Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

I thought about doing a looking forward blog or a looking backward blog or a best of or worst of blog…but decided instead to just do a thanks for this great job blog. It is an awesome privilege to work with all of you and an honor to represent you. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy New Year. Stay safe and keep up the good work.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Upcoming Panel Discussion

You're invited to join us for this FREE upcoming panel discussion.

The Incredible Shrinking Media and What It Means For Your Arts Organization
Presented by Community Media Workshop and the League of Chicago Theatres
Are you noticing the more press releases you send out the less arts coverage you see in the news? As media shrinks and newsrooms become understaffed the arts become more underrepresented in traditional media. Join us in a discussion with media experts Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago, Catey Sullivan of Examiner.com, Scarlett Swerdlow of the IL Arts Alliance and moderated by Gordon Mayer of Community Media Workshop. They will share their insights on the trend of shifting media and new online alternatives to help your arts organization reach new audiences and increasing your visibility using new online media.
Date: Thursday, January 15, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Columbia College Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash, 8th Fl.
RSVP to diana@newstips.org or 312-369-7783.
Space is limited so register today!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sunday Morning

Turn your radio to WGN 720 this Sunday morning December 21 at about 10:15 a.m. to hear League Executive Director Deb Clapp talk about holiday shows and other things Chicago theater. Listen online at www.wgnradio.com.

Have a safe and warm weekend everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Take Action

By Ben Thiem, Director of Member Services

The arts policy statement that was submitted to the Obama transition team by a group of arts service organizations has been posted online at the Obama transition website and is open for comment. The website is excellent and opens the door for everyone to be an active part of this new administration. I urge you to read the document and share your thoughts and comments. If we want the arts to be a priority with the new administration we need to make sure that our voices are heard! Let's not forgot all of the enthusiasm and excitement we felt last month. Go to the website and take action now!

Panel Discussion Tonight!

Collaboraction, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the League of Chicago Theatres invite you to a reception and panel discussion with Philip Himberg, Producing Artistic Director of the Sundance Institute TONIGHT, Thursday, December 18, Reception with drinks and hors d'oeuvres, 5:30 PM. Panel discussion begins at 6:20 PM.

National and International Influences on and by Chicago Theatre: how does Chicago theatre and our artists affect and influence the way theatre is created outside Chicago and how do artists and influences from outside Chicago affect and influence our work.

Panelists include: Henry Godinez, Resident Artistic Associate, Goodman Theatre and Associate Professor, Northwestern University; Philip Himberg, Jim Lasko, Artistic Director, Redmoon Theater; Bonnie Metzgar, Artistic Director, About Face Theatre.

This event is free and open to Chicago's theatre community. Please join us at The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter, RSVP to ben@chicagoplays.com.
The panel discussion will be followed by an 8 PM performance of Collaboraction's production of JON. Tickets for JON may be purchased at the door for the industry price of $15.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Comedy...Take it Seriously

By Deb Clapp, Executive Director

I was thinking about this panel we’re doing next week and thinking about Chicago influences on the wider world and more specifically what we as a community “export.” I asked myself what we have the biggest influence on and the answer I came up with…comedy…not exactly a revelation but…comedy is theatre. I think we have a lot to learn from that segment of our community, especially improv. What can we learn from Second City where they have slowly but surely built an empire over the last 50 years from their always slightly shady digs at 1616 North Wells? What can we learn from the smallest of improv companies being invited to comedy festivals all over the world? No, we can’t re-write our plays so that they more accurately reflect current events, but…how can we use that incredibly nimble and responsive way of working in other ways? How can we quickly change and adapt to rapidly evolving economics, demographics, tastes and styles and yet be sure we always stay who we are at our core?

