Monday, June 27, 2011

Untapped Talent

Over the course of the year, I have been fortunate enough to attend several gatherings of artists and marketers, from the National Arts Marketing Project Conference to the #Newplay Convening at Arena Stage to most recently the Theatre Communications Group's National Conference. From these gatherings, a clear theme has emerged. Many artists feel that institutions do not use them to the best of their abilities, and they question why they are not approached to help with planning, budgeting, marketing or other traditionally "administrative" functions. In fact, as it relates to marketing, many artists went a step further by saying that they feel unwelcome by marketing departments.

At the TCG conference during a session entitled "The State of the Artist," sound designer Cricket Myers questioned why she isn't utilized more to promote productions she is working on. This echoed cries from playwrights that I have heard throughout the year asking why marketers don't seek out a playwright's assistance in the promotion of their work.

I think in some cases there is a serious disconnect between the marketer and the artist, which leads to situations of untapped talent on both sides. Why are artists not sought out during the marketing process, and why are marketers not sought out during the creation process? From the stories I have heard from playwrights, it sounds to me like several of them have legitimate reasons to feel like they are unwelcome when it comes to designing and implementing marketing campaigns. Those of us that spend a significant amount of time marketing new work might not understand the exclusion of artists in the marketing process, as outlined recently by Alli Houseworth's comments in "A Theater Marketer's Rant." Marketers that reject any collaborative environment with artists make it difficult for those that invite collaboration. I fear that some marketers are considered guilty by association.

If involving artists in the marketing process is beneficial (as I believe most of us agree it is), I question if involving marketers in the creation process could be as well? Theater is a collaborative art form, and it seems to me that the highway of collaboration should feature two way traffic. In my career, I have seen marketers locked out of rehearsal halls, denied access to draft scripts, and be uninvited to workshops and readings, yet they were expected to understand and promote the work. To those playwrights who question why marketers never seek their opinion, I would like to ask them if they have ever sought the opinion of a marketer?

Marketers and playwrights are both specialists, highly trained and very experienced in their perspective trades, but they are both creative beings as well. Good ideas come from a variety of sources. To assume that a marketer has no value in an artistic decision, or that playwrights have nothing to contribute to a marketing plan is foolish. Both sides lose, and when paired, they lose together.