Dear Fellow Board Members,
It is never a great time to deliver bad news, but as of 2pm the Opera Lyric of Metropolitan Anycity will be shutting its doors and ceasing any current and future performances.
As you know, over the past forty years we have been steadfast angels of OMLA giving multiple millions of dollars to keep giving our community great performances.
We continued to spend more money on our creative endeavors. Our shows were more over the top and lavish than ever, we brought in marketing firms who specialized in arts companies, we hired consultants and took their advice, bringing in administrators, widely regarded as top in the field. We shrunk our season from four productions to three and droped our performances to two from five. Every year we tried to focus and hone, And frankly we grew tired of it.
What is worse, our children and grandchildren have shown little interest for the work we do, citing it as too hard and nothing their friends want to see. It is hard to take, that our descendants have neither this spark nor the drive to take the reins of what was once a fun, important endeavor in the culture of our community.
Yesterday we cast the votes and a significant portion of the board, those present anyway, voted not to capitalize the organization.
Commencing immediately, all of the assets of the company will be liquidated and any debts owed will be paid from those assets. What is remaining, will be absorbed by the former board.
So long, and thanks for the fish.
In loving and crerished memory,
Your former board colleagues.
Look familiar? Are you penning this yourself, or secretly want to? Are you one of those... "Artistic Directors" waiting to get the axe by the General Director? Are you a General Director itching for a way to weather the storm?
You have little time, but you may have the budget of a midcap corporation to make some serious changes.
Don't believe me? Go talk with you friends who are now skipping rocks on the beach.
You big box opera companies who are capitalized take a gander at what your for profits have been doing for decades. Diversification. Branding.
Before you continue thinking I'm some kind of crackpot, focus your thoughts, not on the profit part, but on the way that your company can spread its wings.
Coca-Cola brought Diet Coke, not as a thing that replaced Coke, but as a thing which complimented it, for those who liked pop, but not sugar. Cherry, Coke, Sprite, Mr. Pibb and now Odwalla and even just plain 'ol water, Dasani. These are all brands. Companies on their own right, but subsidiaries of Coca-Cola.
Visualize this in terms of your artform, not in terms of a giant souless corporation. It works so much beter it you have and utilize your imagination.
Your mainstage productions are your Coca-Cola. These are your museum pieces. You Romantic rep and some Mozart hits. You know them as Bohème, Traviata, Nozze, Carmen, etc. Your mainstage works are the lifeblood of the organization for now. Proven works that bring in loyal audiences. Certainly one can program from any genre, that's simply good curation.
Incidentally, along with the mainstage, you can use your young artists and choristers to sing these works in English Heaven forbid, right? But go with it. The data is there that people want to see opera and understand it. We went whole hog in doing away with opera in native tongue. I was a part of the movement, but the moment it happened I thought, wrong idea. People actually long to watch, say, Don Pasquale in English again, so that they can laugh when the punch line and the goofy face is delivered.
Same set, same direction, and you know, a following will develop, even if you have a reduced pit, or even piano. It's still a performance, and if you believe in your performers, it'll be a good one.
This is where it gets fun and your company gets to spread its wings. First, cut the production budget to your main show. Get innovative and scrappy, rather than trying to steer your slow boat. To give you an example, look at what Pacific Oper Projects is doing. Abduction from the Seraglio as a Star Trek episode. Sold out. Sold out. Sold Out. On a fraction of the budget you have. Cut it. THEN.
Create Your Subsidiaries:
Concert Major works
Create an administration package and production staff for each sub. Locate a space for each company to be and you are now in the business of bringing an exponential amount of music to the community.
The complaint that your oganization never does a, b, or c type operas is muted right there. In fact, you can put the call out that the organization needs passionate, youthful to help drive these very small companies, including your disenchanted board to bring a new meaning to Gesamstkunsterk.
Where will you find people to run your subsidiaries? You know them already. They are the ones producing those little shows you never come to (sorry, I'm jaded). They are dying to work with you and even with a tiny budget, they'll still be working with more than what they started with, which is most likely their life savings or their credit cards, which shortly turns into their life savings.
