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The Beehive Asks: How to spread out the crowded local early-December calendar?

Though I love going on a cultural binge once in a while — one happy example of which I just described in a previous post — there’s a more negative side to having so many events scheduled the first two weeks in December. When arts groups scramble to get their holiday-related events out of the way long before Christmas itself, it can mean an empty calendar later in the month, just when some people (me included) really start getting into the holiday spirit.

I tackled the issue of holiday scheduling in my Sunday Spotlight column:

… You’d think that local groups would try to break the bottleneck. Even when audiences want to get into the holiday spirit early, there’s the matter of competition. People can only go to so many performances in a weekend. And because the types of folks who tend to go to local classical concerts are often themselves involved in an ensemble, many times they can’t go to someone else’s concert because of rehearsal and performance conflicts. The audience pool gets smaller.

I go on to predict that if a local group actually scheduled a concert closer to Christmas itself, it just might get a larger, more appreciative audience.

What do you think? Should arts groups try to get together and actually coordinate their performances out of self-interest? Or does the current system — with virtually everything happening the first two weeks of December — work?

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Pictured: promotional art from Fresno Grand Opera’s “Christmas on Van Ness,” which will be performed Dec. 8 at First Congregational Church.

Responses to "The Beehive Asks: How to spread out the crowded local early-December calendar?"

Marc says:

I, personally, love that there are bottleneck weekends of performances. It forces people to organize their calendars and wallets and try to hit everything they can. When performances by different groups are spread out, people tend to think “Oh, i’ll just catch that show next weekend.” eventually “next weekends” run out and they’ve missed a show that had 2, 3, 4, or more week run. Plus, with the amount of shows some companies do I don’t know if it is even possible to coordinate dates to run their shows. The are availability rights for the scripts, availability schedules for the venues, and availability issues with casting. Too many factors. So I say keep the bottlenecks and leave it to the audiences to make it work with their schedule.

Heather Parish says:

This is why The New Ensemble has not yet scheduled a show to run beyond mid-November! While for some companies the holiday event can fill coffers, the struggle of scheduling talent and the competition can make it difficult. So we’ve decided to stay out of the fray! But perhaps with the right choice of small-cast fare, running something right over Christmas week, could be a hit. And I always gotta give props to GCP for their long-run holiday shows.

Your speculations about the difficulty of scheduling volunteer talent during a season full of family vacations and obligations, as well as schools needing to run during their term dates, are correct These are a big part of the decision-making. And, in a lot of ways, we’re still a cultural community that is more accustomed to competing with each other rather than attempting to work cooperatively. In all honesty, we’re all very committed to doing our own work our own way (myself included, I’ll admit!). The fact that we have the freedom to do so is sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse.

I think it would be an interesting experiment, though, to have a larger and smaller theater company combine for a December show. The larger company would get a few extra hands to help out and the smaller company would benefit from the added exposure. Both companies would benefit from learning something new. But it would take some serious inventiveness to make that happen.

Donald Munro says:

Interesting perspectives, Marc and Heather. I know it would be incredibly difficult for arts groups to formally coordinate — it’d be too centralized. But, I wonder if market forces might have an impact.

blake says:

I’m fascinated with this idea of groups working together.
I’d like Donald or Heather or someone to expand on what would be the difficulties. What did you mean Donald, about it being too ‘centralized’?

I’ve found, though I work in the music world, that the more you pull the ‘oomph’ of various groups together, the more likely your event will be successful. Most often, one band doesn’t have the power to pull folks away from their habitual Friday night at home (or what have you).

I’d appreciate anyone expanding on this conversation.

Donald Munro says:

Blake, I think I used the wrong word when talking about working together being “centralized.” What I was trying to say is that while the general idea of groups coordinating schedules is great, the devil is in the details. What happens when one performing group demands one of the “prime” holiday weekends (i.e., the first two weekends in December)? There wouldn’t be any way to arbitrate conflicts except to designate the task to a third party (the Arts Council, for example). And I could imagine that getting very political. But, like you, I’m fascinated with the idea of works grouping together. Informal discussions could be better than nothing at all.

