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Identity and Innovation in Theatre

July 14, 2010

silhouette.jpegThis morning, I was interviewed by a couple of marketing consultants as part of a project aimed at helping them pull together a branding and messaging strategy for a local performing arts organization.

The interview, which lasted about 40 minutes, brought up a couple of interesting areas of inquiry, namely:

1. How important is it for a performing arts organization to have a strong identity? On the face of it, you'd think this absolutely key -- especially in terms of branding. That in all my years of experiencing arts events under the auspices of this arts organization I couldn't really describe what kind of work the organization does or articulate anything of its mission is somewhat troubling I suppose. On the other hand, maybe there are cases where having a diffuse identity works. It's one of the organization's strengths that it can swing between mounting full-scale productions with affiliated companies, hosting arts salons and visual art exhibitions and incubating new works for the stage. But still, a lack of clear identity does make it hard to think of the company in a strong way.

2. What is innovation in theatre? In the Bay Area, we tend to think of ourselves as great innovators. It's the Silicon Valley mentality. But throwing a screen up on stage with some artsy video or including an electronic soundtrack created by the performers as they move about the stage via specially-positioned electrodes is not innovative in and of itself. Innovative theatre is theatre that connects with the audience in a transformative way. Bottom line: it should make us understand something new about ourselves and the world we live in.

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