Welcome to the official Hamilton Players blog: All the world's a stage...

Thoughts and ruminations on all things theater...and then some!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Make this year a win/win: goals for 2018

Back in a December blog post I talked about it being the time for"taking stock and setting new goals," but I never really got past the "taking stock" part of the post.  So today's post will look at the second half of the equation:  setting new goals.

As always, Hamilton Players will strive to produce high quality shows that entertain and educate. Our goal for 2018 season ticket shows is to increase participation/attendance by actors, volunteers, and patrons.   Part of the reasoning behind the selection of 2018's line up was to try to bring new faces to both the audience and the actor/volunteer pools.  So far this strategy has been working very well.  Chicago, the first show of the 2018 season, is in rehearsal and out of a cast of 22 actors, 11 of them are new to Hamilton Players!  The next show, Charlotte's Web, features a 1st-time director and we expect that the final show of the season, 12 Angry Men, will bring in another new group of actors.  Each actor new to Hamilton Players brings along a handful (or more!) of new patrons that will attend the show.  (Children's shows are particularly good at leveraging attendance as each child has parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, mentors, etc. who usually attend the show...and usually more than once.)

A second goal Hamilton Players is  working hard toward is to expand our volunteer program and recruit more volunteers.  We now have an official volunteer coordinator and are working to restructure and expand the volunteer committee.  The committee instituted training programs for house staff and general volunteers and is also actively recruiting volunteer House Managers to train for show nights. 

As far as non-season ticket programming goals are concerned, Hamilton Players is trying to expand the programming and bring in more participants. We are expanding the reader's theater program from 3 to 4 titles a year.  We are also adding a 3-day Haunted Playhouse event in October to augment the Mansion Murder Mystery and the Halloween Spooktacular.  We are adding another day to the Murder Mystery, so it will now go 4 days and we will be opening ticket sales a day earlier for a special "full table" event for people who are purchasing a full 8 seat table.  And we are looking for ways to market and increase the attendance of the Halloween Spooktacular - Hamilton Players' adult Halloween costume party.

The goals for fundraising are much the same as always:  raise as much money as possible to support our mission.  To that end, Hamilton Players is instituting a plan to do a fundraiser every September.  Every other year (starting last year) we will host a gala titled, All the World's a Stage.  On ATWAS off years, we will present a performance based fundraiser.  Our formal fall fundraising event this year will be Forbidden Bitterroot; a comedy roast and Broadway inspired musical parody. 

A final goal Hamilton Players is working towards is increasing awareness in our community about Hamilton Players and our programming.  We are partnering with several downtown businesses to have "Hamilton Players Nights" where employees and volunteers of Hamilton Players attend to meet the public and answer questions while the business donates a percent of the evening's proceeds to us. Currently the 2nd Tuesday of every month is Hamilton Players Pasty Night at MineShaft Pasty Co.,  and Tuesday, February 20 will be Hamilton Players Night at Pizza Hut (in Hamilton). 

As you can see, we have a lot going on all year long and the common thread throughout ALL of the goals is to increase participation.  The Bitterroot Valley an amazing community, full of talent and compassion, and right now participation levels have barely scratched the surface! Hamilton Players has so much to offer the community and the community has so much to offer Hamilton Players...let's just join forces, spread the joy, and make it a win/win for everyone!  See you at the Playhouse!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Anatomy of the Season Selection

Happy New Year!

We are a couple weeks into 2018 and already it's time to start thinking about the 2019 season line up. Different theaters have very different methods of selecting season titles.  Some have Artistic Directors that choose the season, others accept Director proposals, and still others have committees or Boards that make the decision.  Hamilton Players has tried several different methods over the years, with varying degrees of success, but has in recent years found a formula that seems to work.

Hamilton Players has a "Play Reading Committee" whose function is to read and assess plays and then come up with a season recommendation.  There are parameters laid out by the Board and the Executive Director regarding what the goal of the season is (usually ticket sales and community involvement), and the committee works within those guidelines to pick what they believe would be a strong, successful season for the Playhouse.  The committee consists of some Board members, the Executive Director, some long-time Hamilton Players (actors and directors), and some community volunteers.

