Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

Ballet from the business perspective,interview with ABT's Executive Director


  • Please log in to reply
16 replies to this topic

#1 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 15 April 2008 - 04:02 PM

The Winter 2007-08 edition of Ballet Review includes a interview with Rachel Moore, Executive Director of ABT. Moore danced with ABT during the 80s and has a MBA from Columbia.

We've had threads recently on the economic difficulties of certain companies (especially Ballet Florida). We've also had many posts making suggestions to ABT for future programming. Perhaps this interview -- which focuses on the business side of running a major ballet company -- will provide a context for thinking about some of the economic as well as aesthetic choices facing ballet companies in the U.S. today.

Any thoughts?

Among some of the interesting points:

-- Moore spends

a lot of time trying to position Ballet Theatre as a national company and work on our brand.


-- Ticket sales cover about 50% of costs.

If a ballet doesn't sell well, it definitely hurts us.


-- The Board of Directors (there are now 60 on ABT's) are expected to

make a significant annual donation each year, attend special events, and give to the endowment [ .... ] Some are affliated with a corporation and their role is corporate philanthropy, so they represent their business, which gets a lot of PR from being on the board. [ ... ] We don't cultivate people for the board who aren't ticket buyers. We want people who will come and enjoy the company so it's n ot just about having your name on the board.


-- The success of a production like Sleeping Beauty

allows us to pay for ballets like Manon. I love Manon; it's a beautify ballet, of which there are many, like Onegin, that do not sell well. We have to try to balance the two. If we did everything we loved that didn't sell we'd be bankrupt. I often have to break Kevin [Mackenzie]'s heart by trading off the consistently good selling productions with those that don't sell well. [ ... ] When I talk to friends in Germany or France, I can't believe the kind of money they have to spend. It's incredible, really.


-- Last year's new production of Sleeping Beauty, despite unfavorable reviews, sold well.

[T]icket sales were six percent above our goal. Interestingly, ticket sales got better as that first week went along, despite the poor reivews ... We did try to position it before it opened as something family-oriented. This wasn't going to be your traditional Sleeping Beauty.


Incidentally, this particular Ballet Review is a real treasure trove. Included are two Ballet Talk regulars: Leigh Witchel's review of several casts of the Royal Ballet's Jewels and Paul Parrish's review of the Kavanagh biography of Nureyev. There's also a long, very thoughtful piece discussing Diaghelev and Kirstein and their influence on the development of ballet.

#2 Haglund's

Haglund's

    Bronze Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 320 posts

Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:23 AM

I look forward to reading the current issue if I am able to find one to buy.

One aspect of ABTís business management that has been troublesome since Michael Kaiser left is the companyís unwillingness or inability to invest meaningfully in a broad-based advertising campaign that is focused NOT on their core audience and not necessarily on new audiences, but that huge in-between group that has been to the ballet in the past, knows a little bit about it, but has been spending money to go to the opera instead or to Jazz at Lincoln Center or the theater or other entertainment and needs to be pulled back into the ballet.

The Met Operaís campaigns under Peter Gelbís influence have been genius. He knows how to create crazy, nonstop talk and excitement about a production and thereby pull back in the wide based audience. It doesnít matter if a production is slammed by the critics, seats are filled just because of the glorious advertising.

Itís understandable how with limited funds, it would be difficult to sell the idea of spending money on major advertising instead of refurbishing costumes or sets or on rehearsal time. Thatís where I would call on my board members to help create solutions and opportunities for huge advertising displays that would make ABT look like the most exciting and hottest thing going on in New York during the spring. Marketing is an ABT weakness and could be strengthened by a major board member or two with that expertise and those types of resources available.

#3 Mme. Hermine

Mme. Hermine

    Emeralds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,779 posts

Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:44 AM

This wasn't going to be your traditional Sleeping Beauty.


And I STILL don't know why that's seen as a bad thing.

#4 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:48 AM

Thanks for the very interesting post, Haglund's. I hope that ABT gives these ideas some thought, especially for its more adventurous (and riskier) fall seasons in New York. (There are, after all, sixty -- count 'em -- board members!!!)

One of the points that comes up in the interview has to do with the company's desire to position itself as a "national company," which would have obvious benefits for touring, for the possibility of public television or even theatrical releases of video, and for a share of whatever Federal or foundation funding is still around. They simply cannot afford to be too NYC centered.

