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Conde Nast article about Peter Boal and the financial status of the co


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#1 Chocomel

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 12:23 PM

I found this article interesting.

http://www.portfolio...le-Ballet-Scene

#2 bart

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 12:30 PM

Thanks, chocomel, for that link. Portfolio is the Vanity Fair of business publications. The subscription price is cheap, too ! :)

Seattlites, do you agree with the impression given: that Boal has accomplished both a financial AND an artistic turnaround?

In Seattle, 2,400 miles from the East Coast center of the ballet world, an idiosyncratic campaign of personal outreach to audiences, contributors, and board members is paying off. Boal, a former New York City Ballet dancer, is taking a flagging company and turning it around both artistically and financially. Indeed, four years into Boal’s tenure, it’s difficult for the city’s arts community to remember that the PNB board was making a huge gamble when, impressed by Boal’s ideas, it offered him the top job in 2004.

At the time, PNB had had several years of financial trouble. Audiences and contributions had dwindled in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and a temporary move to a former sports arena while the troupe’s performance space was under renovation drove down subscriptions and contributions. Budgeting, too, had become a challenge, with the company running an accumulated deficit of $1.2 million on an annual budget of $16.5 million.

[ ... ] To the relief of PNB’s board, the program received a blizzard of favorable press. The new works turned off only a handful of long-term subscribers and began attracting new ones. More patrons and contributions followed, allowing the company to hire additional dancers and add new productions. This fiscal year, for the first time in memory, the ballet company appears on track to meet its subscription goal. PNB also has a $21 million budget, a $12 million endowment, and a $1 million cash reserve to tap should there be an unexpected shortfall in revenue.



#3 Farrell Fan

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Posted 21 March 2009 - 09:06 AM

Portfolio is the Vanity Fair of business publications.



Is this a compliment or an insult?

#4 Hans

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Posted 21 March 2009 - 10:00 AM

In terms of artistry, Boal has turned a personal shortcoming to the company’s advantage. Although he doesn’t create new works, as many ballet directors do, his close ties with leading choreographers have drawn them to Seattle to stage their works.


Shortcoming? I would say asset--Peter Boal is an artistic director with taste! Do the works of Martins, Tomasson, Stowell, &c. really bring in lots of money? Perhaps only their 'restagings' (I'm being kind) of the classics. Otherwise, I think it is much more important to know who the good and popular (and hopefully both) choreographers are and bring them in.

#5 bart

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Posted 21 March 2009 - 02:08 PM

Portfolio is the Vanity Fair of business publications.



Is this a compliment or an insult?

Actually, I meant it as a kind of praise. Vanity Fair -- in addition to its near-endless advertising and its obsession with celebrity -- has a strong muckraking tradition. It's investigative stuff, while focusing on the personal, is often rather radical and iconoclastic.

Portfolio's tone and content is surprisingly comparable, minus the show biz and the fashion ads. It is something quite rare in American journalism: a well-written, interesting, useful and often quite skeptical insight into the way American business people and institutions actually work. I'm not saying that the PNB article fits this profile. But the lead stories I've read in the 3 issues I have received have fit this profile.

But -- what about the Peter Boal/ PNB piece?

#6 miliosr

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Posted 21 March 2009 - 02:36 PM

Whether or not Peter Boal is solely responsible for any kind of financial turnaround is difficult to discern from the article, which reads more like a glorified press release from the Pacific Northwest Ballet press office rather than as a sober article from the financial press. The writer introduces "good news" but then doesn't explain whether the good news is a result of Peter Boal's actions or is a function of completely unrelated events. For instance:

The writer offers up that only 87 under-25s took advantage of a reduced-price offer for an unnamed production. At a subsequent reduced-price offer for under-25s (which, not coincidentally, was for Romeo and Juliet), 600 people took advantage of the offer. Now, what accounts for the increase? Good word-of-mouth from Peter Boal greeting the 87 people who took advantage of the first offer or Romeo and Juliet being a name brand which appeals to under-25s? Impossible to know from the article because the writer doesn't bother to develop the information he introduces in any meaningful way.

The article goes on in this vein; assigning "blame" to Russell and Stowell for events which were beyond their control (9/11, using an inadequate facility during construction) while praising Boal at every turn. But it is likely that Pacifiic Northwest Ballet's financial fortunes would have been no different after 9/11 and during the construction process even if Peter Boal was at the helm. Likewise, if Russell and Stowell had held on as artistic directors during the absolute peak years of the derivatives boom years (2005-2008), they may have ridden out the financial hard times due to the general feeling of wealth at that time.

I'm not writing this to trash Peter Boal. My own feeling is that any turnaround at Pacific Northwest Ballet is a combination of new strategies on Boal's part and plain old luck. But the article is so badly written and edited that the reader can't make any kind of informed decision about where to assign credit and blame.

As to whether Peter Boal has accomplished an artistic turnaround, that I cannot say. I will say that going to see a hybrid of the New York City Ballet and Cedar Lake just ain't my thing. Sorry!