There is a list of play and musical with about 220 titles on it that is generally considered.  Titles are added to the list whenever someone recommends a play/musical for the committee to consider.  Members of the committee read scripts and fill out evaluation forms that list the cast and show requirements and why or why not they think it is a good fit for Hamilton Players.  Some of the issues the committee has to consider are as follow:

RACE:  There are many shows that the Players would love to do (and based on word-of-mouth, the public too!), but due to a lack of diversity in our community, it just isn't possible.  Color blind casting aside, there are just some roles that require a person of color and whitewashing the role would be insensitive at best, if not outright racist or offensive.  Consider the musicals West Side Story or Once on this Island who's major plot components revolve around Puerto Ricans or West Indians;  or the classic, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, where it is plot-imperative that the fiancee be a man of color.  How are these to be cast in a community of 42,088 that is 95.9% white (according to the 2010 census/2016 update)?  There are approximately 50 adult actors in a given year who participate in Hamilton Players Productions.  That is .0012% of the population.  If 4.1% of the given population are persons of color,(1726 people), and .0012% of them participate that gives a grand total of 2 people.  And that doesn't take into consideration scheduling issues or just standard color-blind casting:  just because a show needs a certain ethnicity for a single role does not mean that is the only role an actor of that ethnicity can audition for!

ADULT CONTENT:  Historically speaking, the average audience member for Hamilton Players productions is averse to significant adult content.  And by "adult content" I refer to profanity - the f-bomb in particular, sexual situations, and overly risque costuming.  This is evident through the reduced ticket sales we see for shows with this content.  A show with substantial adult content is considered a "risk" show in a season and Hamilton Players must balance that out with a show that has a better than average ticket sales expectation (like Annie or Sound of Music).

STYLE:  Dramas are a very hard sell in this community.  Dark shows are too.  Sondheim is also a hard sell.  Shows that are complicated, dark, negative, or deal with sensitive issues do not tend to play well in this community.  There is definitely an audience for them, but it is a small audience, so dramas and the like are also considered "risk" shows.

NAME RECOGNITION: Again, historically speaking, the Hamilton Players' audience likes titles they already know.  New shows, original shows, or just lesser-known shows do not perform strongly in our community.  If the production is excellent (which we always strive for!), then ticket sales will pick up by the 3rd and final weekend because of word of mouth...but that is too late to make up for two weekends of less than stellar ticket sales.  Shows with little or no name recognition are considered "risk" shows.

HAS IT BEEN DONE RECENTLY:  Hamilton Players does not want to be in direct competition with other, local theaters.  It does not benefit anyone to play the comparison game of "who did it better?"  Arts organizations need to collaborate; not compete:  a rising tide raises all boats We need to help each other succeed, not sow seeds of conflict and dissension. Plus, theater audiences can get burned out; why should they by a ticket to a show they saw 6 months ago?  This is a weird and contradictory line to walk because there are a lot of theater goers who would buy tickets to The Sound of Music EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.   But the other half of this particular issue is found in the next issue to consider.

THE ACTING POOL:  Most actors like a challenge.  That means with the exception of a favorite role, they want to try new things.  And actors have egos that balk at criticism; especially when it comes in the form of, "someone else played it better."  When there are two productions of the same show in close proximity, inevitably there will be comparisons and someone will come out on the losing side.  Leaving a space of 5-10 years between repeating shows allows comparisons to fall into a mode of sweet nostalgia and the discussion becomes more of a comparison of strengths rather than a tally of weaknesses.

THE TALENT:  When selecting shows, the committee can only work with the information they have.  When it comes to actors, directors, crew and whatnot, they have to consider whether or not the necessary talent exists.  Even if it does exist, there is no guarantee that the talent will be available or even willing.  So the committee has to ask itself, "Does the talent exist in the community to pull this off?"  Take for example the musical Cabaret.  It may be well known, but it falls under the "risk" show category because of the adult content and dark themes. Add to that the challenging featured role of the Emcee (who's portrayal runs the gamut from asexual or sexually ambiguous to highly sexualized) and the committee has to ask itself, "Do we have someone who can play this role?"  Do we have someone who can direct this show and be sensitive to the issues that it will bring up?"  Can we do this show well?"  If the answer to these questions is "No" or even "Not sure," then they probably cannot risk putting the show into play.  Please do not confuse this with pre-casting; it is not that at all.  It is simple figuring out if the resources necessary even exist. 

THE MISSION STATEMENT:  In addition to all the above issues, the Play Reading Committee must also consider the mission statement:  Putting the spotlight on education, inspiration, and community through the performing arts.  The mission statement can offset a number of other considerations if the committee believes that a particular title is a fantastic mission fit and bring in new participants and patrons.  Conversely, it can also put a stake in a title if it is too controversial or divisive for a season ticket production.

As you can see, the committee has its work cut out for it.  But I am confident that they will, as they usually do, wind up proposing a stellar line up for the 2019 season.  If you have any titles you would like to see added to the list for consideration, please feel free to contact me at boxoffice@hamiltonplayers.com.