to make their work connect more with their audience.

I will be participating in a conference call on March 2, at 9 am PST, 1 pm EST, with The Prosperous Artists, Rosh Sillars and Dean La Douceur. Feel free to phone in with your questions (206 202 3568). We will be discussing the topic of relationship marketing. The conference call will be available for download as a podcast afterwards.

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Come and join the world in celebrating Theatre! February 13, 2009

wtd-avatar2Last year, I did a job for our local Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance–publicity for their annual World Theatre Day celebrations.

World Theatre Day takes place every year on March 27, and is the brainchild of the International Theatre Institute. It’s aim is to:

“promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts (drama, dance, music theatre) in order to consolidate peace and solidarity  between peoples, to deepen mutual understanding and  increase creative co-operation between all people in the theatre arts”

Pretty cool, hey?

So, last year, our WTD celebrations took place, with the participation and cooperation of  many of our local companies, all during the week of March 27. And we were very successful in getting the attention of both the media and the local community.

I’m helping out with publicity for our local WTD celebrations again this year, but I started thinking… what if we made this thing truly international? We have the technology…  So, I’m pleased to announce, that, with the help and support of The Next Stage, we are throwing a World Theatre Day party, and everyone’s invited!

We’ve started a blog: If you are interested in participating, details are there, but basically, we want to hear what your local theatre community is doing to celebrate the power of theatre. And, on March 27, we want you to log in and live blog your events, upload pictures or videos… we want to hear from you!

It’s gonna be a great party, and the more theatre lovers/bloggers/producers/writers/artists get invovled, the better it’s going to be! I, for one, just can’t wait to get this party started….

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Theatre Tweeple February 11, 2009

I’ve been talking about Twitter for months now. It’s no secret that I am totally and utterly hooked.

I love that it works in real time, and I love all the new contacts that I’ve made through Twitter. And I’m especially excited about all the people I am meeting from all over the world that share my passion for the theatre.

Here are just a few of the people I follow, and am building relationships with (for some pretty cool stuff which we are currently cooking, but not at liberty to disclose!). Check them out, and perhaps you might like to follow them, too. First off, you should join the Theatre group on Twitter, and if you post anything about Theatre, include the hashtag: #Theatre.


@thenextstagemag: Simon Ogden, The Next Stage blogger

@DanceCentre: The Scotiabank Dance Centre

@pitheatre: Pi Theatre

@RachelPeake: a local writer and Ruby Slippers blogger

@CynnamonS: my fellow publicist and gal-about-town

@TheElectrics: Electric Theatre Co.


@ShamelessHussy: Both of these are the tweets of Deb Pickman

@bcfilmmaker: Peter D. Marshall, Film Director, blogger and social media enthusiast

@TJBuffoonery: Trilby Jeeves, Bouffon

@SMLois: Lois, Stage Manager at Pacific Theatre, and blogger

@Stevely: Publicist and Commercial Drive blogger

@UQEvents: That great new events listing site

@BronwenRules: Actor and one of my personal fave people

@CatLH: Actor and owner of Biz Books

@ShaneBee: Blogger and owner of LeftRightMinds

@CosmoCanuck: Adam is an actor, blogger and photographer

@MonicaHamburg: blogger, actor, social media

@LeeHVincent: works on Skydive

@StraightArts: the arts section of The Georgia Straight

@jconnellyphoto: Headshot photographer


@Luminato: The Toronto Festival

@bfg85: A Toronto actress

@ianmackenzie: Praxis Theatre blogger


@LindsayWriter: Lyndsay Price, writer and blogger on Theatrefolk

@KrisJoseph: Actor out of Ottawa

@jcovert: Publicist for the NAC in Ottawa

@a_mandolin: theatre artist, Toronto.






@WendyRosenfeld: Theatre critic in Philadelphia

@StoryTolar: Actor in LA, Debra Olson-Tolar


@TravisBedard: Blogger of Midnight Honesty at Noon (Austin)

@pmull: Director and writer (Virgina)

@JessHutchinson, AD of a theatre in Chicago



@moremattrlessrt: Two Day Productions, Scotland

@actorexpo: London & Edinburgh’s Trade show for actors

@Xuxa2: a UK Actress


@djchadderton: David Chadderton, a theatre writer/reviewer in England

@devioustheatre: a company from Ireland

@dramagirl: Kate Foy

And a couple of celebrity  actors, just for fun:



@MrsKutcher (Demi Moore)

@APlusK (Ashton Kutcher)

@JaneFonda (who is currently on Broadway for the first time in decades, and blogging/twittering all about it… Go Jane!)

