Alli Houseworth, marketing director for Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, achieved an odd distinction at the TCG conference: She was able to redirect the conversation in two sessions by voicing her objections to panel discussions on Twitter. And even though one might think the mere fact that Twitter influenced the discussions is a sign that TCG’s members are adapting to new technology and ideas – one of Houseworth’s gripes – that’s not the case.
“If we were adapting, we wouldn’t be interrupting the session, it would be the session,” she says.
Houseworth’s tweets became a topic of conversation during Arts Journal founder and Engine 28 director Doug McLennan’s discussion, “The Community Formerly Known as the Audience,” when he was giving examples of the social media behavior of young people. “I really wish this audience would stop laughing at the behaviors of gen y,” she tweeted. Because McLennan encouraged people to text during his presentation, the remarks were brought to his attention in the middle of the session, and he agreed. Two days later, Houseworth watched a panel called “What if … the Future of the Field were in the Hands of Today’s Artists?” with playwrights Marcus Gardley and Sage Lewis, composer Mimi Lien and designer Tanya Selvaratnam. When the panelists brought up the topic of marketing, Houseworth didn’t like what she heard. She tweeted, “I’m so over this conversation surrounding #newplays that implies all marketing directors are stupid and evil.” And then, “I am now officially depressed.” And then, “I AM MARKETING DIRECTOR. I EAT ARTIST FOR BREAKFAST. RARRR!!!”
So who is getting Houseworth so agitated?
“I feel like lately, in these conversations with artists – and I have to say, I love artists and I love playwrights – but I’ve been in a lot of conversations with them since the New Play gathering at Arena Stage, and I feel like there’s this perception that playwrights don’t think that marketers can do their jobs. This is a blanket statement, but I’m hearing that playwrights don’t think that marketers are reaching out to their audiences in the right way, so the playwrights have to go do that work. I’m just sort of frustrated because I’m wondering what the playwrights think I do all day … Do you think I live in a bubble? And I’m just a machine and I run print ads and radio ads, and don’t even think, and haven’t even read your play? What do you think I’m doing all day long?”
“I’m very angry about arts marketing. If you’re not talking to the artist, what are you doing as an arts marketer? Why aren’t we on the ground? Why aren’t we developing audiences – and I’m not talking about young people, I’m talking about all kinds of people … I want to serve your art in the way that you perceive it to be true, but I hope I bring a different truth and perspective to it as well. Especially because I’m supposed to know my own community really well and if you’re coming in from a different city, you might not know my community like I do. I think a lot of what these playwrights are hearing is that marketers don’t talk to them, but we don’t do that at Woolly. We talk to artists all the time. And I think that a lot of my marketing peers do the same. It’s very frustrating … I wonder about these playwrights that say these things … Who is this horrible person who made you believe this?”
3. The change-averse
“These people from the older generation say ‘This is how the millennials behave,’ and perhaps it sounds ridiculous that we tweet or something. And they laugh, and you can’t change if you’re laughing at the behaviors of another generation, or the behaviors of another culture. Would you laugh if someone said. ‘Black people do this.’ Would you laugh? No. So [McLennan is] telling you facts. It’s the truth, and you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that, and the teenagers [of the session, “A Holistic Approach for Engaging a Teen Audience] felt that too. It’s as if [older people] think it’s weird that you spend this time online, but that’s a behavioral trait and that’s not going to change. I don’t laugh at you because you read the newspaper.”
But Houseworth isn’t ranting idly. She has a few ideas to reduce the disconnect between marketers and artists so that each can understand each other’s roles in the complicated ecosystem of arts and management.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a take-your-artist-to-work day?” says Houseworth. “Come with me for a day and see what I do, and understand the challenges of having to make the bottom line. Look at my revenue projections and look at my staff that I have to make money for, so they can have jobs so you can have a job. Look at how I am advertising, and my vision for the play.”
Houseworth thinks that if playwrights spent more time with the marketing department, the marketing department could teach them about the community they’re bringing their work to.
“What if you came to D.C. six months before we started rehearsing your play, and you hung out with our staff for a day, and met some community stakeholders?” she says. “And we just talked about our values, and what excites us about this particular piece of work. And then you get to know the community, and see a show and get to know our audience.”
Because really, playwrights and marketers are coming from the same place, says Houseworth.
“Artists are going to hate me for this, but most administrators in theaters started as artists at some point,” she says. “I don’t think that most young people are like, ‘I want to be an arts administrator when I grow up,’ or ‘I want to be a fundraiser.’ those things come out of your passion for the art … I can make a shit-ton of money somewhere else, but I care about the plays and new plays and playwrights in particular … I think that most theater administrators are passionate about the art and the artist.”