Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hop on the Goldstar Poverty Train

Okay, I’ve complained about this before. 

 Sustainability has always been a struggle for theatre companies, regardless of their size.  The threats to long life as a company, are constantly evolving.  Ten years ago, who would have thought “instant entertainment” in the form of downloadable movies and music would be an obstacle to filling our seats?  Goldstar’s role in our eco system has also evolved.  Initially, the half-price giant was largely positive—allowing companies to reach out to new audiences and fill empty chairs.  But as they’ve become one of the primary ways that people purchase tickets—and as they’ve evolved from a “half-price” vendor to a “half price… or maybe we’ll just give away our inventory because we’re desperate” huckster, their effect on sustainability has become perilous.

Take their recent “Comp Train” campaign.  While companies are faced with increased economic hazards—from a weak financial system to the lure of instant, nearly free entertainment—Goldstar decided the remedy was a special “comp” ticket giveaway.  I place “comp” in quotes because companies are providing comps, but Goldstar is selling them at a mark-up higher than what they’d normally get for the ticket.  It’s not enough that companies can, at any given moment, decide to sell comp tickets; no, Goldstar has now created a special event to do so, pitting those companies who already offer 50% off tickets against those willing to drink the Cool Aide financially.


Goldstar will say that they’re simply encouraging new sales and opportunities for these companies:  people who might not normally see your show will.  This is wholly disingenuous.  The lure for companies isn’t new customers or relief from an empty house, and Goldstar knows it.  The reason to contribute comp tickets is so to raise your position on the weekly email blast, and the possibility of being named a “hot ticket” in their second, weekly email.  This puts companies in the position of not competing for customers, or awareness, but for preferential treatment by Goldstar.  Give us freebies and we’ll work a little harder for you.  In other situations, this would be called a bribe.

I don’t like to “complain” without providing solutions, so I’ll offer some.  First for Goldstar:  stop doing these ridiculous comp train promotions and discourage the use of comp tickets through you.  Second, stop ordering the events in your email by popularity; randomize them.  Customer reviews are sufficient for buyers interested in popularity—promote all shows equally.  And finally, stop re-writing event descriptions.  It homogenizes them and you aren’t as familiar with the show as the promoter is, nor have you spent as much time considering how to market it...and frankly, you’re not that good at writing copy.

What can companies do?  First, demand these changes if you agree with them.  How do you demand?  Simply:  talk about it—to Goldstar, amongst yourselves, and your customers.  And second, never stop diversifying your audience base.  Performance arts are ultimately about community.  Even Broadway shows are somewhat based on this dynamics of community:  The Lion King has a position in the community, in people’s minds, and there is a certain type of person that goes to the show.  Goldstar’s system discourages community building.  You don’t get their contact info; they don’t find your show through your website; they don’t leave their feedback with you, but with Goldstar.  You need to build your own.



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Monday, April 22, 2013

Great Critics = Great Plays?

Can great and enduring plays emerge from communities without insightful and valued critics? Certainly, back in Shakespeare’s or Chekov’s day the answer seems (at least at this distance in time) to be a resounding “Yes:” There appears to be no connection between the criticism of the day and work being produced. But today, in our contemporary society, I’m not sure the answer is so clear.

Last week, the Pulitzer Committee announced the winner and runner-ups in Drama. In order to be considered, the play had to have received its world premiere during 2013.  In some respects, a Pulitzer is given as much to a production as it is a play.  This year, all three plays/productions had the New York productions. The Big Apple is known for theatre, and the city (and its newspapers) take it seriously. Can it be that there was no play/production from Chicago worthy of even runner-up status? Seattle? LA? San Francisco?  Not one out of three was recognized outside of NY?  Certainly, there must be accomplished playwrights producing at the top of their abilities in these cities?

Granted, the Pulitzer is administered out of New York. It’s a rather secretive process. The first line of reviewers can be from anywhere in the nation. Their recommendations are forwarded to the final panel, whose members either reside or meet in the Big Apple. So it’s easy to see how NY productions that are more readily accessible and visible to the panel tend to be chosen for the prize. When Next To Normal won two years ago, it wasn’t even recommended to the final panel. An enthusiastic panelist suggested they all go see it together (now might be a good time to note that the final Pulitzer panelists aren’t theatre professionals, it’s not their field of work). Giddy enthusiasm and lack of actual expertise won the day—much to the fury of the initial reviewers—and Normal won.

But I don’t think the location of the Pulitzer Committee provides a complete picture of the issue. The Pulitzer is only one indicator of “great and enduring” work. Arguably, a major play hasn’t emerged from San Francisco since Angels in America. And here I think is the crux of the matter.