Heather Parish says:

While I seriously enjoy and value audience members like Marc who are committed to seeing as many shows as they possibly can and stacking up shows to see in a single weekend (Thank you, Marc!), I am well aware that the vast majority of theater-going audiences are NOT likely to do that. The majority of people who consider themselves arts enthusiasts are much more likely to choose one show a weekend– perhaps even just one or two shows a month. They want a variety. They are okay with choosing a handful of things to do and missing out on a few others. They also like variety and also want some downtime at home. Knowing that, we can’t expect everyone to see everything (this does not apply to YOU, Donald! lol!)

MOST of those who attend the theater on a fairly regular basis MIGHT see one show every six to eight weeks throughout the year according to a nationwide study of regional and community theaters performed by the Theater Communications Group in 2009.

The thrust is that the bottleneck CAN create a situation where organizations have to compete even harder for audiences that are already hard to come by. The only upside to doing it at the holidays is that you might score those people who only go see a show once or twice a year (once in the summer and once during the holidays).

Eventually, as more and more productions go into the bottleneck, the audiences could be harder and harder to attract.

This is why I actually believe that the FIRST place arts organizations should get on the same page should be in outreach and audience development. We will never convince everyone to see everything. BUT, the more NEW audiences we develop from a variety of places in and around Fresno, the more people will be making a habit of attending- and valuing- local cultural events. Convince new people to become arts-goers in general rather than compete with the each other for the same audiences we’ve had for years. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. And as they have good experiences at one local arts event, they are more likely to take a chance on another one– thus “the success of one of us contributes to the success of all of us.”

Sorry, I’m on a tangent now. I’ll stop.

Amelia Ryan says:

I think some friendly coordination between performing groups, large and small, would be great. This is already happening informally to some extent, but there could be more. It doesn’t have to be centralized in a bad way — nobody would be instructed by anybody to do anything.
Digressing from the December congestion, one thing that some other cities do that I would love to see here would be a yearly group audition. It would be a chance for theaters to find out who’s out there and for performers to find out about the cool little companies they may not have known about. Anybody interested?

Anthony Taylor says:

I agree with Heather. I think I’m constantly aware of making sure I’m producing something that I don’t think anyone else will. That I feel is relevant. That I feel might get a group of people out to see theater that haven’t been out before.

There is a whole creative community in Fresno that wants arts and culture and entertainment, but isn’t quite sure what’s out there is for them. I’m hoping that as they see the wide variety of new and classic work in town being done by companies that are taking risks with material or staging that they will see the value and begin supporting with their ticket purchases.

Heather has been incredibly gracious and open about reaching out to the various theater companies in town and I hope her forging that trail will lead to more discussions between the groups and will result in successful audience development.

One more thing…I think a holiday show that runs over the actual holidays would be AWESOME! I’ve had a few ideas to produce something over Christmas, but have never pulled the trigger. When we produced “The Last Five Years” we had a Thanksgiving show and it sold very well, so…yeah. Who knows…maybe…

Blair says:

As a fan who does not take part in any performing arts productions and ensembles I guess I get fickle on the idea. I don’t mind the bottleneck, but I don’ like all of the holiday productions so early in the month. While I did like the FPO having their holiday show early, I would have liked it to have been this weekend. I also love the Christmas on Van Ness, though this year and last it has been early (last year it conflicted with the FPO). About two years ago it was the weekend before Christmas, and that seemed perfect. Other groups were no longer performing their shows.

Donald Munro says:

I’m glad you brought up concerts, Blair. At least most theater events play multiple performances spread over several weekends. But the bunch-up of one-time-only concerts during these first two weekends in December is extreme. And I guess I just don’t understand why anyone would want to hold a Christmas concert on Dec. 1, as the Philharmonic did. But as I wrote in my column, I’m in the “later is better” camp when it comes to celebrating the holidays.

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