Thursday, January 21, 2010

Technology and Collaboration

Hello, Readers! My name is Jess Hutchinson and I’m the newest member of the League of Chicago Theatres staff. I’m also a frequent user of League resources as Artistic Director at New Leaf Theatre, and have worked as a freelance director, teaching artist, and theatre education administrator with several companies around town. I asked Deb and Ben if I could use the blog to talk about technology and collaboration, especially as it relates to my new role here – and get your thoughts on that project, too.

Getting people together in a room is one of my favorite things to do – I believe that’s where the really good stuff happens. It’s where and how the art I love gets made, and where I feel we’re most well-placed to address and solve the problems we all encounter every day. When we’re together, we can share our challenges, triumphs, strategies and “please dear god don’t ever do this the way I just did it” revelations.

Using technology collaboratively is another of my favorite things. Last weekend I directed a reading of The Winter’s Tale, the script for which was cut and adapted entirely on Google docs by myself and the delightful Benno Nelson. Sometimes we were in the same coffee shop; sometimes we were hundreds of miles apart. But because of this technology, we were able to have a more effective, efficient, and oh-so-rewarding collaboration. On-line file and document-sharing is also how I’ve been having some really rich design conversations with my team for Orange Flower Water at BackStage, and how we often roll at New Leaf.

Why am I talking about collaborations and technology? Because I’m about to talk about the project I’m working on – and it requires both of those things. The Big List lets us use technology to collaborate across performing arts organization and strengthen our arts community as a whole, and it’s going live in just a couple months.

What exactly is this Big List I speak of? It’s the League’s cooperative, web-based, community database. It’s totally free (you heard me) for members of the League of Chicago Theatres. It’s going to make list trades easier than ever. It’s going to clean our patron data by running that data through the National Change of Address (NCOA) system every quarter. And it’s going to allow us to access robust research and analysis of who’s really coming to see theatre in Chicago. And did I mention that it’s free? (I actually got my first peek at the system today and some of its research and reporting capabilities. I said “Wow – really?” a lot during that phone meeting.)

Already working in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Seattle – TRG Arts (the company we’re partnering with on this project) has been collecting and analyzing a whole bunch of data about arts patronage across the country. And if the data in Chicago is anything like the data in these other cities, we’re going to see that the more arts patrons attend the arts, the more they attend – that in fact our patrons don’t get “full” of culture like they might at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

BUT – you’re only as good as your data, as they say, and the Big List will only be as good as the data we receive from the community. Which is my other not-so-sneaky agenda for this blog post! While I’m already in contact with many members of the League about this project, I certainly haven’t gotten to talk to everyone. So, as we get ready to really roll with this project (at the very beginning of February to be exact), I’m hoping that you or your company’s marketing director – or whoever is the best person for me to chat with about this project – will e-mail me at so that we can get your company on board.

If you’re still not sold on this project, you can contact me with your questions and concerns. I’m eager to hear what everyone thinks of this endeavor so that we can make it the best for all of us in our collaborative and technologically savvy theatre community.

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