For me, as the leader of the League, the question becomes how can we take the idea of Chicago theatre and make it as strong a brand as second city comedy (and I mean second city lower case)? Most of us have the slightly shady digs thing down, but as we think about ourselves and others think about us as the best theatre town in the world, how do we communicate that simply, how do we take over 200 theatres (including comedy theatres) with 200 missions and communicate to the world one message about Chicago theatre? I don’t think anyone ever set out to brand Chicago comedy, so maybe it is something that evolves. Maybe the message is already there and we just need to corral it and use it to our advantage. Any ideas?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eventful Evenings

By Ben Thiem, Director of Member Services

During the last month or so you may have noticed that we’ve held a lot of events, roundtables, meetings, and other community gatherings. While they’ve each had their own purpose, they’ve all served as an opportunity to catch up with you after a busy fall season and hear firsthand how you’re doing. We’ve noticed a strong desire recently for people to gather, share resources and provide each other support. I think this sense of collaboration is really inspiring and part of what makes our community so unique. Just this week, Victory Gardens and Adventure Stage announced a fantastic partnership for a few holiday workshop events. I love hearing about these kinds of collaborations.

Earlier this week was our second Emerging Theater Roundtable event. We started this group to provide more professional development opportunities for our many emerging theater companies, which make up about 2/3 of our total membership. Regardless of your budget size, we welcome you to attend any of these events. On Monday, consultant Julia Perkins from MBMD Consultants led a presentation and discussion on the topic of board development with Malik Gillani, Executive Director of Silk Road Theatre Project and his board chair Frank Buttitta. I think it was a very valuable event and I encourage you to listen to it and check out some of the other materials and resources distributed to the attendees. The next roundtable will take place in early 2009. If you have any ideas or thoughts about future event topics please feel free to comment and share them here.

In November we held a Theater Dish event at Raven Theatre. The Dish included a panel discussion on the topic of reaching local audiences and partnering with neighborhood businesses. Our distinguished panelists included Jay Kelly from Victory Gardens, Milan Pejnovich from Court Theatre, and Zena Vaughn from Raven. It was very clear following the discussion that the issue of reaching neighborhood audiences is intimately related to the importance of making partnerships with other neighborhood restaurants and organizations and being a visible entity in your community. I encourage you to listen to that discussion as well and hear about all the great work that these companies are doing. The advice they offer is valuable to any theater, regardless of whether they have their own venue or not.

And if you aren’t tired of seeing me yet, we have one more event before the new year which is an Executive Director Roundtable on Monday, December 15 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Lookingglass Theatre’s offices, 875 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2200. Please RSVP to ben@chicagoplays.com. We hope to see you there or at another event in the near future.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

White Space...what?

I think many of you have probably heard about this issue but like me, did not quite understand it. I have been spending some time lately trying to understand it. White Space is the frequency on which our wireless mics, clear-coms, hearing impaired listening systems and some radio-controlled scenery operates. It is the space between frequencies and it would take someone much brainier than me to explain how that works. Recently the FCC ruled that companies such as Microsoft and Google could operate as yet to be invented devices in the white space. What they didn’t do was investigate properly what interference those devices would cause to wireless mics, headsets, etc. There was some testing done in which the technology that would prevent such interference failed.

The FCC pushed through the ruling in a vote on election day. The proceedings have been described as “irregular.” Theatre Communications Group has been working on the issue for a while and I was on a phone call with a number of advocacy organizations, commercial producers and individual theatres yesterday. There are ways to appeal the FCC decision and the call was basically informational on that point. I will continue to be a part of this coalition of people who care about the issue and if you want more information you can go to www.tcg.org/advocacy/FCCwhitespace.cfm.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Buzz on a Budget

In case you missed it last night, Dean Richards from WGN-TV interviewed Deb at Hot Tix for a segment about affordable entertainment options. Check it out online and click on "Buzz on a Budget" to watch.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Minimize the Risk

