Quality Is Still King And Yes, People Know The Difference

There’s an intriguing article in the 1/28/2015 edition of the Chicago Tribune by Chris Jones (h/t You’ve Cott Mail) that examines the resurgence of suburban theater in the greater Chicago area. Among the reasons Jones’ lists for their recovery is a new dedication to quality, such as reversing trends toward using synthesized or recorded music accompaniment along with a migration from the for profit to nonprofit business model.

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After years of some theaters trying to get by with cheap electronic arrangements, the penny finally has dropped that audiences who come to see a family musical want the full musical experience with a sea of live musicians. Such an investment is returned. In the case of the Paramount, the old suburban musical model has been transferred to a nonprofit venue, which adds another interesting set of possibilities.

This is a particularly intriguing observation from Jones when juxtaposed with some of the more extreme post economic downturn labor disputes where steep cuts to artistic personnel are proposed. More often than not, those proposals are accompanied by claims that the cuts won’t impact the artistic product because many listeners won’t notice the difference.

Granted, there is ample room to haggle over where any particular line could, or should, be drawn but for the most part, reactive turtling strategies don’t produce the sorts of results those who favor them purport. Consequently, Jones’ observation about the vitality of suburban theaters being bolstered by reintroducing larger numbers of live musicians into musical productions is an interesting waymark on the evolution of economic recovery era performing arts orgs.

We could have an equally fascinating conversation about Jones’ reference to the Paramount Theater moving from a commercial to nonprofit business model as a way to improve competitive efficiency, but that will have to wait for another day.

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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