#7 Helene

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 04:33 PM

Do the works of Martins, Tomasson, Stowell, &c. really bring in lots of money? Perhaps only their 'restagings' (I'm being kind) of the classics.

I'd say "yes" for Martins and Stowell (if you mean Kent Stowell). I don't know enough about Tomasson. I don't consider "Romeo and Juliet" or "Cinderella" classics, and from what I've read here, Martins' "Romeo + Juliet" was quite a hit. Stowell's hits were mainly full-lengths: "Silver Lining", an original to music by Jerome Kern, "Cinderella", and "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet", which was to a score of various pieces, mostly little-known, by Tchaikovsky.

I also wouldn't put down Kent Stowell's "Swan Lake" by any means, which is a very straight take on the classic, although I wish he had left out the Jester character.

What Tomasson and Stowell did at their best with one-act ballets is to create pieces that were either needed to balance a program or to grow the dancers, and for free.

The writer offers up that only 87 under-25s took advantage of a reduced-price offer for an unnamed production. At a subsequent reduced-price offer for under-25s (which, not coincidentally, was for Romeo and Juliet), 600 people took advantage of the offer. Now, what accounts for the increase? Good word-of-mouth from Peter Boal greeting the 87 people who took advantage of the first offer or Romeo and Juliet being a name brand which appeals to under-25s? Impossible to know from the article because the writer doesn't bother to develop the information he introduces in any meaningful way.

While I think the article was a bit superficial, Kent Stowell produced his own version of R&J, "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet", and while it was a hit among subscribers -- it was created for Deborah Hadley, who may have been PNB's first star -- I never noticed more than the usual number of 20-somethings at performances. The Maillot "Romeo et Juliet" was another story: it was one of the hottest tickets around, and there's a reason why Boal has been so successful in Seattle with every generation: he has an intelligent, low-key, unaffected manner, with a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humor, and he listens. I think he believes in this younger audience, many of whom would be put off if they thought he was not sincere or was in any way condescending. I think the time he spends with the younger audience is a great investment in them.

I would never underestimate the power of taking people seriously and being thought of as a good guy. There's been so much "me, me, me, Greed is Good" in the world, that a little decency goes a long way, and a lot of decency goes even farther, and eye contact goes farther than that, especially in this part of the country, where it isn't easy to suss people out from appearance, and there is much more personal contact between The Powers That Be and the audience.

#8 miliosr

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 05:37 PM

You managed to say in one paragraph, Helene, what the writer of the Portfolio article failed to say over the course of the entire article.

Still, was Romeo and Juliet a hit because of Peter Boal's outreach efforts or because he brought in a version of a classic that struck a chord with the younger audience? In other words, was it a triumph of outreach or a triumph of programming?? Or both??? (Sorry if I'm being argumentative but I find questions like these endlessly interesting!)

#9 Helene

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 07:40 PM

Still, was Romeo and Juliet a hit because of Peter Boal's outreach efforts or because he brought in a version of a classic that struck a chord with the younger audience? In other words, was it a triumph of outreach or a triumph of programming?? Or both??? (Sorry if I'm being argumentative but I find questions like these endlessly interesting!)

I'm not sure why the younger group would have been more amenable to Maillot's version of R&J than Stowell's based on the name, but I think it was a matter of both. The data in the article just gave out the total number of tickets, but didn't note a pattern. I would suspect there was word-of-mouth involved with R&J, but if it turned out most of the 600 were advanced sales or for the first performances, then my theory would be wrong. I do think that began with the contact Boal made, in which he could only make a promise, and once fulfilled, people told others. I know that Speight Jenkins has said over and over that Seattle Opera sells most of its single tickets through word-of-mouth.

I can't say that my taste and Boal's intersects as much as I'd like. I would say that his reflects the taste of the dancers, or at least that most are happy with the challenges. I think that the quality of the Ulysses Dove works has gone down from "Red Angels", whereas Boal talks of bringing more of Dove's works to the Company. I sometimes cringe in Q&A's when he describe works he'd like to bring to the Company, and I'm sure he'd cringe at presenting most of my wish list, which would challenge his ability to be polite as much as anything :thanks: (Although he could say, politely and truthfully, that he couldn't afford them :)).

When I think of the number of times critics reviewed Balanchine, especially after the 1960's, in a "but what have you done for me lately?" mode, forever saying that his genius had run out and his time was over, only to retract it when he choreographed a "Chaconne" or "Mozartiana" or a "Vienna Waltzes" or a "Davidsbundlertanze", I remember an interview with the actress Sandra Oh, in which she talked about Bjork. Oh said that while once in a while she'd think "Bjork is going through her drumming phase, OK..." but that she followed her no matter what, not just her latest album, because she valued her as an artist.

Boal has a two-fold challenge: to convince long-time subscribers that he's not going to betray them, and to convince a younger audience that they will see something that will speak to them. It's a fine line, and I think it's less a matter of perpetually dazzling people than establishing long-term trust, so that if something's a miss, which it's bound to be, or the audience doesn't agree with the value of a work, they don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don't underestimate Boal's social skills/emotional intelligence in making this work.

