Dear readers,

In addition to some updates to our site, I’d like to share a short post that i recently wrote for Home Grown: The 2011 Boston Theatre Conference, an event for local theatre artists, advocates, and administrators that i’ll be speaking at in late February. Enjoy, and please leave comments or questions if you have them!


In today’s global marketplace, arts organizations of all types are vying for the attention of an increasingly busy clientele. Contemporary audiences have less time to attend more functions and events than ever before, and potential concertgoers are always on the lookout for experiences that are unique and valuable, on their own terms.  In order to confront this dilemma, orchestras, opera companies, and other arts institutions are redefining their role as intermediaries in the performance process. Indeed, incorporating the artistic voices of audience members through participatory behavior has become a principal operating mechanism for many organizations.

I’ve recently spent some time trying to come up with a conceptual framework that helps us understand how arts organizations can engage potential audience members by reconciling traditional institutional practices with the blurring of professional and amateur performance culture (i.e. the “Pro-Am Revolution”). Arts organizations of all types have experienced a shift in the way young audiences associate with art, as they move beyond simple “interaction” by helping to imagine, plan, execute, and evaluate artistic events as equal stakeholders. Although much of my own work has taken place in the context of the orchestra world, it seems to me that theater is uniquely situated to forge lasting relationships with new audiences. Many of the characteristics inherent in theater—including drama, tension and resolution, and communication—make it an especially effective medium for impacting and inspiring audiences—especially new, young audiences.

Case in point: in my recent work with the University Musical Society (UMS)—a major arts presenter in Ann Arbor, MI—I oversaw a study questioning how organizations might create innovative participatory experiences for the next generation of artists and audiences. The result: a new series that has UMS working with professional actors, student leaders, and a major business school to introduce non-arts students to various facets of artistic creativity through a theater skills workshop. The reception has been almost universally positive, with students and faculty alike praising the applicability of theater techniques to life “off the stage.”

So what do you all think?  What do “non-artists” have to learn from us, and what might we learn from them in return? Does such a mutual exchange hold value for audiences and arts institutions alike?