Monthly Archives: October 2014

What’s in a Name?

When choosing a name for your business, is it better to go with what you like and know you can sell, or is it better to listen to your costumers and learn how to sell what they want? On the one hand, you are going to be the person who has to look at it and deal with it all the time, so it should be something you like. However, you also have to consider what your costumer likes hearing and what draws in their attention. What costumers do you listen to? Some of people might have conflicting ideas, and then what do you do?

Mollie and I decided to do the same process for coming up with a name for our venture that we did when we were in class suggesting venture ideas, by listing names on post-its and posting them to the wall. This time instead of using our own strengths as criteria, we used the key words that we have been discussing in class and tried to use them whenever we could. We then took these names and surveyed people about what they though of them.

My results were not what I was hoping for. Even though some people I surveyed did like a few of the names I liked, they did not like or mention my favorite name in their feedback. Not only that, but there was not a general consensus about one name, but instead people liked a few different names.

It is at this point that I wonder where does my vote count? I look forward to seeing what everyone else found out and to see the process we choose to pick our name.


Love It, Hate It

So, since we have last directly discussed our venture, some important decisions have been made.  We have settled on an art market with the wares made by student artists around the Phoenix valley, on a weekend afternoon.  This past week, we have been practicing and testing our pitch, an approximately 1 minute message targeted at each customer segment about the event, and one version for student artists to get them interested in selling their work.  We have also begun thinking about and testing names of our art market, aside from what we have been calling it: the Student Art Market.

I’ve been getting pretty universally positive feedback about our pitches, with some helpful tweaks and points that need more emphasis.  The name is a totally different story.  We have a list of about 15 names, I have been testing my favorite 7 out after the pitch.  And I’ve been getting some pretty strong reactions.

One the surface, these two men fit into pretty similar demographics: they are both in their early to mid twenties, they are both graduate students and self identify as artists (though not the kind that will be selling at our event).  They are both into graphic novels, have relocated from colder climates, and totally want to support other student artists.  They both had similar feedback about the pitch: emphasize the local.  And they had strong, contradictory opinions about any variation of Parking Lot Market (such as Student Parking Lot Market, Parking Lot Art Market, Tempe Parking Lot Market).

The first picked the Parking Lot Market out of our list of potential names as his favorite.  He thought it implied something unique, special and different.  He thought it made it feel space specific and local.  He thought it stood out from the other names, and that it would stand out from the rest of the arts and crafts fairs happening in the area.

The second loved 9th & Ash Art Market, but HATED anything with Parking Lot in it.  He said that parking lot ruins the warm, local feeling you get from the pitch, and the idea in general.  He thought that parking lot made it seem like everything else everywhere else, and sort of corporate.  He did like the work market, though, because it links our event to other local things (like farmers markets, supporting something we learned in our first few rounds of getting out of the building).

So.  What do you do when there are two strong, opposite feelings about your product?  Luckily we have a whole list of other name possibilities and a whole bunch of other people we have talked to to help guide us.  One thing is clear, though: I am getting used to being wrong.  Like my other hypotheses throughout this process, neither of these men liked my favorite name at all.

Coming soon to a theater near you!

As a graduate student of dance responding to the question, “What is your creative practice?” becomes a daily conversation. In an effort toward authenticity and personal aesthetic many explorations ensue. In all of this investigation do I think about the audience? This question was really brought to my attention when Linda, my arts entrepreneurship professor, asked how different my art would look if I used effective entrepreneurship. Light bulb! To this question I would only be able to answer with assumptions. Beside my family fan club I have never canvassed a large group of potential audience members. This question was one of those questions where once I heard it I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that already!” The important aspect to remember is that this process of effective entrepreneurship is more than finding out what is trendy and replicating it. It would involve an inventory of my creative tools and resources and looking for connections that address the pains and/or gains of potential audience members. It would be a long conversation where my artistic vision and inspiration would be fed and directed by audience members. I have been to concerts where a feedback session breaks out right after the concert. This would be a feedback session before the concert. I imagine that many more profound and innovative new connections would be made in my work through this process. As I reflect I say to myself, “challenge accepted!” The next graduate show will be April 2015 and this business approach is what I will use in my process. Good things will be coming!

