Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Power of Giving

As donors, as philanthropists, as people who give because you care...well, it takes a certain kind.

It's been interesting as recent economic issues have affected whole nations in different ways.  While in the U.S., it led to a drop in individual giving, the recession heard round the world actually made other countries look into a model that was (no pun intended) completely foreign to them.

Obviously skewed from recent experiences in academia, in theory as well as with facts to back it up, Americans give like none other, whatever they give to.  And as a nation we (try to) incentivize that giving through various nonprofit structures and special interaction with tax law.

But I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, and for most, the incentive to give...well, the monetary benefit is secondary.

Growing up, and going to church with ang inay ko (my mother), she would always let me put the money in the donation basket. Well it took me a while, but I think I got it, got the point of it, and why it felt good to give, particularly over the last year as I've started on my own philanthropic path, with NPR and local theatres, like Woolly Mammoth, among the mix of organizations whose public good I believed in.

And that's, where I think we forgot about the arts at times, both as theatre professionals, and as patrons.  For the most part (I'm not there yet, but give me another year), if a theatre company is a 501(c)3, then it's been approved as nonprofit because of its mission (as well as other structural), and it is recognized as fulfilling some service to the community.

I say all this because art is probably one of the more ephemeral, but also one of the most rewarding things I believe one can support.  When it comes to basic needs, it can seem to falter in terms of importance, with good reason.  But after you've dealt with the bare necessities of life, then that's where support for the arts is crucial, because then you're addressing the quality of life for people in a communi

But it's not like you have to give to one or the other, and the necessity of some causes doesn't negate the rewards of others.

That being said, I want to invite you to share a couple of thoughts.

The first being some of the other things you give to, be it a religious organization, a theatre company, maybe a political action committee.

The second thing is, if you have a moment, share why you gave to this project, whether you support art in general, because you want to support people involved, maybe you support addressing the topic of the piece, or maybe there's a whole other reason.

And please share this with others who might still be thinking about supporting this. Ask them what they give to, and inform them why you gave to this.

I look forward to seeing your responses,

- JR Russ, Vision Director, A Way of Life Productions

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Price of Commitment

Now, this is a topic that's certainly complicated, and each person has to figure out for him or herself.

That being said, here's where I'm at.

The thing that is nice about being able to pay artists up front, or give them an idea of the compensation, is that they definitely invest a little more into it.

This goes double for the non-professional artists that I've worked with.

I actually had two people drop out of my original production, as Celia Wren mentioned in a Washington Post piece last summer, not so much about my show, but the Capital Fringe experience.

The latter one mentioned that not only did he not expect the rehearsals to happen as often as they did, but he had to take up a paying job.  Understandable, the guy had been unemployed for more than 6 months.

Flashforward to a more recent encounter, this time with a theater professional.  She had auditioned for a a production of Once on This Island, with KAT 2nd Stage, which I am choreographing.

After the show's been cast and rehearsals have started, she sends an email to the director explaining that a paying gig has come up and that she has to take it, hoping that we'll understand and all.

And we do...to a point. I understand needing to make a living, but more important, I understand the need to commit.

How would she feel if the tables had been reversed and we let her know that we had recast the show with another actor in her place?  No, the analogy doesn't work on the financial level, but the point is that when we cast, we commit to the actor. And that commitment is a two way street.

That's part of the reason we ask for conflicts from the get-go, right? Not just tangible ones, but potential/tentative ones as well.

And that's why one of the main bits of advice I've held on to is never audition for something you cannot commit too.

The second bit of advice I would give is that this theatre (and larger) performing world is smaller than one thinks.

The theater she's possibly leaving our show to do work for, I'd say I have a fairly close relation to, having done a couple of shows with them over the past several years. And if she'd leave our production for a paying gig, who's to say she wouldn't drop that for a better paying one? Not that I would go out of my way to share this information, but if it came up I would certainly not keep it to myself.  But before that happens, I'd hope she'd learn better.

Again, I understand the income bit, but I believe the ability to commit based on an informed decision you make with your own life should be the foundation for making those kind of professional decisions.

Just my two cents, based on my own experience.

Which brings me to this fundraiser.  Again, commitment is a two-way street, but I can understand how it's harder to make a personal investment, when someone is asking and not giving.  All I could give last year, was the promise for a cut of part of the box office revenue.  I was actually quite pleased with what I ended up paying all those involved.

With income of about $1,200 from the box office, I was able to donate $100 each to the two organizations which in turn had donated materials and publicity as partners, DanceSafe & SSDP, I could pay my designers $50 each, and my stage manager and performers between $125-$150.  Again, this barely compensated them for maybe 1/3 of the time they spent on The Rave Scenes, at a modest hourly wage. Myself, I paid about $5, because everyone else's gift of time and energy was more than payment enough.

But this compensation was an unknown at the time of commitment. And especially in this day and time, asking people to invest time and energy when you don't know what you can offer them in return, except a promise, well...it's a lot to ask.  Being able to tell them at the least, I can offer them something solid and concrete, compensation for at least the rehearsal time, if this fundraiser is successful, well hopefully it lets them know how serious I am about the value of their time, and how valuable their commitment is in return.

Which isn't to say that those who did pull through with me on my epic journey last year didn't know how much it meant to me that they stayed.  In fact, because most of them were friends from the theatre and the rave scene, I think they knew even more so how important that piece and their participation was, and it is why they stayed.  And even if I could have compensated them appropriately, it still would not represent what their involvement was personally worth to me.