Is becoming hot in NYC a good step towards becoming hot nationally? It once was; is this as true today? If this is the case, I wonder how you make use of powerful NYC word-of-mouth when promoting your company in other areas. Most touring companies just assume that local audiences will be impressed by a few quotes from NY reviews, even if they've appeared in obscure journals. But this rarely, in my experience, works.

Then, of course, when thinking of advertising is the old question of cost-versus-benefit. Billboards or subway ads in Manhattan are effective only so far. What else can or should be done, keeping in mind that something else has to be sacrificed for every dollar spent on advertising. I'd certainly like to see companies like ABT being a bit more aggressive about other kinds of media promotion. (You can go only so far by relying on being interviewed by nice, comfie, relatively dance-friendly Charlie Rose.)

#5 Joseph

Joseph

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 265 posts

Posted 16 April 2008 - 11:34 PM

Is there a link to read this article online?
Thanks!

#6 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 02:29 AM

There are two classes of ballet goers. Those who are already fans and do attend and those who could be fans and induced to attend. You can build attendance by getting the existing ballet fans to attend more performances or market ballet to new people.

The buzz in the media about "dance"... in all styles will / may have an horizontal influence as people excited by one genre look at the wider range of offerings and give it a shot. I suppose this is like baseball fans who decide to attend football or soccer or hockey. Many people are sports fans and like it all and some only a few sports and so on. The same may apply to dance as the whole dance things becomes more popular as a result of its being marketed in mass culture, pop culture or low brow culture... call it what you will.

I don't see much "cross over" from pop to classic and opera music from people into pop, but you do occasionally see orchestral scoring and so forth as part of pop music and music for film for example.

Ballet, like classic music, to be appreciated requires that the audience be a bit educated about the genre and the more they are the more robust their experience at a performance will be. Absent the education/experience ballet may look pretty or some of it athletic to new audiences and it may look like a relic from "old Europe" and this is often too a far reach for the cultural experience of the American public. I really don't see the hip hop culture finding ballet appealing, enough to attend performances with expensive tickets.

Getting children hooked is another approach and the "fairy tale" ballets like Nut and Beauty might be a way for parents who have an interest in high culture of getting their children exposed to something other than mass and low culture. Good luck. We are besieged with vulgar crap for the minute we wake up till we go to bed.

Ballet, opera and classic music companies need to decide how to insure their niche in the larger American mix (cesspool) of cultural offerings. The high arts seem to rely on the fat bank accounts of the well heeled, and well schooled who will cling to these "antiques" both for genuine appreciation and for less lofty reasons like tax breaks and snob appeal. You know there is enormous amount of sucking up to the wealthy by the ABT, MetOpera and so forth.

Could we find ourselves in a world where only the rich attend and support the arts, where ticket prices are so high that the little people cannot afford them, that these institutions are effectively owned and operated for and buy the wealthy and attendance becomes almost a moot consideration? In America it seems entirely possible.

The alternative is the dumbing down and the pollution of the high arts to attract the low brows at perhaps affordable price points to make the box office support the companies. It seems rather unlikely that American culture will embrace high arts, if recent trends in education is an indication. First to go, art and music programs.

NYCB and MetOpera are trying some 21st century marketing strategies to reach out to larger audiences. The R+J was such an effort and it involved a new look (costumes and sets) and choreography to appeal to the Freddie Flintstone generation. Perhaps ABT's Beauty was a bit of a copy cat approach without all the marketing hype of free ticket give aways. Both productions were panned by the traditional balletomanes for the most part for some aspect of these efforts.

My own observation is that a substantial percentage of the audiences at ABT, Met Opera, NYCB and recently the Mariinsky run are foreigners. NYC is a very cosmopolitan city for sure, but probably way more than half the time I have been at these performances in the last 5 years I was sitting next to foreign nationals. If this is the true make up of the NYC audiences, it does not bode well for taking these shows to flyover land.

We, as a nation need to set priorities as to what is culturally important to our people. If the high arts are, (and I think they should be) they need to be supported at every level and beginning with the education of the young. An interesting project is underway in Venezuela where young people are bring taught to play classical music and musical instruments. It is now vastly popular among the youth and classic music has infused the culture and provided multiple benefits to the children and the culture as a whole. Nice going Mr Chavez, or whomever began this program.