The League has embarked on an On-Line Ticketing Market Research Survey. Try to say it (try to remember it). Anyway, Slover-Linnet, an audience research firm is doing the research for us and we recently completed some focus groups and I thought the preliminary findings were fascinating. The essence of it is this: ticket buyers are looking TO MINIMIZE THE RISK when they are buying tickets. We have talked a lot in the past about breaking down barriers to theatre attendance, but this is a concept I hadn’t heard before. Patrons consider going to the theatre risky…for most people it is a big deal, not something they do on the spur of the moment. Will the show be good? Will the seats be good? Where is the theatre? Where is the restaurant? Will the food be good? Will people be nice to me? Where will I park? Will it be expensive? The interviewers were astonished by the degree to which some ticket buyers will go to get information, including actual reconnaissance of the theatre to check it out before they attend. There is much more to come and in fact some of you will be asked to have your patrons participate in surveys, but I thought this was an especially interesting piece of information to share.

A happy and safe Thanksgiving to all of you and yours.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's next?

What an extraordinary time to be alive and to be in Chicago. I’m not from Chicago and so felt even luckier to be here Tuesday night, watching the world watch us. I know that many of you worked on the campaign, I would wager that almost all of you gave time or money. Imagine if all the time and money and hope and work that were put into that campaign were put into the arts. Late Tuesday night a friend asked me “What are we going to do now?”

What we need to do is take our energy and the energy of our constituents and turn it towards making the country’s policies on the arts the envy of artists of all nations. Read Obama’s Arts policy and work with him to make it happen. I urge you to reach out, as I will, to your Aldermen, your state representatives, your congresspeople, and your senators.

Be loud, we are vitally important to the cultural health of this nation. Now is the time, don’t let up, I say again, BE LOUD. Make sure your representatives know the impact your organization has on your neighborhoods, your audiences, everyone you serve. Have meetings with them, invite them in, pester them until they pay attention, it is their job to pay attention. Encourage your boards, and your company to do the same. Let’s make ourselves heard on this issue.

Deb Clapp

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Free Theater: The Tricks and Treats

The Free Night of Theater (FNoT) program is wrapping up in Chicago this week. If you aren’t familiar with the program by now, FNoT is an audience development initiative pioneered by Theatre Communications Group in New York to lower any perceived cost barriers to attending live theater and attract new and younger audiences by offering free tickets. What do the theaters get in return you may be asking? Quite simply, the theaters receive each patron’s demographic and contact info and the significant opportunity to entice those new patrons to return on another date hopefully with a purchased ticket or subscription even.

This was the first year in which Chicago has participated. Free Night of Theater is actually a simplified name for the program since it’s actually been a Free MONTH of Theater for us. We felt that given the size of our market it was important to open up the program over a few weeks so more theaters could participate and we could allocate more tickets. Over the course of October we’ve had 55 theaters of all sizes and locations participate, offering more than 6,200 free tickets to patrons. Nearly all of those tickets sold out, many of them within minutes of being released. We spent a lot of time in September and early October doing grass-roots promotion with partner organizations, community organizations, craigslist-type postings and distributing postcards and posters in every neighborhood where theaters were participating. Since the objective of the program is to reach new audiences we didn’t want to promote the program in locations where avid theater-goers regularly receive their information. These efforts have paid off in a big way, not only with sold out tickets, but our website ChicagoPlays.com received a record number of visitors in October, we’ve received some nice press, and preliminary research on my part is showing we’ve hit our target demographic with younger audiences (75% of people who reserved tickets are under the age of 35) and new audiences (more than 80% of people were new to the theater they attended.) More research will be done by TCG’s research firm in the coming months that is not only specific to our market, but nationwide and I will gladly share that information when it becomes available.

