Is there nothing to say?

MIANo, it’s not a header teaser, it’s a question I asked myself this morning when I went to check the date and subject of the last post on my own website. Hmm, I seem to have gone MIA for 9 months.

Is it that I have had nothing to say which, in my opinion, has been worth making commentary about over this period of apparent inactivity? Actually, there have been many things that I felt were worth discussing but, increasingly, I question whether engaged debate has merit any longer in the toxic, clickbate, culture that is now all pervasive.  Social Media. Hmm?

Notwithstanding, I have settled on four words that encapsulate issues I might have engaged with before going MIA:

Indifference.

In which I would discuss my increasing and disheartening concerns about the vicissitudes of programming by orchestras in Australia (and elsewhere) as we move toward 2020. But what would be the point when imaginative concert season programming by our state-based professional orchestras is, for all intent and purpose, inert.

I could, moreover, also interrogate why we continue to import overseas artists and conductors when so few Australians are being used, let alone the paucity of works by Australian composers being performed as the backbone of the aforementioned programming efforts (or lack thereof). But who would care; or probably even notice, that we have major under-employment (or more accurately – unemployment) of brilliant Australian musicians across the country whose talents languish for want of any basic recognition by those who are the insightful gatekeepers of orchestral programming? Continue Reading →

How These Reports Confirm Some Unfortunate Truths

Percentage_DigitalWith four operas to learn for work later this year and upcoming concerts, I wasn’t planning to write another post this month, but two disjunct articles I read this week captured my attention if only because they confirmed what is known, but often pushed under the metaphorical carpet due to their indigestiblity in the classical music industry.

The first is an excellent piece from Arts Professional (22 February) entitled ‘Senior arts staff sidelining digital work, research finds’. In summary, the piece finds that digital skills are spread thin in cultural organisations with only one in six of those in the most senior strategic roles identifying web or digital activity as forming a part of their work.

Citing the ArtsPay 2018 survey, senior strategic role employees in cultural organisations have correspondingly less connection with digital and web initiatives than early and mid-career level employees – and the latter’s efforts, collectively, representing on average only 33.5% of total work responsibilities.

The survey further found that only 6% of cultural organisation employees are primarily concerned with developing work across all digital platforms. The findings align with those of a 2017 Nesta survey, in which only 19% of respondents were confident that most of their senior management were knowledgeable about digital technologies, and only 16% were clear that coming up with new digital ideas was a priority for the senior team [Italics mine].

So what do senior strategic roles spend their time doing.  Here’s the graph:

Senior_Staff_Work

Keeping in mind the above, here are the statistics that really matter [Italics mine]:

The majority of digital activity is taking place in marketing departments. 74% of respondents for whom marketing is the main focus of their role said their work included web/digital activity – a proportion that holds true across early career, mid-level and senior marketing roles. This is also consistent with Nesta’s 2017 research, which found that the most advanced digital skills in arts organisations are in marketing.

What is critical about this?  Observedly, less than a quarter (24%) of those whose primary roles were in artistic direction, programming or curation said web/digital formed a part of their work.

Why is this so important to highlight?  Given the way that millenials and post-millenials engage with myriad options across the cultural sector (if they do at all) the focus of what they see is about selling – as opposed to curating content to engage them toward converting them to accepting the ‘selling’ proposition. Continue Reading →

Misunderstanding Opera at The Management Level

Osborne_OperaIn a recent online article at the wfmt radio website, I read this article ostensibly announcing the appointment of Ashley Magnus as the new General Director at Chicago Opera Theater.  COT is perhaps best known for the tenure of the brilliant general director, Brian Dickie, from 1999-2012.

At a time when my commercial company, Quill & Quaver Associates, in New York is undertaking a huge project in storyworld design for engaging audiences with Opera, I find aspects of Ms. Magnus’s sentiment in respect to the travails of Opera to wrankle, especially her expressed; and inaccurate, understanding of Opera historically as “The old school, ‘Gods and men’ – scale epic works” (sic.).

Maybe she has  been misquoted or something said taken out of context?  Who knows, but the current challenges around declining audience attendance for Opera has nothing whatsoever to do with the works that comprise the canon.  Moreover, does Ms. Magnus really think that “…love stories of human experiences that I have found in contemporary works” only exist in Contemporary Opera? Or, perhaps she doesn’t actually know the canon well enough? Continue Reading →

Why We Are Failing Australian Musical Theatre Writers

Writing_MusicI’m acutally writing this post to organise some thoughts I have been asked to contribute to a forthcoming new book on musical theatre.  This post could easily become a tome comparable to the eponymous ‘White Pages’ phone books of yesteryear if I’m not careful, as the magnitude of problem for Australian musical theatre writers is sizeable indeed.

If you consider that there is nowhere in Australia to study musical theatre writing, whether as a school student or at the tertiary level in an organised, systematic manner, you get a fast walk-up to the ennui that perpetuates our educational institutions in respect to this shortcoming.

But, even if we did have organised training in place, who would teach it?  Who has a track record of having written and had produced musicals on Broadway or London’s West End?  Tim Minchin or Eddie Perfect?  I don’t think so, even though these guys are brilliant songwriters.

You see, it isn’t about how a good a songwriter or composer/lyricist you are, it’s about how musicals are made!

And without that experience and knowledge,  you just don’t know what the rules of the game are.  And there are rules – a sort of unspoken code-of-practice that everybody in the industry understands but never quite articulates or clarifies to outsiders. Continue Reading →