The Venezuelan model or similar is the way to go to inspire audiences to the ballet. We will have many companies and more skilled artists and lower ticket prices and high attendance and be weaned from the support of the well heeled elitists who us the Belmont Room for tots of champagne. And hopefully the standards will remain high and the classic arts niche will be preserved, rather than perverted by Bernays' approach to mass marketing. (ICK).

But of course, companies are businesses and in the hands of boards of business people who now only know of 20th century marketing schemes and put clever men such as Peter Gelb who "While at Sony Classical, Gelb pursued a controversial strategy of emphasizing crossover music over mainstream classical repertoire[2] Examples include cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was encouraged to record americana; electronic composer Vangelis, who recorded choral symphony Mythodea; and Charlotte Church, a pop artist who started her career as a classical singer.[3]. Additionally, Mr. Gelb masterminded the recording and release of the soundtrack to the film "Titanic," the highest selling film soundtrack ever."

It's fairly hard to fight the capitalist approach, even if you come to a position as a former dancer such as Ms Brown at ABT.

The jury is still out on Mr Gelb's contribution to the world of Opera aside from getting revenue up at the met and getting new productions in front of the eyeballs (and ears) of more people. It's the free market meets the mezzo at work!

It was kind of refreshing to see Kirov with the "old style" in every way approach to ballet this season in NYC. So much more about the dance and less about the marketing.

Interesting stuff, isn't it?

#7 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 03:44 AM

Is there a link to read this article online?

Ballet Review is not online. :( I wish it were, but I guess that economics has an effect on ballet publications as well as companies.

The website, currentlyl not in operation it appears, is here.
http://www.balletreview.com/

Address for subscriptions is 37 West 12 Street (#7). New York, NY 10011. Email address is info@balletreview.com.

#8 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 04:15 AM

SanderO raises so many interesting points. What do you think?

Responding to just a few of them ....

Ballet, like classic music, to be appreciated requires that the audience be a bit educated about the genre and the more they are the more robust their experience at a performance will be. Absent the education/experience ballet may look pretty or some of it athletic to new audiences and it may look like a relic from "old Europe" and this is often a far reach for the cultural experience of the American public.

There's the rub, unfortunately. It's inevitable when you're dealing with an art that is complex and profound, as well as technically difficult. I'm constantly frustrated by people who I introduce to major ballet who say "it's lovely" and then go on to talk about other things, rarely returning.

Could we find ourselves in a world where only the rich attend and support the arts, where ticket prices are so high that the little people cannot afford them, that these institutions are effectively owned and operated for and buy the wealthy and attendance becomes almost a moot consideration? In America it seems entirely possible.

Looking around, it seems this is already happening. The contrast with other societies can be frustrating. The latest Opera News focuses on the current situation for opera in Switzerland. Zurich has more productions than the Met each year (35 compared to the Met's 28) and more performances (270 to 220). Granted, the house seats only 1,100, but ... nonetheless! Lots of money there, obviously. As SanderO comments, arts education, ticket prices, and reasonable ticket prices here in the U.S. have long been considered expendable.

An interesting project is underway in Venezuela where young people are bring taught to play classical music and musical instruments. It is now vastly popular among the youth and classic music has infused the culture and provided multiple benefits to the children and the culture as a whole. Nice going Mr Chavez, or whomever began this program.

The Venezuelan model or similar is the way to go to inspire audiences to the ballet. We will have many companies and more skilled artists and lower ticket prices and high attendance and be weaned from the support of the well heeled elitists who us the Belmont Room for tots of champagne. And hopefully the standards will remain high and the classic arts niche will be preserved, rather than perverted by Bernays' approach to mass marketing. (ICK).

I believe that the Venezuelan program pre-existed Chavez. But the oil money has allowed a generous level of funding. The Venezuelan government also recognizes a good thing for international public relations when it has one. It's been decades since the United States government has given thought (and funds) to promoting the arts seriously in our own campaigns for goodwill and respect abroad.

Interesting stuff, isn't it?

Yes it IS. Absolutely. And it's stuff that many ballet lovers seem to have little or no interest in. It always suprises me when people go to a performance, or enter a museum, and have a lovely time while not even sparing a thought about the the complex processes (economic and other) that make these arts possible. Great institutions can disappear or be changed out of recognition. It can happen.

