The Art of the Business

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

Would you rather be Peet’s or Starbucks? March 1, 2010

It’s no secret that I’m a coffee addict. I simply can’t start my day without a decent coffee: an Americano Misto is my drink of choice. And, like many adults, my tastes are refining as I get older–I can no longer drink just any old slop–it has to be good, or I’m not satisfied (with the exception of Tim Horton’s, which gets my sentimental vote, as I grew up on it).

Many, many years ago, I was introduced to Peet’s Coffee by my high school english teacher and mentor, Art Griffin. Art would buy, and have his beans shipped from the States to Newfoundland, because that’s how much he loved the coffee. He told me the story of Peet’s.

Back in the ’60s, a hippie in Berkley named Alfred Peet started a coffee shop. Peet came from a coffee family, and when he opened his store, he roasted his beans on site. In 1971, some of his friends, English teacher Jerry Baldwin, history teacher Zev Siegel, and writer Gordon Bowker, decided to use his beans to open their own coffee shop in Pike Place Market in Seattle. They called it Starbucks.

About 10 or so years later, a guy named Howard Schultz came along. It was his idea to begin selling already-brewed coffee, not just beans, in Starbucks.

According to my teacher, Peet had an opportunity at this point to either continue in business with Baldwin, Siegel, Bowker and Schultz, but he chose not to.

The rest, as they say, is, ahem, history. Starbucks currently runs 16,634 stores in 49 countries around the world, and Peet’s operates almost 200 retail outlets, primarily in the western United States.

Ah, but here’s the rub: if you put a cup of Peet’s in front of me, and cup of Starbucks, and asked me to choose, Peet’s would win every time. I recently came back from Seattle with a pound of Sumatra, and I get some every time I go. To me, Starbuck’s coffee tastes burnt and acidic, and their mixed creations are way too sweet. I had a supreme Raspberry Mocha at Peet’s, which tasted like raspberries, chocolate and coffee, not too sweet.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think it’s possible to maintain quality across such a big board. With fewer stores, it’s easier to maintain your brand’s quality, although feel free to argue with me.

For sure, we all dream about becoming stinkingly rich and spending the rest of our days on our private yacht in the Mediterranean (or whatever your version of that is). But for me, I think I’m too much of a perfectionist to allow my name to be attached to something that was less-than-stellar quality.

So, I’d rather be Peet’s any day.

Please discuss over a cup of your favorite coffee.

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An even stickier situation November 4, 2009

Filed under: Ethics,Local Shows — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:59 am

Last month, I wrote a post on an interesting ethical dilemma that I found myself in. One of my clients, Down Stage Right Productions, was producing Evil Dead: The Musical in Vancouver. It was the first time EDTM had been done here, and they were doing it over Hallowe’en. Basically, this job should have been a cakewalk–it had everything going for it–timing, newness, and built-in fan base.

Except. As you know, another company, based out of Calgary, was also able to get the rights, and put their show up (which opened one week before ours) at the Vogue. They have a huge advertising budget–one which we could not compete against.

So, I wrote a post about this. I’d never had this experience before, and I thought it might be interesting to discuss with the theatre community at large. I had no idea it would be such a popular post. It’s gotten almost 500 hits, and garnered 25 comments. It’s likely one of my all-time top posts.

But I have to be honest with you. I didn’t allow every comment. On October 10, I got a comment from Kevin McKendrick, the director of the Vogue’s production. And I chose not to post it.

This is why:

  1. There was one part of his comment which I found inflammatory. Let me be clear: he was not slagging anyone, I just felt that if I published his comment, Mark (the director of the DSR show) would feel obliged to respond to it, and then Kevin would probably respond to that, and there would be a “he-said-he-said” argument happening in the comments section of my blog. As much as I love stats, I love peace more, so I didn’t feel comfortable putting that up.
  2. I am being paid by Down Stage Right Productions to be their publicist. I try, for the most part, to keep direct references to my work out of my blog. If a situation with a company I’m working with comes up, and I can reference it by re framing it as a business thing, I will. But I don’t actively advertise shows that I am working on on my blog. It’s not its place.
    The tone of Kevin’s comment that he wanted to publish on my blog was very PR-oriented. And as the person responsible for the PR of the other production, I didn’t want to post his comments. My loyalty was to DSR.

