When It Comes To Our Audience, Are We Curious Or Judgmental?

There’s a great article by Whit Honea in the 9/23/21 edition of The Washington Post that examines the value of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. It’s a fabulously reflective post about an equally wonderful show but the part that jumped out was toward the end when the author highlights one of the show’s underlying points: “Be curious, not judgmental” (emphasis added).

“Be curious, not judgmental.” In a pivotal moment, Ted faces Rebecca’s ex-husband, Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head), in a game of darts that could decide the fate of the football club. Rupert is everything that Ted is not, a brash and petty serial womanizer strutting through life with his chest out. Just as it looks like Rupert may have won, Ted prepares for his last turn, and while doing so shares a story about seeing the quote “Be curious, not judgmental.” He describes how others have underestimated him his whole life:

“All them fellas who used to belittle me, not a single one of them was curious. You know, they thought they had everything figured out. So they judged everything. And they judged everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me, who I was, had nothing to do with it. Because if they were curious, they would have asked questions. You know, questions like: Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?”

If there’s a better way to describe the way the orchestra field has gone about making connections with its audience over the last 50 years, I have yet to find it. We’re only just now starting to untangle that mess.

This is a topic we examine on a regular basis, like this post from 2017:

Are Audiences A Reflection Or Projection Of What We Want?

Instead of being curious about our audience, we opted to assume we knew better and crafted a culture of enjoying the art under our terms. We got really good at sorting them out and shoving them into carefully crafted response boxes.

That worked great, until it didn’t…and we started figuring out Ted’s aren’t an endless resource. But unlike the game of darts from the show’s example, our Ted’s don’t stick around to teach the lesson we needed to hear. Instead, they just go away and tell others why they probably won’t like the experience.

If you haven’t seen an episode of Ted Lasso, you’re missing out. It’s entirely worth the price of Apple TV.

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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