Empathy mapping in the performing arts

Empathy mapping can be a very valuable tool, especially in the performing arts business. It is something I tried for years to apply at the performing arts venue I used to work at. There were two main things I was always advocating for, cheaper student tickets for shows that we knew were not going to sell out and bringing in shows that were geared towards people under 40.

Every time I asked, I was told that the reason we never brought in shows geared towards people under 40, aside from the occasional kids show, was because this age group does not pay to come to see shows. Being a concert goer under 40 who knows lots of other people my age who pay to go see shows, I always was a little offended by this statement. I also knew no research had been done to back up the claim. Even though I suggested that I would be happy to do the surveying, I was never taken seriously and therefore, it was never implemented.

To collect the information, I would have surveyed a few different customer segments. The first group would be those who already came to the theatre, but were younger attendees, aiming for those patrons who are under 40. The second group would be those who go to shows at other venues downtown, the same area that our theatre was in, again under 40. Third, I would survey those who went to the coffee houses and cafes downtown, of the same age range, assuming they are of the customer segment that has money to spend.

Here is a list of questions that could prove to be very helpful when assessing if a younger audience is willing to go to see a show:

  • Age
  • List 5 shows you would like to see at this theatre.
  • How many shows have you seen in the past year, where did you see them?
  • How much do you normally spend on shows?
  • What is the most you would spend to see a show?
  • If there was a cheaper ticket available, would this entice to you come see a show at the theatre?

After doing an initial round of surveying, I would assess the information and come up with another set of questions. Some examples of questions for round two are as follows:

  • Rank the following shows according to your interest, indicating if you have no interest (Do some research and find 5 shows that are within the price range the theatre is willing to spend, were of interest in the first round of questions and the theatre is interested in bringing in)
  • Who much would you spend to see these shows?
  • Are you likely to bring other friends of your age range with you to see one of these shows?

Kids are smart!

We’ve arrived at a very exciting decision this past week in class: our business venture will be a Holiday Arts Market at a local bar restaurant, Casey Moore’s. We know that our customer segment is a multi-sided platform, as we will serve two groups of people: student artists who will submit and sell their work, and the other people who come and buy the art.

We are still pinning down who exactly these ‘other people’ are, where they live, what they do on the weekends and how much they are willing to spend on art, but this week’s introduction to the Empathy Map will help us. The Empathy Map looks like this:


It is our job as founders of the business to fill in the Empathy Map as we become more knowledgeable about our customer(s). The idea is that by the time we’ve filled a map out for each customer segment, we will have a clear archetype of who will be attending the Holiday Market. Talking to people about the market and our previous ideas has really been eye opening. It is extremely exciting to find strangers that think your idea is awesome and will actually work…and on the other end, kind of disappointing when strangers don’t think your idea is cool at all. As someone particularly interested in creating theatre for young people, I wonder what may happen if I interviewed or surveyed my audience before creating a piece.

I feel confident in stating that many many many adults do a lot of assuming about what children want to see onstage. As a Theatre for Youth MFA student, I am one of those adults. I recently wrote a play for young audiences, which will be produced at ASU on November 1. It’s called Nadine’s Coloring Book and it is about an eleven-year-old girl coming to terms, in her own imaginative way, with her father’s premature death. No one under the age of twenty-five has read this play yet, and although I’ve invited the 60+ children I teach, direct and interact with on a weekly basis, I wonder if my script would have been different had I spoken to my intended audience first. This leads me to wonder what would happen if children’s theatre companies actively spoke to children (and teachers and school administrators) about the types of scripts they’d like to see. So often, the shows being done for youth, especially at theaters that rely on field trip sales, are book adaptations of beloved stories. Maybe administrators want something a little edgier, too, but no one will ever know until they ask.

Coming up, I have the opportunity to create pre/post show workshops with a partner middle school for ASU’s Mainstage TYA play. The play is about adventure, coming of age and sisterhood, and the early set design renderings are based around a playground, inspired by recyclable items and found objects. Okay, so I want to create programming that can occur outside on a school’s playground, away from the classroom, that encourage students to “choose their own adventure,” while also creating musical instruments and other practical items with recyclable objects. After learning about the Empathy Map, and listening to Steve Blank’s lectures on UDACITY, I realize that my assumptions and hypotheses are just that: assumptions and hypotheses. Why not ask the 5th and 6th grade students that I know what their thoughts are about my proposed workshops? And maybe, just maybe, they will have even better ideas to contribute.