It’s not that great, enduring work isn’t being created in other cities; it’s that they are not emerging from other cities. Here in San Francisco, our ability—both artistically and logistically – to highlight exceptional new plays has deteriorated over the past decade. There are lots of factors: newspapers give less resources to theatre arts, audience reviews have become more persuasive, theatre reviewers sometimes vary wildly in expertise, the economics of producing discourages major houses from premiering new work, and the sense that theatre should represent a specific community has been lost.

Without a doubt there is still exceptional theatre being produced in San Francisco, and both major and minor houses are surviving the economic storms. But increasingly, I see the deterioration of a viable eco-system for theatre. Our diminishing cadre of reviewers, the diminishing number of column inches, and diminishing importance of their words may have tragic consequences.

Critics don't make theatre or playwriting better.  It's not in their power and it's not their job.  But they facilitate its emergence into the world.  They need to be insightful, to seek out new work, to elevate and advocate new plays, to be learned in all aspects of theatre production, to act as the voice of the theatre community; they need to return emails when invited to shows like working professionals, set aside their egos, find ways to be creative in the face of diminishing publishing opportunities.  They are not solely responsible for championing new work and making it visible on a national level-- theatre companies play have a responsibility as well-- but they have a unique leadership role.  And if we ever want to see the Pulitzer recognize a San Francisco production again, they're going to have to step up to the plate.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Lullaby Tree in Images

Wow.  That was like giving birth to an alligator.  This was no easy show to bring to the stage:  complex set, elaborate costumes, dense script, emotionally drenched dramatic arc.  And then we replaced two actors half way through rehearsals, and brought in a co-director.

But the final result seems to be a thing of remarkable beauty.  On Sunday we invited photographer Olya Gary ( to shoot the show, and I think the images portray the power and emotional impact of the play.  I quickly spliced them into a video, which you can see here.

Grab your ticket while they last!

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Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Make the Most of Your Evening

Coming to see The Lullaby Tree?  Here are five great tips to get the most out of your evening.

Ease Your Parking Pains

What's the best way to find street parking near the theatre?  It's simple:  get dinner before the show.  Between 3 and 6pm there's no street parking downtown during weekdays).  If you arrive promptly at 5.40pm, you can park on the street for free-- the meter maids are usually gone for the day (though some people stay in their cars and chat until 6pm, just to be safe).  That leaves plenty of time for a relaxing dinner.  That leaves plenty of time for a relaxing dinner.  On weekends, there's no simple system, but there's always better parking at 5:30 than 7:40pm. 

Wet Your Whistle at the Theatre

Second Wind believes that you shouldn't be gouged for a glass of wine or a cookie just because you'rein the theatre, so we keep the lowest prices in town.  Have a glas of Viogner or Zin for just $3, or $1.50 with our All Access Pass.  We recommend arriving 20 minutes before the show for the best seast sand a little relaxation.

Make Sure Your Smart Phone is Smart

Second Wind is the only company in the Bay Area that includes QR Codes in our programs.  Watch behind-the-scenes- videos with your smart phone.  To do so, you'll need a free QR Reader.  Many phones come with one pre-loaded, but you can always download one from your phone's App Store for free.

Running Late?  Plan B:

If you're running a little late to the show, we recommend the Stockton Street Garage.  It's one of the cheapest in the area, and about three blocks away at Stockon and Bush (or Stockton and Post, there are two entrances).  When you arrive at the theatre, buy a drink when you pick up your ticket.  You can take it into the theatre.  If the show has already started, we do allow late seating, but the concessions bar will be closed.

Get the Best Seats

Like many small venues, we are general seating, first come-- first serve.  There's really not a bad seat in the house, but if you want your pick, arrive about 20 minutes early.  We don't open the house until about then, so you'll never be left with the odd seats.

Running Time?

The Lullaby Tree has a running time of 90 minutes.  There is no intermission.

Got Tickets?

If you don't grab them in advance at Brown Paper Tickets!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

GMOs and Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

The Lullaby Tree takes a somewhat different approach towards the risks of Genetically Engineered crops.  Most arguements focus on the (mostly) unknown risks to human health; The Lullaby Tree aims its sites on the growing ecological dangers.  Just last week, the NY Times printed a front page article on Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, though they hid the punchline on page two.  All of the potential causes are in some way connected to GM crops. 

Want to learn more?  Check out our primer on Bee Colony Collapse:

And you can read the NY Times article here:

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