Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Relationships II: Avoid Transactions

I've been pleased to see that The Lily's Revenge has been remembered by most people at their end of the year reflection time. The reason I loved The Lily's Revenge so much was because of the breadth of the experience around the actual play. In addition to being a great show and a great experience, it was also a great model for how a theater company should be run (even though Taylor Mac's gig was just a one-time project).

Every moment that an arts organization interacts with a patron, it's forming a relationship. And in that relationship, you treat the patron in a way that you hope they will treat you.

The average repertory theater sees its mission to provide one thing: a high quality play (let's avoid the quality kerfuffle for a moment -- I used the word Kerfuffle again I hope I move higher on that Kerfuffle google ranking!). If the theater provides nothing but that play to the patron, then the patron will say, "Okay. I will pay for that play." The patron will pay for a ticket, he will get a play. That's a transaction, and the transaction seems fair.

The problem is, the theater needs the patron to provide support for the whole range of services that the theater is providing. Ticket sales don't do that -- nor does tuition on the educational program (unless you want to make it really upscale and go the professional academy route). What you want is a donation.

How do you make a donation? Well, you need to provide the added value outside of the play.

Partly, that's about standing for something in the community, like diversity, educational opportunities, etc. But partly that's also about looking for other opportunities to give other things to your patron. Experiences that they didn't pay for--maybe it's web-content, maybe it's art in the community, maybe it's the chance for them to contribute artistically in some way.

If you do that, they're going to feel a relationship outside of the transaction, and then, hopefully, they'll want to support in some way outside of the transactional model.

I wrote about this briefly when I was talking about this woman at work who made lots of cookies for breast cancer, but it was on my mind again thinking about The Lily's Revenge. I paid $70 to Taylor Mac because of that show -- that's more than I've ever spent on any one cause in my life, other than getting my parents to donate $100 to the Obama campaign in my life.