If I Build it, Will They Come?

My goal throughout my graduate courses is always to embrace new discoveries that will help my business to thrive. As the Artistic Director of an independent theatre company, I’m finding important lessons every week as we build this new venture together. Brelby Theatre Company is close to wrapping up its sixth season of production, and I can’t help but wonder where we would be if I’d understood the importance of getting out of the building.

We spent the first few years producing shows that we wanted to see. We assumed that our tastes were universal, or that the fact that we were creating art at all was what mattered. Linda might refer to this as the “Field of Dreams” complex aka just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.

We’ve had to learn the hard way that not all shows will resonate with audiences. Not all shows will even draw in an audience. Some of the productions that we’re the most proud of have had a low turnout, some for obvious marketability reasons. Our 2014 production of Beckah Brunstetter’s Be a Good Little Widow was a challenging sell, but I was confident that our audiences wanted to see some more challenging dramatic pieces.

When choosing the next season, I decided to survey our audience beforehand. Had I done so before our current season, I would have known that our audience overwhelmingly favors light hearted comedies and musicals.

We’ve been working for the last year to get our classes to take off in our community, to little avail. I decided that it was time to implement some audience surveying in more aspects of our organization. Reaching out to our artists and our fan base for feedback on what they would like to see, instead of just guessing provided us with some great insight about how to move forward with this initiative. Surprise, surprise. They wanted to see a lot of things that we aren’t currently offering.

I think it’s time for a pivot.

You Can’t Do a Show for an Audience You Don’t Know

In one of my other classes, we have spent the past month or so developing the framework for a new work.  In my group, we are adapting the bestselling book The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  We have a designated director, costume designer, lighting designer, media designer, and two “managers” (members of the Arts Entrepreneurship and Management MFA program).  The very first week, we identified a target audience of families with children ages 7-12.  And then the director moved forward with his concept, the designers built the world of the show, the managers assembled the budget and tour schedule and a marketing plan all without thinking much about our audience ever again.

I was working on this project at the same time as I was “getting out of the building” for this entrepreneurship class, and I couldn’t help wishing I could take my group out for the same sort of research, talking to the people we think our product is for, testing our hypotheses.   We were building up this rich world of our story, without ever talking to the people that this story was for.  We didn’t talk to kids ages 7-12 to find out what they want to see on stage, we didn’t talk to their parents about what they think is important in educational entertainment.

As I was writing the marketing plan, I realized that I was just making a whole lot of untested guesses.  Guesses about who this was for, about what the people with the purchasing power want, about how to reach these people.  My entire marketing plan was one giant guess, based on my very first hypotheses.  I thought about our very first guesses about our arts venture, and how much we have pivoted our thinking in just two rounds of getting out of the building and talking to people.  Just this weekend, two of the hypotheses that I had absolute faith in were not only proven incorrect, but were unanimously proven incorrect.  In light of this entrepreneurship process, these guesses make me feel like this misguided marketing director:

If we had taken even five or ten minutes to really think about, and then talk about as a group, what our potential audience behaves in their daily life, how they think and feel, what they see and hear, what they say and do, we may have kept our audience as the driver of our artistic creation, rather than as an afterthought.  If we had taken this empathy map out, and tested our guesses by talking to kids, their parents, and their school administrators and teachers, we may have created a very different world for this story to live in, and I may have tried to bring this story to them in a very different way.

My goal is to be a successful artist…or, rather, make it possible for an arts organization or individual artists to be successful, and make a living doing it.  In order to be successful, I have to create (or ensure that the artists create) work that audiences really want.  I have to figure out what will bring new audiences to this art.  The best way to figure this out is not by making guesses sitting safely in my office, and testing those guesses once the product is complete and large quantities of time and money have been spent.  If our goal is to connect with a larger audience, then we must be testing our initial guesses by talking to people, talking to our current audience, and people we think are our potential audience, and then refining our guesses and talking to people again.  This idea of getting out of the building, of empathy mapping, should not just apply to creating a new venture, but trying something new (like an organization presenting a piece of work for the first time), or even just trying to expand a current audience.