December 08, 2008

How variety hurts? Or Not?

"Traditional wisdom teaches that brands win market share by offering a wide variety of products, increasing the chance of appealing to a wider variety of customers. But how happy are you when trying to find a head cold remedy at the pharmacy amid an overwhelming number of competing formulas, each slightly different than the other? It's enough to give a shopper, well, a headache."  —  Harvard Business School (full online interview)

I'm not taking one side or the other here (yet). I'm as confused as you. But I find myself having to deal with the problem of variety overload on a regular basis (read: TOO MUCH ON THE BUFFET) as an owner of a comedy theater and festival producer. For a long time I have imagined my theater as the comedy version of Cat's Cradle. They are a music venue that features a pretty wide range of acts on stage. People know them as a venue, but it seems that fans work to find the MUSIC they want to hear. 

As a comedy theater, DSI features a pretty wide variety of acts on stage. However, our potential audience doesn't often process the differences between our acts; what critics refer to as "alternative" comedy, improv, sketch, or standup comedy, and how to pick between them. Is it because comedians or comedy groups don't often take an interest in promoting themselves like a band might? Probably. But maybe that's because standup comedians come and go, and "going the distance" for a comedy group in most markets means 12-18 months. Is it because we focus so much energy on producing product and not educating our potential audience on the options available to them? Probably.

Harvard Professor of Business Administration agrees, "An alternative to reducing variety would be to help consumers navigate the variety that exists."

Yeah, I know. Easier said than done. In my experience, Artists don't want to put limits on the creative work they produce or god forbid we label the artistic product so that it's easy for the general public to consume (read: SUPPORT FINANCIALLY). But I digress.

My real questions: Why do something different just to be different? Does it being different make it MORE worth my time to experience? What about assortment trade-offs? If you make the stylistic choice to do "smart" comedy but it doesn't make an audience laugh it doesn't matter how smart it is. That's not a trade-off we should be okay with, but an example of how we can forget the point by chasing variety.

I've been thinking about this a lot with the NC Comedy Arts Festival coming up. Acts have been selected and NCCAF staff had to make some hard choices in order to balance Quality AND Variety. For the mission of the festival, inclusion and celebration of the Art of Comedy, some groups that I'm sure are very funny were not accepted because they did not differentiate themselves. On the flipside there were groups that worked hard to communicate how unique the format of the show was, but often those same groups did not offer a professional product that would make it worth how "different" they were.

I have more to say, but I have to catch the train.

What do you think?

November 11, 2008

How Much Are You Worth?

Pablo Picasso was sitting quietly at a boulevard cafe in Paris, when his reverie was rudely disturbed by a passing tourist. The tourist gushingly asked Pablo if he would run off a quick sketch for him, promising to pay for the privilege. The legendary artist acquiesced, sketched a portrait of the tourist on the linen napkin conveniently placed on the table. Awed and deeply gratified, the tourist asked “How much?”

Picasso said “Fifty thousand and five dollars.” Awe and gratitude very quickly became conspicious by their absence, as the tourist asked “What? How can you ask that for twenty seconds work?”

Picasso replied “Five dollars for the napkin, the ink and the twenty seconds. Fifty thousand dollars for the forty years of practice that preceded it."

I have been questioned a lot lately as to the value of my work. It's common for people to not think that what an artist (especially a local artist) has to offer is especially valuable, even more so when the work is intangible. I am a actor and comedian. I am a producer. I am a teacher and corporate trainer. Some of the events I produce take months of advance planning and constant communication. Some of the training I offer takes a couple hours or a couple days. Some of the consultation work I do can take just a few minutes. But all of it is possible because of the past 15 years of dedicated thought and preparation.

How much are YOU worth? 

And are you Paid In Full?

March 18, 2008

Fighting Irish

"Humor is the opposite of fight-or-flight emotions, especially fear and anger. I can't be laughing with you and angry or afraid of you at the same time." - John Morreall, College of William and Mary.

Last month marked a major change for comedy in North Carolina. Some people fight change. Some people run away from change. But maybe if we're ALL laughing, change can be amazing. 

DSI announced the production of the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival effective February 2009. This won't be a new event, but rather an expansion of the annual Dirty South Improv Festival (an event that has grown to include almost 500 participants and reach over 3000 audience members per year since 2001). Because of the growth and new focus, and the work of producing a comedy festival, I have been sadly absent from the Blog O'Sphere, but I'm back.

Btw, Happy belated St Patrick's Day. Blog O'Sphere. Funny.

February 03, 2008

Creative Leadership

"Crisis response requires both planning and improvising. Planning and preparation helps enable rapid coordinated action; at the same time plans are always insufficient. People need the capacity to read and understand a situation and improvise their approach as the reality unfolds." - Center for Creative Leadership. Crisis Leadership: When Plans Fail, Improvise.

I am amazed at both the amount of effort people put forth that others take for granted and the intangible skills that the general public fail to recognize as valuable. Especially the ability to improvise. In the context of every day work Leaders in the Arts and other disciplines are called upon to engage in situations that are not pre-planned, scenarios that have not been spelled out in a management course. They are called upon to acknowledge unfamiliar circumstances and act in the best interest of the organization or community they represent.

Leaders who see the most success are either naturally flexible and gifted in the art of unconditional support OR are those people who have been trained in the core fundamentals of improvisation.