Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Classical Cabaret and Gatekeepers

In September I attended Arts Midwest in Indianapolis and heard an inspirational talk on the uses of the Internet for promoting concerts. A blog and social media guru named Chris Brogan was mentioned. In my usual "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead" style, I went out and bought his books.

In Trust Agents and in Social Medai 101 Chris Brogan mentions people called "Gatekeepers." Gatekeepers are the people and organizations who guard the people who really matter - for me, presenters and arts managers.

It used to be that there was the telephone. Important people had unlisted numbers. Now E-mail has mostly replaced the telephone as the preferred means of communication. But E-mail communication can be blocked by the gatekeepers.

For instance, my long-suffering wife and collaborator, Dulce has been trying to communicate by E-mail with a concert series called the Algoma Festival, a perfect fit for Voice Afire's new show A Classical Cabaret. But, in spite of having met the people who run this series, in spite of also finding their e-mail publicized by the Canada Council, she finds it impossible to get an e-mail through. Even a simple text bounces back. What's more, the so-called contact info on their website pertains only to their box office. The Algoma Festival has made itself completely impermeable to anyone but their close friends and relatives, as far as we can surmise. In Algoma the good old boy network reigns supreme.

Here is what I would like them to see:
Is that so offensive? Am I trying to sell Algoma viagra or fake Rollex watches? Am I telling them a rich, inknown relative has left them millions? No, I'm just trying to get them to consider a show that they might find useful.

Comments, advice, commiseration?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Love NY

There are a lot of things you won't know about New York unless you live here, as I have for the past 6 months. For me as a composer, the most amazing discovery has been the number of really good concerts, plays, dance programs, you name it going on here every night. And most of it dirt cheap or free. Scary!
Thursday night I heard a terrific concert by the Bryant Park Quartet at the Austrian Forum. Price: please make a $5 donation.

The first half included a quartet by Gy├Ârgi Kurtag - 15 short and interesting movements. The second half was the Op. 59 No.1 Beethoven Quartet. Heaven itself, sublime, overwhelming. So you can imagine my consternation when my wife, Dulce, the perfect tabula rasa audience, commented "pretty." Ludwig would have been spinning in his crypt. I'm pretty sure he intended many things - but not "pretty." More grist for my rant No. 384 that this old music doesn't work anymore, at least not the way the composer intended.

Another reason I love NY. I'm looking for a Director for The Pocket Madama Butterfly A search on the internet produced a long list of names, of which I e-mailed 6 rather well-known and experienced NY stage directors, not really expecting a reply. To my pleasant surprise, four of them actually e-mailed me back and offered help! I'll mention Nathanial Merchant as just one of these princes of the NY theater world. Thank you, Nate.

In Toronto the same sort of message solicited nothing but a cold shoulder. I remember a note from the Canadian Opera Company what I had offered as "not an opera" (there was a non-singing actor involved) and therefore not worthy of consideration. 

Maybe I'm exaggerating a tad. Toronto's Factory Theater, while saying my work wasn't in their mandate, did recommend a very useful book. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to send out works for theater or music theater. Check out Dramatists Sourcebook published by Theatre Communications Group in (you guessed it!) New York. 
This book lists the method of submitting material to just about every theater in America. In Deember I sent out 56 packages with a letter of inquiry, a 250 word synopsis, a 10 page dialogue sample, and a recording of I Confess, I Have Lived, my Pablo Neruda pocket opera. 

We'll see. It's NY. Anything is possible!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chamber Music America NYC 2011

Here's some more hard earned info for self-promoting musicians - musicians and musical groups who want to tour - as compiled by a fellow traveler now living in New York City.

The Chamber Music America Conference happened January 13-16 here in New York. In some ways it was energizing and in some other ways it was enervating. I put up my usual booth, here depicted at the Midwest Arts Conference:

First, the energizing part: showcase performances by wonderful musicians. CMA showcases are juried affairs - 80 submissions and 20 approved showcases. I'll particularly mention the
Fifth House Ensemble from Chicago,
Duo Concertante from Canada, and the
Prism Saxophone Quartet from just about everywhere.

And the enervating part: at CMA perhaps 60 booths compared to almost 1000 at APAP. We're talking here about the comparison between the moribund scene that is classical chamber music and the energized arts scene that is happening everywhere else.