Anyway, I have a feeling I'm digressing. Probably part of my effort to postpone the weekend's end.  Every new beginning, though, I suppose.

So there you have it, with this fundraiser, I hope to put this money where my mouth is, and be able to get people what they give in the first place.

- JR Russ, Vision Director, A Way of Life Productions

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Rave Scenes - Audience Survey

Hello all!!

A bit belated, but here are the results from the audience survey from The Rave Scenes.

Just a disclaimer, though.  As we received 30 responses from a total number of 194tickets sold, I tried to calculate the Margin of Error, for some of the questions.

1. Is this your first year at the Capital Fringe Festival? (13.18 MOE)
Yes - 24 (80%) / No - 6 (20%)

2. How old are you?
Average Age - 29.04

3. How did you commute here? (15.33 MOE)
Auto - 20.5 (68.33%) / Public - 8.5 (28.33%) / Bike - 1

4. Where do you live? [We're gonna keep this one private]

5. Are you a raver?
Yes - 6 / Maybe - 4.5 / In a past life - 7.5 / No - 11

6. Do you regularly see live performances? (11.2 MOE)

Dance - 1 / Music - 7 / Theatre - 6 / Other - 1 / No - 4

dance/music - 2 / music/theatre - 2 / music/other - 1

dance/music/theatre - 4 / dance/music/theatre/other - 2

Yes - 26 (86.67%) / No - 4 (13.33%)

7. How did you find out about The Rave Scenes? (13.18 MOE)
WOM - 24 (80%) / Postcard - 1 / Fringe - 4 / Print - 1

8. How did you find out about the Capital Fringe Festival? (15.1 MOE)
WOM - 21 (70%) / Print - 5 / Attended Before - 2 / Fringe - 2

9. Was this show relevant to you?
Average - 5.61 out of 7

So the neat thing?

A LOT of first time Capital Fringers came to see this show, and most of them found out by word of mouth.  And for the most part, this show was pretty relevant to the audience who came to see it.

I will be putting out another survey to the audience and update this page with any new input.

Otherwise, I hope you found this insightful.

I want to make it a point to collect whatever data I can, qualitative and quantitative, to insure that AWoL Productions continues to grow from each experience. Obviously, this survey was tailored to a particular event and venue.

Let me know if there are some questions that might be useful to consider, as I get feedback from future performances.

That's it for now,

- JR, Vision Director, AWoL Productions


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pinoy: A' merican Tale - The books

For last year's production, The Rave Scenes, part of the rehearsal process included watching several movies as a cast, but also starting each rehearsal taking turns picking a book from a pile of selections, and then opening to a random page and reading. You can find these movies and books at the resources blog entry I made not much more than a month ago.

Anyway, I want to incorporate literature again, maybe in the rehearsal process, but certainly more in the writing of it.  I find it somewhat ironic that I'm doing this on today...Sunday. While "the book" can have many interpretations, I find myself drawn to the "people of the book" phrase.  My mom, being Filipino, raised me Catholic.  I, being Filipino-American (as well as Black), have since been searching for my own path.

And while I might not revere "The" book as central to my beliefs, I certainly believe that books in general are.  And, yes I even mean the physical object the text is held in.  I am not an e-book convert, and while that may change depending on the affordability of technology, there's just something I prefer about holding the paper in my hand.  Same reason I still like reading the physical newspaper with breakfast, when I can.

Maybe it's all just symbolism, knowledge being physicalized in a vessel and imparted to others. All the more ironic (maybe) that I am sharing these with you online. Maybe not, because it's still the transfer of information.  Anyway, with that, here are the 10 books of Pinoy: A 'merican Tale.

From Asia to DC:
  • The First Filipino: A Biography of José Rizal (1963)
  • Noli Me Tangere: A Novel (1997), translated by Soledad Lacson-Locsin
  • Rizal's Prose (1962)
Fil-Ams & Psych:
  • Depression and Other Mental Health Issues: The Filipino American Experience (1995)
  • Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice (2009)
  • Filipino American Psychology: A Collection of Personal Narratives (2009)

If possible (especially for the ones that are out of print), if being Filipino-American is part of your background, your culture, I definitely encourage you to consider purchasing any of these books which you haven't read, even if you're not a "book" person.

Even if it's just one, it can only help you to continue becoming the person you already are.

- JR, A Way of Life Productions, Vision Director

Other Resources

Thursday, March 17, 2011

4 weeks and counting for our 1st Kickstarter campaign

So, as you may have noticed, we've started a Kickstarter campaign for Pinoy: A 'merican Tale that wraps up four weeks from today, at 5pm on April 14.

Now, if you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a fundraising site geared towards supporting creative projects. I think that's pretty cool, and not just because they accepted my initial request.  Part of the charm, I think, is that they make it clear that donors will not be charged unless creatives meet their minimum goal.

It definitely speaks to one of the few points of contention I've experienced when sitting on grant panels at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the debate over whether it would be better to fund less artists at greater amounts of the amount they applied for, or more at lower, and if lower, how much was too low.

Not a problem with Kickstarter, if they don't make the minimum, the funding doesn't happen.  I believe this gives an even greater incentive to fund the project at the minimum, if not more.

Anyway, I could go more into this, but just thankful at the progress that has been made so far, 5% funding, and it's only been 2 days. Doesn't mean that there's not any work to do, but just hopeful, so far.

- JR, Vision Director, A Way of Life Productions