No large audience development program like this is without its faults, correct? Our primary issue, which wasn’t unexpected given the nature of free tickets, has been no shows. As Deb mentioned last week, this was a larger problem earlier in the month when I think the frenzy for free tickets didn’t equal a strong commitment or intent to actually attend the show. I think our plan of releasing new tickets every Tuesday during the month has been a good one and equaled better attendance later in the month. Still I wonder, and it has been suggested to me by others, how much better would our turnout have been if tickets were only $5 instead of free? I realize 5 Dollar Month of Theater isn’t as catchy or enticing as Free Night of Theater, but it’s something to consider. Would even a small price barrier sacrifice all the great word of mouth buzz? I’d love to hear thoughts on the subject from those wiser than myself.

I’d really like to commend all of our theaters that have participated in the program this first year of Chicago. You’ve really gone the extra mile to make the program as successful as possible: sending extra reminders to your attendees, making special FNoT program inserts and curtain speeches, and thanks to our program sponsor Boeing, many theaters organized their own audience cultivation receptions/events with FNoT attendees to get to know these patrons better and connect with them. I’ve heard some great anecdotal stories from many of these events. Jess at New Leaf Theatre shared a great experience she had with some FNoT patrons that previously not only didn’t know that New Leaf existed, but that ANY storefront theaters existed. They had a fantastic time and it sounds like they’ll be returning for their next show. That one experience completely opened the patron’s eyes to what is available to them in Chicago. This story is one of several similar ones that I’ve heard, and perfectly illustrates the purpose of this program. I think sometimes we forget just how important it is to connect with patrons while they are in our space. A great theater experience is all about quality human to human connection, and that needs to be considered with every interaction with a patron – on the phone, at the box office, in the lobby, in your curtain speech, and of course by what happens onstage. What are you doing to connect with your current audience and what are you doing to lower perceived barriers to attending your theater?

Don’t forget the most important part now, add the new patrons to your mailing and email lists and INVITE THEM BACK! They want to return to your theater, you just need to show them the way.

Ben Thiem
Director of Member Services

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Welcome to the blog for members of the League of Chicago Theatres!

I hope it will be fun and informative. If there is something you’d like me to talk about please let me know. I will be writing about League goings-on, Chicago theater goings-on and all kinds of goings-on. Basically it will be a blog about goings-on.

I’d like to hear from you about an idea that has been mentioned to me a few times by members. It has been suggested that the League hold a workshop for board members of small to mid-sized theatres so that the board members might come together and talk about the challenges that they face, best practices, etc. Being a board member of a small theatre company presents a set of unique challenges and I think board members would benefit from knowing that those challenges are shared by other theatres. In sharing experiences and best practices, they will become stronger board members. Maybe in working together they may also come up with ideas and solutions they hadn’t thought of before.

Free Night of Theater has been an interesting experience/experiment for all of us. Most theaters are reporting that indeed, they are seeing new faces in their theatres. YAY!! That’s what it’s about. Some theatres have had a very high no show rate, however, it seems that the later it gets in the month, the fewer the no-shows. No idea why that is. My own un-scientific opinion is that the initial rush for tickets led people to sign up for whatever was available and then not necessarily follow through with the commitment and that these late month people are folks actually interested in seeing a show, not in getting something for free. Maybe? People seem to be having great fun connecting with their free night patrons at a reception and here are some photos from Chicago Dramatist’s “Beer and BBQ” night.

I had the chance this week to see three shows and they just happen to be indicative of the depth and breadth of our community. Chicago Children’s Theatre’s IF ALL THE WORLD WERE PAPER is an absolutely charming piece for 3-6 year olds. If you can find a kid to take you…I found the jokes hilarious, which maybe says something about me. DIRTY DANCING…well, it maybe says something about me (that I am exactly their target audience) that I loved it. And, the wonderful Court Theatre production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, starring two of Chicago’s treasures, E. Faye Butler and Jacqueline Williams – they bring down the house and it is a wonderful play.

Finally, on Monday, October 27 we are having an Executive/Managing Director Roundtable at American Theater Company, 1909 W Byron at 5:30 p.m. RSVP to ben@chicagoplays.com. I hope to see you there.

Call me, email, leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Deb Clapp
Executive Director
League of Chicago Theatres