If  I’ve missed anyone, or you’ve joined since this post was published, please add yourself to the comments section below.

And Twitter ON!!

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How many posters should we print? February 9, 2009

I was asked this question in a phone call from one of my clients last week.

“500?” she asked. I nearly choked on my coffee.

There’s a marketing revolution happening, folks. And the news is mostly good, and a little bit bad. Truth is, the tried-and-true, traditional methods of marketing our theatre productions, like posters and postcards, and ads in newspapers, aren’t working anymore. Part of the reason for this is that, we are so constantly inundated with advertising, that is is almost impossible to break through. Granted, an eye-grabbing graphic or title might help, but at the end of the day, what is going to sell tickets more than anything else is relationship selling.

The good news about that is that it is much, much cheaper than traditional forms of advertising. The bad news is, you will have to make a deep investment of time, and that can sometimes be a big challenge for already-overworked non-profit theatre companies. But the payoff can be really, really big.

In this day and age of spam, impersonal form-emails and auto responders, a personal touch is almost rare, and therefore stands out more. It’s like we’re going back to the days of the door-to-door salesman. A thirty-second “elevator pitch” paired with the backup of printed material (like a postcard, business card or flyer) could be the shortest distance between you and a ticket sale.

Online social networking via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs is another way to create relationships and reach your audience.

So… how many posters should you print? If you are a small company, and doing a show that is less than a three week run, in a theatre that seats under 200, only print between 100-200 posters. They are not your greatest form of advertising, another touchpiont, yes, but at the risk of getting torn down, or just not noticed. The return on your investment is not going to be great.

An investment of time and passion, on the other hand, could pay off big time.

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Business Mentoring for the Arts February 6, 2009

In the business world, mentorship is a widely-respected and -practiced phenomenon. I don’t see it happening as much in the arts world–apprenticeships, yes, but mentorships, not so much.

I, myself have had mentors in the past, most recently through The Wired Women mentorship program. A connection I made through that program was with Mojgan Fay, and we immediately connected on our goal to help artists become better business people. Mojgan has a program called Business Mentoring for The Arts. I’ll let her tell you about it:

TAoTB: Tell me about Business Mentoring for the Arts. bmalogo1

Mojgan: Business Mentoring for the Arts (BMA) is a six-month mentorship program which pairs students in BA/MA/PhD and fine arts with a mentor from the business world who has an arts background.

This career mentorship experience is enhanced with monthly workshops, networking events, in addition to seminars in partnership with New Ventures BC.

Mentors and mentees meet at least once per month for about an hour for the duration of the mentoring relationship.

TAoTB: How can this program help artists?

Mojgan: Business Mentoring for the Arts can help by linking artists to a supportive environment where they can network with peers, attend workshops, gain insight and mentorship — ultimately finding a path and necessary guidance to follow careers they are passionate about.

Through this mentorship experience, the mentees will be provided with business perspective to achieve their goals.

TAoTB: How can artists get involved, either as mentors, or mentees?

Mojgan: We are always accepting applications for mentees and mentors. To apply on-line visit:

TAoTB: What is your personal philosophy about mentoring in general, and about mentoring with artists, specifically?

Mojgan: As a mentee, I have gained great value and inspiration from my mentors, and believe that a mutually beneficial relationship to help the move to the next step when it seems far away.

Currently, there are not many resources for students in the arts and we are excited to be able to help students with their career paths.


TAoTB: Tell me about your artistic background.

Mojgan: I have a degree in computer science. After moving back to Vancouver, I joined Wired Woman and was really inspired by all these accomplished women in the tech industry, found my career path, and so decided to help start a mentorship program for Wired Woman.

After the launch of the program and a couple of years of experience as a programmer I discovered my true passion actually was in communication technology. I’m really interested in how technology can help facilitate social inclusion.

I’m currently going to Simon Fraser University studying Communication and noticed that a lot of my classmates don’t realize the value of their education to organizations and don’t have very many resources helping them with plans after school.

With my partner’s vision, Dan Schick, we decided to start this program and help students gain a business perspective, discover their value, and realize that they can have careers they are passionate about.

It is great to have a “community” with entrepreneurs, artists, writers, communications analysts, or even corporate professionals who have arts backgrounds ALL wanting to help each other and bringing forward a different perspective. We don’t envision this program to be a one-on-one mentoring match only. You do have your mentor, but you also have access to all these other mentors that can answer your questions — it’s all geared towards helping people find their passions.

And all the workshops we put forward are topics generated by our members, and facilitated by both mentees and mentors.

Thanks Mojgan!!

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