Friday, 10 March 2017

Tabatha fixes orchestras

Here's something I did in the workshop I led about imagining the future, at a League of American Orchestras conference. You can read about the workshop in my last post. We imagined hat in 10 years, all orchestra problems would be solved. They'd have a big new audience, community buzz, all the funding they need.

So how would that happen? What would have happened to get us to that paradise?

This is a workshop I'd love to do again. If you'd like to talk about it, contact me!

So here's one of the things I did. Imagine, I said, that Tabatha Coffey comes to town! The name didn't ring many bells, but when I said she has a reality TV show, Tabatha Takes Over, a ripple of recognition went through the room. 

What we can learn from Tabatha

She's a hair stylist, hair salon owner, and entrepreneur. And on her visits failing hair salons, and turns them around. An almost irresistible guilty pleasure, when I've run into her, as I'm flipping channels on TV. She looks like she could overthrow a third world country simply by showing up at passport control. And she has an acute understanding of both business and people. 

Imagine, I said, that she's come to your town to do an episode of her show. And that you have a donor who's in the TV biz, who hears that she's coming, and pays her to stay and work with your orchestra. 

So she spends a week with you. At the salons she visits, she pounces on discourteous employees, bad customer service, unattractive premises, and so much more. I've seen her order the whole staff to show up early in the morning, to repaint their place. I've seen her telling them to dress more attractively (but not too trendily, which might scare customers away). I've seen her order staff to sweep and clean. 

And in the last episode I saw, she visited a salon in Miami Beach. She decreed  — after much reform and redecoration — that they'd have a grand reopening. To promote it, she sent the entire staff out to the beach, where they talked to everyone. Everyone! Inviting them to the grand reopening, and offering a free haircut, right then, right there, right on the beach, in a tent she made the staff set up. 

Brilliant marketing, I thought. So now imagine Tabatha coming to your orchestra. She observes you for a week. What would she say? 

That could be a long discussion!

And one worth having. Could almost be a workshop by itself.

At my workshop, we could only dip into what Tabatha might tell orchestras. but here are some suggestions from participants.

  • I noticed last night at the concert that our principal cellist came on stage during the break and people came up to talk to him. Maybe Tabitha would say that during the intermission you should come out into the audience or into the hall and interact with the audience on a personal level rather than doing their jobs on the stage and now going off to take a rest.   
  • In relation to that, there is a British Shakespeare company that tours the world called Propel? The highlight of their performance is the intermission, where they go and improvise a performance in the lobby. People are settled waiting for this now.
  • I noticed yesterday watching the Youth Orchestra playing and a professional play, and when they bowed, the Youth Orchestra tried to look professional but they couldn't resist cracking a smile. The professionals always look really stern but I think it's ok to smile.

Three good thoughts! So much of what we do in classical music presents a blank or even unfriendly face to the people who come to us. And even more to the people we'd like to attract, because they're not used to our ways.

Even when we sometimes do things like this, we don't do them enough. I'd bet everyone reading me can think of many more ways we could present ourselves better. And can think of ways to keep it going, even though a full season at a major orchestra.

Or market ourselves better. Free haircuts on the beach…what's our equivalent of that?

Original Content: Tabatha fixes orchestras

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