#10 sandik

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Posted 24 March 2009 - 10:53 PM

See, if you wait long enough, someone smart will answer, and all you have to do is say "what she (Helene) said."

The company recently sent out this internal document as a press release (it's probably what Rosemary Jones was referring to in her review of the company examiner)

~~~

To: PNB Staff; Advisory Board of Trustees; Board of Trustees; PNB Dancers
Subject: Something to be proud of

I thought I would share some good news with all of you. As of a few hours ago, we have broken two records with our Broadway Festival. With 5,250 tickets purchased to date, we have broken the old record for single tickets sold for a mixed repertory program. It is also the highest grossing mixed repertory program in our company's history, surpassing the old record set by Valentine in 2006. Given the times, this is pretty incredible. Credit goes to many onstage, in the pit and behind the scenes. Congratulations to all. Catch the last three shows if you can!

Peter

Peter Boal
Artistic Director
Pacific Northwest Ballet
<http://www.pnb.org>www.pnb.org

~~~

I don't have firm information about ticket sales over the last several years, but I'm not sure that would be much of a help if I did -- there are so many variables at play that it would take more math skills than I have to create a reasonable comparison. (the season directly before Stowell and Russell left was a valedictory year for them, and the year before that was the first year in the newly-remodeled theater. The company performed in a rehabbed sports arena for a year and a half before that... you see what I mean)

I can say, though, that I don't agree with the tendency to denigrate Stowell and Russell's tenure in order to make Boal's contributions seem more miraculous, and I'm quite sure that Peter Boal would agree with me. They spent almost 30 years making a ballet company here -- if they'd been less than capable, they wouldn't have lasted half that long. Was their work always to my taste? No, and neither is Peter Boal's. His programming, at this point in his art life, skews slightly younger than Stowell's and Russel's did when they left -- they had significantly more experience in the dance world generally, than he has had so far. Boal is part of a different generation of artistic directors -- it would be ridiculous to assume he would be the same. But it's also ridiculous to assume that everything that came before wasn't necessary to get to the place we are now. Boal is doing an excellent job for the company and the community, but it's by building on what existed when he got here -- not by tearing it down and starting over.

#11 miliosr

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 05:15 AM

I couldn't put my finger on what irritated me so much about that Portfolio article, sandik, but your post made me realize what it was: the implied suggestion (intended or not) that Russell and Stowell were deficient in some way and that Pacific Northwest Ballet needed the Whiz Kid from New York to save the day.

#12 sandik

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 07:46 AM

Working in the arts here, we get that message all the time, implied or overt. It's a lovely city, but there's no way we could actually generate important art here -- we need the pros from Dover.

Of course, I remember when Stowell and Russell came in 1976 from Frankfurt, the knowledgeable outsiders!

#13 Helene

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 10:47 AM

I can say, though, that I don't agree with the tendency to denigrate Stowell and Russell's tenure in order to make Boal's contributions seem more miraculous, and I'm quite sure that Peter Boal would agree with me. They spent almost 30 years making a ballet company here -- if they'd been less than capable, they wouldn't have lasted half that long.

I agree. I'm not sure that they would have taken the company much farther: they had intended to retire two years earlier than they did, which suggests to me that they had done what they wanted to do, but they put aside their personal plans to dig PNB out of the financial hole into which the Mercer Arena residency had plunged them.

I thought the critical part of hiring the new Artistic Director was to ensure continuity of PNB as an institution. I think it's funny that at the time, people talked most about Boal's lack of experience, and while I don't think they underestimated his social intelligence and downright decency (if I can project about someone I've never met), what I don't think they did consider was that he had taught about a third of the company's dancers at SAB (and had trained himself at SAB with dancers like Louise Nadeau), and how much loyalty and "glue" he would bring to the table by having had a working relationship with a large part of PNB.

That the company has moved forward is a bonus in many ways, and a look at many of the dancers in the Company shows that so many are a product of the PNB school and training that Russell established, as well as being Russell and Stowell hires, more on the roster -- Nadeau, Bold, Nakamura, Wevers, Milov, Stanton among the Principals -- than Boal's (Korbes and Weese). The foundation of the company is very much Russell's and Stowell's.

#14 SandyMcKean

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 01:57 PM

I'm in the same camp as helene and sandik.

I loved PNB when Kent and Francia ran it; and I love it now that Boal is running it. OTOH, looking back on it, I do feel that Kent and Francia had settled into a sort of "rut" (to use a too harsh word). I don't blame them in the slightest. It is a generational and historical thing. Times always move on. The company was simply ripe for an envigorating change. Where PNB lucked out is that we got someone of Boal's abilities and vision at exactly the right time. I've been a ballet fan for 45 years (starting at age 20), and I feel as if I were "born again" under the spell of what Boal is doing here. Kent and Francia's failing? Absolutely NOT. But at the same time it is of Boal's doing.


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