Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gearing Up for the Pilot Program of the Austin Scenic Coop

The Austin Scenic Coop has outlets, light switches, and insulation! There is a new storage loft and much better-organized set of storage bays for upright storage of flats. Our Pilot Program is gearing up, with invited organizations using (or planning the use of) their virtual accounts.

The open space in the Coop is slated to be used for rehearsal starting Monday. However, a side effect of the spray-foam insulation has delayed preparation for that. In the course of installation, a fairly fine spatter of adhesive foam covered everything exposed to open air, including scenic elements which can be easily scraped clean, and other items less easily restored, like fabric backdrops, puppets, and power tools. Some of these items belong to the Coop and others to groups who have traded or otherwise arranged for storage in the space.

The real problem, though, was not the foam droplets on surfaces, but the tiny aerosolized particles of foam that remained in suspension in the air. The foam is often used in industrial spaces which have HVAC systems that filter the air, but we have no such system, and the foam dust lingered for several days, making it impossible to work in the space without eye and throat irritation. So the cleanup and restoration of the areas that had to be moved or partly disassembled in order to accommodate the insulation installation has been on hold.

We look forward to a very busy weekend of storing, cleaning, rebuilding, and otherwise civilizing the area in time for Monday evening. Included are pictures of the preparation for the insulation and electrical work. Pictured are volunteers Hank Schwemmer (up high) Rob Jacques, Devo Carpenter, and Jay Young.

--Connor Hopkins, Austin Scenic Coop, Coordinator

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Moving Forward with the Play Development Laboratory

Have had a series of meetings over the last weeks with Adam Greenfield, Director of New Play Advancement at Playwrights Horizons, whose organizational skills has Diana weeping in admiration ( I'm impressed too, but she has to bear the brunt of my cluttered brain).

We have put together a nice clean process for our play development laboratory, so beautiful in its orderliness that I told Adam I didn't want to muck it up with actual programming. We have a few more practical hurdles-- minor, we think. The next step is choosing the projects, which is some of the fun part. Adam, his assistant Alec and Ann Thayer, who we have hired as the project manager, are a delight and the meetings are probably too enjoyable. I look forward to working with more of the Playwrights staff as we get into this.

So our big plan: 5 week-long play labs, monthly, from November-early April. Being frugal donwtowners, Clubbed Thumb will program development projects of our own in the unused block of the rehearsal time for each of these labs. So! We'll be developing at least 11 projects from September-April (and on either side producing). Time to read some plays.

--Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What are the Financial Benefits of Membership in the Austin Scenic Coop?

For the last month I have been at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, attending the National Puppetry Conference and working for the Center during the National Playwrights' and Music Theater Conferences. From here I've been communicating with volunteer coordinator Kathryn Rogers as she makes the arrangements for some physical improvements to the main Coop storage space and future office. By the end of the month we should have insulation (reducing the temperature at least enough that we can store paint without cooking it) and electricity for all those useful things like lights, for seeing.

Power will also be useful for our most recent acquisition, a photocopier, which constitutes the beginning of our office equipment collection. Eventually, the copier, a fax, scanner and printer will be available to Coop members to help with aspects of production other than scenic needs. In addition the Coop office can be used as a business mailing address for itinerant companies, so they can have the appearance of professionalism.

After I get back to Austin, we will be setting up "virtual accounts" for the members of our pilot program, assigning each a differing Membership level representing a corresponding financial investment in the Coop. During the season we have identified a September 2010 to February 2011, we will track the participating companies' usage of Coop resources to establish the point at which Coop usage begins to pay off for members, using the cost analysis/pricing guide that Brad Carlin (Salvage Vanguard) and I developed last month. This will enable us to present clearly the benefits of Membership to the community (theater and others), and to the City of Austin and other granting institutions in the course of pursuing further financial and material support. The information will be available on the Coop website as a case study that can be used by others interested in establishing similar cooperative projects.

--Connor Hopkins, Austin Scenic Coop, Coordinator & Trouble Puppet Theater Company, Artistic Director

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Purpose and The Substance…of a Talent Agency

After diving into the joyous waters of Tax Codes, Articles of Incorporation and IRS Determinations, Ming has discovered two potentially key issues that may determine how this agency would be organized in relation to East West Player’s nonprofit status.

Does the agency further EWP’s exempt purpose (as originally determined when the organization incorporated)? An example Ming offers: a halfway house operates a furniture store. The store employs clients in their transition back into the mainstream. Because of this, the furniture store’s ‘for-profit’ activity clearly serves the purpose of the organization’s mission (as defined in the IRS’s definitions of nonprofit activities). To the IRS, EWP falls in the category of ‘education.’ Thus, it appears that if a clear argument is made that the agency would advance our educational purposes, then the creation of an agency as part of our ongoing mission would not raise issues. However, if the IRS deems that the agency does not fall within our original nonprofit purpose as defined by our determination and articles of incorporation, the question of substance comes into play.

Or rather, how substantial will the activities of the agency be in relation to EWP’s other activities (theatre productions, acting/writing courses, youth outreach programs, etc.)? Many nonprofits have for-profit activities (theater concessions & souvenirs, hospital gift shops, etc.). Often, these activities are small in the scope of the organizations major activities. Thus, in the case of activity deemed as “unrelated for-profit” activity in a nonprofit model, less is best. In the case of the agency, however, we have to question how much constraint we are putting on this agency model if it must be tied to a certain (yet-to-be determined) percentage of the organization’s operating budget.

These questions are just beginnings which need to be vetted through legal counsel as well as foresighted business and mission-driven planning. Onward!

--Lisa Tang, East West Players