In my experience in the big world of the entertainment business, spreading the wings and bringing new people in absolutely does not shrink your audience. It grows it. Maybe your first performances bring in 50 people. But just remember this isn't a mainstage show. My example is Classical-Crossover. Whatever you may think of it, as more of the tenor groups were created, the larger the audience for it. Hip-Hop, the same thing.
Don't throw tons of money at it. That's what got the opera world in trouble in the first place. This is not about skimping either. Your people have to eat. But they aren't looking to get rich, they are looking to put on a show, with some respect and dignity.
There is Mentorship involved here, Development too. Think about the legacy that your community will have, with artists and producers growing and working with veterans on all levels and with the vision of the General Director or whatever the lead pooh-bah is called. Some of those Susidiary companies could indeed grow into their own large endowment and create rival productions to the mainstage works. But rather than creating toxic emnity, the productions stem from the same family. It all goes into and out of the same pot. Competitiveness, sure, but if people can scrap and work some magic, it just makes everyone better. it also adds an incredible amount of stability to the whole endeavor. Whereas where a Lully or obscure Handel opera would be produced with much nervousness as a mainstage production, a great time and stunning production can be made at a fraction of the budget and those that love the period and those that want to experience it as newcomers (as artists and audience) can revel in the work as art and fine tune expenditures.
Great/ well recieved productions can go into mainstage and can also travel to other companies. Set/design rentals, costume rentals, for municipalities that may only have the capital to produce for smaller spaces can be scheduled, adding that much more revenue.
Live streaming with multiple cameras can be pumped to Medici TV or any number of digital purveyors, increasing awareness of the company and adding dollars through ad and sponsorship revenue.
This is the job for a General Director and a centralized board and is the logical step for any endowed company to take. Spread your company's reach and do more good for your community culture. This can be a fun business to work in again and will help stimulate the growth of younger skewing boards. There is purpose here. There is change and a degree of controlled chaos, which breeds excitement with young people. The fact that the subsidiaries start small means that the responsibility of taking a seat on a giant bohemoth, as mainstage board member can be asuaged. Growing pains can sting, but mistakes can be absorbed and learned from. Rather than having "young friends of" guild group be a non-starter role for young board members, they can actually be empowered with helping make a production HAPPEN.
Don't wait to become a casualty. "Get out there and DO something about it!" Spearhead a monumental change for the betterment of your entire community.
This is a manifesto. it is short and crude and written in a rather informal tone. This is not a proposal. I am writing directly TO you as your colleague. You all do many things in your lives that make your experiences rich and varied and gives each of you a keen perspective on a myriad of challenges to tackle. My unique thumbprint is from over twenty five years of being a professional in the classical and entertainment business, twenty of those as an opera singer and thirteen of those as a producer.
In my early success as an opera singer I had the chance to branch out as a director, as a producer (both in live productions and in recording), as an artistic director (long may they live), as a PR guy, as a promoter and - as a janitor (sometimes the boss has to scrub the john as well).
I've scheduled passels of independent artists and cajoled callow soloists into fierce performances and I've collaborated with people who hate their own shadow. I've sung under and worked with everything from major labels to ladies who just wanted their grandchildren to know they could sing. I've turned Beatles popular in one forty-five minute performance and have had my dreams taken away an hour after that. I've started companies and become an arts publisher, when we needed one most, and become a pariah for it, only later to become some vaunted leader. I am at once a chairman emeritus and a masters student at UCLA.
Because I don't quit. My aim from when I was in my early days in school has been to survive, to keep swimming. Since 1996 I found a north star and dedicated my life to bringing opera to people and bringing people to opera. Even if my path has seemed incredibly circuitous to some people, I've always had a point and a focus. And on this subject of diversifying your company I am not wrong.
Diversifying your organization's brand, even if you have to call it by another name is the best thing you've got going for you. Even if you just take a step in that direction. Don't be the next one that gets that letter.
I truly wish the best for everyone. I wish it would all work out, but it doesn't always work out. It is time now to change the model. Best of luck!