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The Art Of The Art Reception

March 3, 2009

We've all been to those dreaded events -- you know what I'm talking about. The evenings where you stand around in a gallery or theatre with a glass of cheap wine in your hands and a cube of rubbery, orange cheese, smiling and trying to look interested as some old windbag rambles on at you about their appreciation for Avant Garde Theatre or the summer they spent doing life drawing classes in Florence.

Things need not be that way. I attended a reception for a group of theatre artists over the weekend that for me pretty much epitomizes the right way to run this sort of event. The reception, held at the well-appointed though cozy home of a couple of Bay Area arts patrons, was held in honor of the winners of The Glickman Award -- a prize given out each year by a group of theatre critics to the best new play to have received its world premiere in the Bay Area in the preceding calendar year. I've been to a few of these events in the past, but this time around, the event was particularly wonderful. Here are the elements that I think go into making an arts reception work:

1. Copious amounts of good things to drink and eat: You don't have to spend a ton of money, but the soggy cheese plate is to be avoided. Our hosts got their finger food from Trader Joes and, being wine connoisseurs, opened their cellar to us all.

2. Short, lively speeches: There were a few speeches, but they were short, passionate and delivered off the cuff (as opposed to read aloud from written notes with accompanying Powerpoint slides.)

3. Entertainment people care about: An arts gathering should have some form of art involved, preferably performance-based and maybe with an interactive element thrown in for fun. In the case of the event I attended, the winners of the award got up and performed a few songs from their show. We all joined in on a chorus in the last song.

4. Unstuffy, relaxed hosting: Organizers should make people feel at home. They shouldn't shoo people out at the end (unless it's very late and guests are truly outstaying their welcome.) The hosts of our event were very gracious and generous. They didn't make us feel like we had to get out when the official part of the proceedings were over.

5. A feeling of community: This last point is very important and largely explains why the Glickman party was such a success. It's to do with getting the right combination of people in a room -- people who know why they are there, want to contribute to the event, can move discussions in interesting directions and make newbies feel included and welcome.

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