Here’s my question to you: did I do the right thing?

As bloggers, I don’t think we are held to the same editorial standards as newspapers. Blogs are, by their very definition, personal. They’re told from the first person, and I don’t think you can ever be fully unbiased. I don’t even believe newspapers can be fully unbiased, but at least bloggers are more transparent about it.

So, I’m being transparent. And I’d like to know your thoughts.

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A sticky situation September 23, 2009

Filed under: Ethics,Local Shows — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:06 am

Five months ago, I got a phone call from Mark Carter, Artistic Director of Down Stage Right Productions. I’d previously done publicity for his production of Bullshot Crummond last year. Mark had just gotten the rights to a new show that he was very excited to be producing: Evil Dead: The Musical.

Evil Dead_12

Scott Walters is Ash, with a chainsaw where his hand is supposed to be.

Now, I’m not much of a horror fan, so it didn’t really mean much to me, but he told me that it was very much in the style of The Rocky Horror Show, which I love, so I thought it would probably be good. I read the script and loved it. It is a really fun, irreverant, and campy. And people were excited about it, even though we had done zero advertising or press. It appeared to have the same kind of cult following as Rocky did.

And then we found out that Samuel French had granted the rights to the show to another theatre company, running almost exactly the same dates. We were shocked: how could this possibly happen? Turns out, Mark was granted the amateur rights, and the other company was allowed to have the professional rights. So, now there is going to be two productions of Evil Dead: The Musical running in Vancouver this Hallowe’en.

The problem is, the production that I am working on has a much smaller budget. My fee is about 80% of their marketing budget. The other guys have already placed a $4500 full-page ad in the Georgia Straight. I don’t need to tell you, we can’t compete with that. It’s like David and Goliath, in terms of budgets.

What to do? We very likely could be crushed. And this is a production that is fully funded out-of-pocket, with no government funding.

Were we mad? Hell, yeah. Frustrated? For sure. How could something like this happen? This is serious business–we could be bankrupted. Should we cancel? Change our dates? But we had already signed contracts and made expensive deposits for the theatre and the rights, so no matter what, we were going to loose money.

At the end of the day, we decided just to carry on. It’s our hope that Vancouver is a big enough town to be able to manage two productions of Evil Dead: The Musical.

Here’s what Mark has to say about the whole thing:

Dear Friends and supporters of DSR Productions,

By now most people are aware that there are two productions of Evil Dead The Musical playing in Vancouver this October.

As the director and producer of one of those productions, I would encourage people to see both productions, as I am sure they will see two very unique shows.

I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about some of the differences our production has to offer.

Firstly, we have an amazing cast of local professional actors who have been seen recently Vancouver productions of Les Miserables, Songs for a New World and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Scott Walters, who plays Ash, just finished a two-year run of We Will Rock You in Toronto and Meghan Gardiner (Annie/Shelly) has been touring internationally in her one-woman show Dissolve. Many of this cast will be going on to the highly anticipated local productions of Bat Boy the Musical, (also at the Norman Rothstein Theatre) as well as Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Gateway Theatre.

We are fortunate to have international choreographer Ken Overbey with us as well as musical director Sylvia Zaradic leading a LIVE BAND only in this Vancouver Production!

Our Designers and production team are all local professionals. Many of them work primarily with The Arts Club Theatre. In addition, other-behind- the-scenes people include Tanja Dixon-Warren from Vancouver’s longest running show Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding, and Rebecca Coleman a publicist who works with numerous local theatre companies.

The Norman Rothstein housed sold out performances of our 2000 production of The Rocky Horror Show, so we are thrilled to return to such a beautiful intimate theatre that totally ROCKS at HALLOWEEN! Enjoy a beer or glass of wine at our concession before the show or at intermission.

Above all, Evil Dead the Musical is one of the most enjoyable experiences you will have at the Theatre at Halloween: take advantage of it! As audience members you have the luxury of seeing two different versions of the same hit musical! One locally grown, the other imported.

Please show your support for local Talent  – and help keep the Arts Alive in Vancouver.

Mark Carter
Artistic Director
DSR Productions

Read the story in today’s Courier by Cheryl Rossi.

I’d love to hear what you think about this situation. Have you ever heard of something like this happening before? How did it turn out? What would you do if you were in my shoes?

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