In a recent Las Vegas Sun interview (by Kristen Peterson), Smith Center for the Performing Arts official Candy Schneider made a statement that jumped out at me: "We have a ton of arts, a wealth of it. But you have to go and find it. The Philharmonic is not going to send a van to your front door. Every organization's doing everything (it) can to reach the community, but it's up to the residents to engage."
It's that last part that made me spill my coffee.
I don't think every organization is doing everything it can, at last as far as community theater is concerned. I think it's the actors and directors who tend to expect a van to mysteriously appear at their front door, with people begging to buy admission tickets.
I'm not talking about our long-established playhouses. The likes of Las Vegas Little Theatre or Signature Productions or the educational institutions have in common a good sense of how to let people know they exist. They stay on top of free publicity possibilities, or keep current mailing lists, and announce on an annual basis reliable seasons.
After visiting the small-scaled but amazingly successful Bruka Theatre in downtown Reno, I asked founder Scott Beers how he's managed to survive 16 years on a street full of casinos.
He said it all had to do with a change in attitude. He used to pride himself on being an unpredictable "artiste." So he never did a show unless he suddenly felt inspired. Friends convinced him that if he really wanted his playhouse to survive, he should get over his "artiste" seizures and announce an annual season like a sensible businessman. After all, if a customer wanders into your theater and likes your product, you must make it easy for him to return. If he has in his hand a printed program that tells him exactly what's playing when, he will be more likely to say, "I've got to make sure I catch that show." Bruka learned that it wasn't smart to force the customer to have to do his own research and to not be able to plan ahead.
Many Vegas troupes choose not to organize a season, and I think it's a huge mistake. It's not easy working out all the logistics, but many theaters do (including the newly formed British National Theatre of America), and it's obvious their success has been aided by it.
It's also troubling how many thousands of dollars artistic directors throw away in free advertising by not keeping the media informed of what they're up to.
Vegas requires special care when dealing with the performing arts, and I'm surprised at how careless and unfocused some of our organizers are. It's not enough to want to put on shows. You have to want to protect them, promote them, and figure out a way to have Vegans want to leave their homes or their slot machines to come see them.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.