Sometimes -- and this is the old curmudgeon coming out of its closet :( -- I think that balletomanes should pay perhaps a little less time debating whose mad scene in Giselle is best ... and a little more to taking, thinking, and advocating on issues of how to sustain the large structures that are needed to support ballet culture as a whole: companies, productions, staff, schools, repertoires, etc..

#9 Ray

Ray

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 997 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 04:45 AM

Interesting stuff, isn't it?

Yes it IS. Absolutely. And it's stuff that many ballet lovers seem to have little or no interest in. It always suprises me when people go to a performance, or enter a museum, and have a lovely time while not even sparing a thought about the the complex processes (economic and other) that make these arts possible. Great institutions can disappear or be changed out of recognition. It can happen.

Sometimes -- and this is the old curmudgeon coming out of its closet -- I think that balletomanes should pay perhaps a little less time brooding over whose mad scene is best in Giselle ... and a little more to appreciating how difficult it is to sustain the larger structures that are needed to sustain any performance art: companies, productions, staff, schools, repertoires, etc..


THANK YOU! --from another curmudgeon.
How about these for "what's best" lists?: Which companies have the most viable or visionary 10-year (20-year?) plan? Which companies do the best job in terms of looking beyond a reductive model of "audience development"--i.e., working on long-term projects that go beyond putting butts in seats? Which companies manage best the balance between attracting wealthy funders and pulling in less well-heeled viewers? Which companies seem as creative administratively as they are artistically? (Jeff Edwards has a lot to say about this in a recent article in Dancing Times.) Which companies seem to suffer from "founder's syndrome"? I'm sure there are many others...

#10 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 05:01 AM

I am a "political" person and tend to see the world through the prism of class struggle. However, our culture which is what is humans have created is how we are judged and what we are measured by.

When we gaze back into our past it is the arts which convey who were were as humans and how we structured out society. Things like buildings and articles like guns and chairs and clothing and carts and spoons are part of it as well.

We still have many creative artists today which will tell the story to our future. But what we have much more of are "things" which is what we have become in the industrialized nations: cars, stereos, cell phones, PCs, airplanes, boats, satellites, TV, radio, the internet. Many of these things have aesthetics values in them, sort of like nice packaging. But the pure arts are really a tiny portion of what we are about and this is largely now part of the capitalist game. Just look at the art world, now driven by "collectors", galleries and celebrity aspiring, champagne sipping Hampton hanging "artists". There's money to be made in "collectibles" so get with the program! They made be talented, but what a collection of whores the art world is from top to bottom and that includes the institutions like the Metropolitan Museum, the MOMA, Whitney, Getty and the whole lot of them.

With the Galas, the Met and the ABT, and NYCB are aspiring to the same capitalist model of serving the rich, and of course exploiting talent or the artists.

So what else is new?

#11 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 06:07 AM

Jeff Edwards has a lot to say about this in a recent article in Dancing Times.) Which companies seem to suffer from "founder's syndrome"? I'm sure there are many others...

Ray, can you give us a brief summary or highlights. (It seems like this is yet another publication I have to learn about and subscribe to. :(

I am a "political" person and tend to see the world through the prism of class struggle.

It seems to me that -- regardless of one's political philosophy -- it's essential to see all social decision-making as "political" to one degree or other.

This was a common perception among people of both left and right who were educated up to the 80s. Then things started to change in a major way, and we were encouraged to be absorbed and fascinated by surface phenomena and discouraged (it seems to me) from looking at the underlying structures and causes.

For the majority (and this transcends income levels), our most prominent and valued social role has become that of Consumer. I speak regularly to people who are quite unconcscious about the way they treat the arts like something like a stroll through the mall -- "Oh, look, there's a nice shirt (or ballet). I love X designer (or Giselle). There's a sale!" They observe, are intrigued, possibly make a purchase, and then pass on. The process or power relationships that produced the mall itself, and decided what is and is not to be sold there, is not something we're encouraged to bother our little minds about.

This must be very frustrating for those engaged in the business of keeping not-for-profit art alive -- the managers, the directors, the fund-raisers, the diligent board members.

#12 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 08:02 AM

I would recommend a 4 part series which was produced by the BBC about precisely what Bart is referring to and it's roots going back the the late 19th century and the early 29th century and the work or Edward Bernays, the father of public relations.

