Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is the Next Link in the Sustainability Network?

What is the next step after the Co-op? Where do resources go after the Austin Scenic Co-op [Collaboration between Salvage Vanguard and Rude Mechs] can no longer use them? I found inspiration this week from two community service volunteers that were helping me to organize the shed where we house the Austin Scenic Co-op stock. Community service volunteers are court appointed by the city of Austin to complete a certain number of hours with a local non-profit.

This week I worked with two young men to get rid of some of our stock that had not been used since it was donated. Most of these were odd shaped platforms that are very show specific and therefore not used readily by many people. We were hauling these out to the dumpster making way for a new batch of standard 4x8 platforms --by far our most popular item to loan out. To me these old platforms --some of which have not been touched by anyone for three years--were just trash, but the guys that were helping me out asked if they could use some of the lumber. They informed me that they had friends that would break down things like what I was throwing away. If they got the things for free they could turn just enough profit to make it worth their while.

This reminded me of an essay I read recently, "Ecology and Community" by physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra. In it he argues that communities should turn to ecosystems to learn how to be sustainable. Capra insists that lessons learned from ecosystems aren’t mere suggestions, but are laws for how communities must organize themselves. The laws of sustainability are "just as stringent as the laws of physics . . . If you go up to a high cliff and step off it, disregarding the laws of gravity, you will surely die. If we live in a community, disregarding the laws of sustainability as a community, we will just as surely die in the long run."

Capra identifies five laws of sustainability: interdependence, recycling, partnership, flexibility, and diversity. I think the most fascinating argument he makes in the article is when he writes, "you can define an ecosystem as a community where there is no waste."

In establishing the Austin Scenic Co-op we have been very concerned with getting donations--making sure people know about us so that they don't throw away set pieces that others could use. We have been working to establish networks to recycle theatre companies' sets and we still have a lot of work to do in this regard. Now that our stock is starting to grow we are encountering a new problem--one that I did not foresee. What is the next step in the network? What do we do with those things that aren't useful anymore to theatre companies?

Now that we have to be more selective about what we can accept and are starting to have to cull some of our less useful stock we need to establish another link in the network. Another level of recycling. I am excited about establishing another partnership one that is interested in using lumber that we cannot. And getting closer to our goal of zero waste.

--Thomas Graves, Austin Scenic Co-Op & Rude Mechs

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's All About Rigor!

A while back we with met with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation evaluator and program manager for some advice on evaluating Book-It’s programs around the reading behaviors of our audiences. They had great counsel and we have done everything they suggested. I just got off the phone with them again to get more counsel and the big message was...RIGOR – it’s all about rigor. Evaluation in the arts can feel like an illusive challenge – how do you quantify your artistic work and your mission?!? I have to say, while it is hard, it’s not impossible – AND getting concrete data is exciting as it informs the work – pushing us to uncomfortable places. And it’s in these states of discomfort that growth/change can occur.

This May we are finally kicking off our focus groups – the process has brought staff together to identify hypotheses regarding what we think Book-It does and the impact Book-It has on its audiences. We sent about 3300 emails out to different segments of our audience and got a huge response from people who want to participate – 400 so far.

Next steps are to turn our hypotheses into good questions for surveys and the focus groups – turns out crafting good questions is an art. We’ve piloted many things and continue to morph how we phrase questions and statements.

We’ve got a sampling of pictures of documents we’ve created to support us in these endeavors. They might provide a little visual context for the lists, statements, thoughts, and questions we’re investigating...

-- Gail Sehlhorst, Book-It

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Grist for the Mill?

Madly at work pre-production for Summerworks and benefit: Clubbed Thumb have continued to participate in interesting field conversations about new plays, including a roundtable "what then?" conversation in the wake of "Outrageous Fortune"-- and then the conversations after that.

One such gathering (in Germany) did not happen because of the Ash Plume. Grist for the Mill. Here's hoping the Mill produces something soon!

--Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Austin Scenic Co-op Supports the Fusebox Festival

The past two weeks have been very exciting here in Austin. We have had people from all over the globe visit our little oasis. We had the opportunity to see outstanding performances by Frederick Gravel from Montreal, Big Dance Theatre from NYC, Cloud Eye Control from LA, and Daniel Barrow from Winnipeg --just to name a few. The performances were thought provoking, beautiful and intense. It was a pretty awesome celebration of live performance and visual art that took place in different venues all over the city. In addition to all the exciting performance, I was also moved by the way our theatre community came together to pull the whole thing off. I believe that a love and dedication to collaboration is why many of us chose to become theatre artists.

That collaborative spirit was really shining bright for the past two weeks. This was most evident to me in the resource sharing that was taking place. Because of a willingness to share: platforms, ladders, projectors, screens, lighting instruments, and headsets found their way to one of the many venues where Fusebox took place regardless of who they belonged to. The Co-op [collaboration with Salvage Vanguard and Rude Mechs] certainly had a hand in this. Our stock was completely depleted during the festival. We had stuff in theatres all over town. Fusebox is like a disaster hitting a small town, where everybody ends up in the street filling sandbags. Fusebox really shows our true colors. And watching our theater community do what it does best inspires me to redouble our efforts to get the co-op of the ground.

--Thomas Graves, Austin Scenic Co-op & Rude Mechs

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Are the Qualitative Aspects of Establishing a Talent Agency?

As our [East West Players] coordinator Ming Lo concludes interviews with “qualitative” interviewees, he muses on the right-brain, left-brain divide:

In our modern culture, much has been made of the “right-brain” vs. “left-brain” differences – that is, the artistic and the intuitive (right brain) vs. the logical and rational (left brain). I happen to think that there’s no reason that we should all be capable of both, but sometimes, it seems that society doesn’t really agree. Many people adamantly declare themselves to be one or the other. Artists violently shy away from math and shudder at the thought of business. Meanwhile scientists, doctors and accountants would rather take the SATs again than stand in front of an audience and do a monologue.

Our goal is to figure out whether it makes sense to set up an Asian talent agency in Los Angeles – a question that mixes the artistic with bottom-line thinking. To come to a conclusion, you have to look at the qualitative side (Do actors want to be part of such an agency? Does it fill a market need?) as well as the nuts and bolts numbers (How much is office space for an agency? How much is the phone bill?).

The challenge is, sometimes, people are qualitative or quantitative, but rarely both.

There was the agent’s assistant. She’d worked in various agencies for many years, and so I asked her, “Any idea what the rent is for an agent’s office, or some of the other expenses?” Her reply: “You know, I hear these numbers all the time, but they just don’t register.”

Process has an impact on the outcome. So, I asked a casting executive at a network, “So, how does the casting process work at your studio?” I thought it was a very basic question, but the answer was another question: “What does that have to do with your question [about whether it makes sense to establish an Asian agency]?”

In the interviews, I say, “I’d like to ask about your background.” Twice, the reply was, “Why is that important?”

This thing always remind me, what’s obvious and makes sense to one person, often does not to another. A bit of a challenge, but makes the process interesting.
Ming’s next steps will include more “quantitative” side questions—researching successful 501c3 models that blend for-profit with non-profit and meeting with our finance/legal team for “nuts and bolts” of the proposed business plan.

--Lisa Tang, East West Players