The Playgoer: Brick & Mortar

Custom Search

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brick & Mortar

Here's a blogpost making the internet rounds these days about the need for a business office in the 21st Century:

150 years later [after the Industrial Revolution] why go to work in an office/plant/factory?
  1. That's where the machines are.
  2. That's where the items I need to work on are.
  3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.
  4. There are important meetings to go to.
  5. It's a source of energy.
  6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.
  7. I need someplace to go.
  1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.
  2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.
  3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.
  4. How many meetings are important? If you didn't go, what would happen?
  5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.
  6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?
  7. So go someplace. But it doesn't have to be to your office. 
The author--marketing guru Seth Godin--is talking about more conventional "businesses" perhaps...but what do you think?  What about theatre companies?  Think of all the time, effort, fundraising and psuris that little nonprofits put into finding/building office space, and/or new bigger & better theatre buildings that have to be bigger to fit office space.

We know that many of NYC's downtown off-off companies basically operate out of the Artistic Director's apartment and a network of Starbuckses.  (Or, for the more committed and alternative, perhaps Think Coffee?)  And, yes, I guess if you're Oskar Eustis you probably feel a legitimate need to be at the theatre itself every day supervising your huge staff.

But what about the in-betweeners?  Ask yourselves: what precisely do we need an brick & mortar office for?  Board meetings? Well, how about renting a conference room twice a year--or better yet ask a board member to host.  Does the AD need to have a regular "receiving room" for artists and funders?  Great--but will a simple three-room office (one for receptionist, one for AD, one small conference room) suffice?

As for staff... well how big is your "permanent" staff?  Do your managing/marketing/development directors need to be right next door to you, AD's?  Or what if you know you can reach them by phone/text/chat/email instantly? 

But, ok, maybe those are your "core" or "senior" staff.  I reflect on my experience as a Literary Manager at a midsize professional LORT regional theatre.  I was not needed at my desk eight hours a day, I can tell you.  In fact, I would have given anything on most days not to be.  I would have been more productive reading scripts at home or at the coffee shop.  I could have used that time--imagine--to drive around the region scoping out new shows.  And I think many theatres have similarly "consultant"-style employees that also don't need to punch the clock factory-style.

Now many of you are already thinking about "downsizing" and staff/salary cuts.  And, yes, I know that Lit Mgrs and most theatre co. employees are already underpaid and we don't need to give Boards of Trustees any more reason to cut further.  But what I'm suggesting--perhaps naively--is to say: Fine, if you're going to pay staff members only 20K-30K a year, then at least don't force them to come in for 40-hour weeks.  If reducing on-site staff can save you office/real estate expenses, then hopefully you don't have to cut salaries.  And if the fates have decreed that if I'm a Lit Manager I'm going to be stuck making 20K-30K, then at least give me some of my time back to--god forbid--work other jobs to support myself, i.e. subsidize my work for your theatre.  I promise, I will still get the same number of scripts read (if not more) and, after all, your paying me for tasks, not hours, right?

Would reducing office space save theatre companies money in these hard times?  I guess if you already have an actual theatre building, where your office is basically off in the wings somewhere, then fine.  But maybe you don't need that massive "capital campaign" to build a bigger theatre or a separate workspace.  And if you do  build or annex yourself more space...maybe you can actually use it for, you know, performing.

But if you're a company already struggling with space--performance as well as workspace--and you're currently paying lots of rent on desks, water coolers, and a whole freakin' computer network... think hard. 

Let's all think hard about downsizing space instead of people and salaries for a change.

1 comment:

RLewis said...

Theater still has a large amount of... excuse the expression... grunt work... that just has to be done. And who does that work in most theater offices? Interns.

My partners and I work out of our own home-offices, and occasionally we get jealous of theater companies with office space for interns. Cuz schools require companies have an office for the interns to report to. They don't want students going to someone's home (casting couch or not).

So, that's one fly in this ointment - no office, no interns. Instead, we are our own best interns, but it's a lot of un-fun work, and we are denied the opportunity to inspire future site-specific performance makers.