The presentation is called: The Century of the Self

http://www.bbc.co.uk..._the_self.shtml

This explores how the public has been "manipulated" to behave as consumers, of ideas, products, lifestyle and self image and so forth. It's a rather upsetting and frightening look at what "we" have become, or let happen to us (by capitalism) in our case.

I can't recommend this production enough. It is a real eye opener (mind opener).

#13 dancesmith

dancesmith

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 22 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 10:09 AM

The reality is that whoever pays the bills becomes the boss, be that a capitalist, a king, a socialist government, or the public. Whomever pays the bills will always have the ability to exercise control, either benevolent or not, of the art (and often the artists). Sponsorship of the high arts has rarely been broad-based and each method of funding has always come with a different set of problems. We should remember that support of the high arts, until just a couple of hundred years ago, was largely provided by either royalty or the church. With their demise as controllers of wealth, different dynamics have had to emerge.

The US has always struggled with the democratization of the arts. The downsides that have come with popularization have been noted here and other places. Our problem in the US is that we inherently donít trust either the wealthy or the government with the control that comes with their support, nor have we found an effective method of supporting high arts more broadly. Weíve ended up with an unreliable patch work of some wealthy donors, limited government grants, and capricious public support, a method that is tenuous and often unreliable. And actually, in some respects, classical ballet may not suffer as much as other arts since there seems to be less concern if a limited number of wealthy donors control it or not.

I am actually optimistic of building a broader base of support but it will take superior management, something I believe may be developing. As long as adequate funding was secure, management wasnít needed. We are starting to understand that there is, just as bart emphasized, an emerging expertise in running not-for-profits as a business, where some day funding may be used for endowments rather than expenses, which could allow even more independence and artistic freedom than ever before.

#14 Haglund's

Haglund's

    Bronze Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 320 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 10:53 AM

A few all-over-the-place thoughts:

Most arts organizations, even small ones, are probably trying the business thing of writing 5 and 10 year plans, even though the plans may be more like plans of hope and vision than systematic business plans. Trying to run arts entities as businesses rather than simply running them like organizations is relatively recent Ė 1980ís-ish. It corresponds with the professionalization of corporate philanthropy. Prior to around that period, corporate contributions most often reflected the personal biases of CEOs and senior executives and really didnít reflect any formal corporate commitment or philosophy. Once professional development and philanthropy people began to infiltrate the corporate sector and it became obvious how corporate brand alignment with certain causes or organizations could be beneficial (e.g. milk industry supports osteoporosis organizations), more money flowed into the arts but with it came expectations of responsible spending and achievement of results Ė just like in the corporate sector.

So in a relatively short time of two or three decades, things have gotten better when it comes to the arts managing their business affairs, because there is more money at stake. But there are still many which are managed like a sinking ship where they are just so busy mopping up water that they canít focus on plugging the leak. Often youíll find a founder at the helm.

Unfortunately, the commercial value of the arts enjoys a higher place than the personal and social value in our country. Thatís just the way we are, sadly. We expose our kids to the arts so that theyíll be well-rounded, get into better schools, earn greater incomes. That is what some parents deem as enriching the lives of their children with the arts. I recall way back in the 1960s or 70s there was a piece in the back of a Saturday Review which was written by Arthur Schlessinger about why the public should support the arts, financially and as participants. His point was that our civilization is not going to be remembered by the size of its arsenal or armies, but will be remembered through its literature, music, photography, dance, etc. Somehow, that argument, which could be viewed as a political argument for supporting the arts, just hasnít been as successful as it should have been.

#15 Ray

Ray

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 997 posts

Posted 17 April 2008 - 11:52 AM

Most arts organizations, even small ones, are probably trying the business thing of writing 5 and 10 year plans, even though the plans may be more like plans of hope and vision than systematic business plans.


WOW so much to respond to, but I'll start small by replying to this snippet of Haglund's commentary. Of course a 10-year plan is one of hope and vision--dreams and ideals even! But w/out that then you're just reacting, lurching from crisis to crisis. I think many struggling large-scale organizations with, as you say, "a founder at the helm" still behave this way, even if they have access to all kinds of assistance, financial and otherwise. My positive spin on all this--against the backdrop of the kinds of pervasive commercialization and consumerist ideology that SanderO brings up--is that there are creative solutions to problems that have yet to be tried yet because of the inherently slow-to-change nature of large-scale arts organizations (Bart this is part of Jeff Edwards's point; I will try to summarize it soon).

.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):