Debating The Cinema Craze On Soundcheck Smackdown

I’ll be appearing today on WNYC’s Soundcheck with John Schaefer at 2:00 p.m. ET for a debate about simulcasts and what they hold for performing arts groups. Most folks are likely well aware of The Metropolitan Opera, which pioneered the efforts but this season sees the influx of big budget orchestras into the mix including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic…

Per Soundcheck’s program description:

As opera houses and orchestras simulcast their performances into movie theatres across the country, critics charge that it’s turning classical music into a cheap reality show. Fans say it’s as addictive as popcorn. It’s our Soundcheck Smackdown debate.

Tim Page Professor of music and journalism at the University of Southern California and former Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic at the Washington Post and Drew McManus, an orchestra consultant who writes the blog Adaptistration, debate whether these screenings are a way to make opera accessible to more people…or just cheap seats.

I believe John will be taking calls at one point and you can listen along at the station’s website. The number is 212-433-9692, or people can leave a comment on their website at

Here’s the audio from today’s segment:
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Update, 1:44pm CT: Post Smackdown Thoughts

IT was a fun debate and I’m really glad to see Soundcheck jumping in with this format, I hope other stations will follow suit. But one point I wasn’t able to get in due to time constraints is this: there’s no denying that simulcasts extend the reach of performing arts organizations but if the bigger budget leaders in the field who are jumping into the market sincerely have the field’s best interests at heart, they’ll include  PSA style messages pushing theater goers to attend local, live performances. Even better, they’ll include a list of local ensembles so patrons know where to look.

Without that, I have a hard time believing that this will benefit the field more than a few organizations.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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