That's not to say that APAP didn't present classical chamber music, it did. But all the shows at APAP were at least in part about ENTERTAINMENT. It seems to me, having played innumerable family style and outreach style classical concerts, that traditional classical concerts are about EDUCATING the audience to appreciate the music of a bygone era.

For me, ENTERTAINMENT wins hands down over EDUCATION. My advice: CMA is a great place to meet some great musicians, but it is unlikely on its own to get you any gigs.

CMA (and APAP) happen at the wrong time of year to effectively sell a touring show. Presenters start thinking about next year's line-up at least a year and a half ahead of time. In September they may (or may not) go to a Trade Conference like Arts MIdwest. In October they are filling in their rosters.
If they attend the January conferences, it's merely to reinforce what they have already decided on or perhaps to fill in a lingering slot in their schedule.

The above analysis of the conference scene is courtesy of Manuel Prestamo of Peformance Management International

Dr. Prestamo says much of booking is still done simply because someone knows someone and has known that someone for a long time. Now that's not only enervating but downright discouraging. Maybe I'll just pack up my booth and cry (or is that die?).

Friday, February 4, 2011

International Society for the Performing Arts

Ann Summers of Ann Summers International encouraged me to attend the pitch sessions of the ISPA
Conference, held in NYC the same week as the APAP Conference and Chamber  Music America.

Here's what ISPA says about itself:
ISPA is a network of over 350 individuals, organizations and institutions from more than 40 countries around the world.  Members include some of the world's most significant presenting organizations, independent artists, performing arts organizations, artist managers, cultural policy groups, foundations, consultants, and many others who share the desire to advance the field of the performing arts on a global scale.

And it's expensive! Over $1000 if one wants to attend all 3 days. I attended only one day and it was $350.
I'll admit I don't have a whole lot of experience to go on, just one day at ISPA. But something that struck me very much at ISPA: this is a "good old boys club." Everybody knows everybody else. Mind you, this is a world-wide good old boys club, but nevertheless...

The pitch sessions were given in an auditorium, and since the theme of the conference was "The Art of Collaboration" the pitch sessions were indeed about collaboration. Each pitch was limited to 15 minutes and included video footage of a project. Some of the pitches were simply about finding bookings. Others were about finding cash to back the next stage in the project.

They were impressive. These are the artistic establishment, perhaps the avant garde establishment, but still the establishment. None of the projects were being produced in someone's basement. . None of the projects was from an individual artist, all were collectives, high octane collectives. A group fro Vancouver, for instance, had a multi-media project including 3 dimensional images projected on stage, at a cost of $700,000/

Make no mistake about it. This is an opportunity to make high stakes connections around the world. The next ISPA Conference happens in Toronto in June. Ann Summers wants me to pitch the Pocket Madam Butterfly. She's in Italy raising money. I'm keeping my powder dry but I've got my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

APAP Conference New York 2011

Awesome! Cool! The 2011 Conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters held here in NYC from January 7-11, which I attended, was exciting and inspiring. The classical music types had all growled to me, "Not worth going. It's all pop stuff." Wrong!

APAP is about shows that are entertaining, to be sure, but many of the showcases that I attended were absolutely first rate artistically as well. Lots of theater and dance, lots of genres from country music to jazz to cross-over to fringe theater. Not much straight classical, to be sure, but what there was offered innovative approaches to concert presentation. The ISPA and the CMA conventions, which I also attended in January, were staid by comparison. The shows of Voice Afire fit APAP like a well-worn glove.

APAP is enormous - the biggest music trade show on the globe. The center of activity was the New York Hilton, where on 3 floors there were almost 1000 booths.
There were also almost 1000 showcase performances, counting performances done more than once.
Some of the showcases were performed at the Hilton, but most were scattered throughout Manhattan, in every imaginable venue. Here's a page from the 152 page of APAP Showcase Listings:
This year I didn't pay to have a booth and I didn't organize a showcase. Next year, I will enter the competitive soup that is APAP. Here are links to performers who showcased at APAP 2011:
Sweet Plantain (string quartet)
Real Vocal String Quartet
Acrobats of Cirque-tacular
Quartet San Francisco

And while you're at it, check out an excerpt of Circus Terrifico, Voice Afire's collaboration with Motus O Dance Theatre, their off-the-wall version of Swan Lake:

Comments on Classical Music presentation as staid and boring? And how about comments on: "Classical Music presenters talk the talk about innovating but don't walk the walk."