Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Don't Knock The Jukebox

Stopped in what has become my new local bar tonight. It isn’t a very good bar, but, if I tried at all, I could get from my door to theirs in less than sixty seconds.

I’ve been trying to get a handle on this bar for a while. My first night, pretty hoppin’ Friday, there was an eminently capable bartender with a sweet, hearty ass and lots of ink on her back and shoulders (kinda bartender that is super-attentive, and who, if you ever asked her out, would laugh out loud in your face) and great rock on the juke, heavy that night on the margins of GnR. Two nights later, some cheeseball with excessive product in his hair is offering something he describes as “just like a fudgicle” as the bartender special, and Phil-fucking-Collins is playing.

Guys, where are we?

I’ve described this place to friends with just exactly this above description, and always asked, “What kind of fucking juke has Turbo Lover and In Too Deep?”

Turns out the solid bartender works almost always, so I’ve gone back a bit. Cheap, plasma flatscreens for SportsCenter, and Monster Madness on the touch screen.

So, anyway, I’m there tonight. And I look over my cigarette, trying to disguise my empty head with a pen and notebook in front of me, absent, and see it.

Internet Juke.

What is does first is explain my first two visits here. Except the fudgicle bullshit.

And then I’m mad. Because jukes are supposed to be something different than that. They reflect choice, and we are externally the choices we make. When I first got to town, I judged the pubs I crawled by jukes, and recommended places largely on that. A good juke is a good bar. Someone that has lived there decided which were the songs the patrons were going to pay to play, or said fuck it and picked what they liked. Either way, an important and definite statement.

Ever been in a bar where the juke just sucked? Yeah, so, okay, you understand what I’m getting at.

The Internet Juke is the non-statement. My reddish friends would be lampooned saying “He-who-states-nothing-meaning-anything-saying-nothing.” (Cousin of two-dogs-fucking.) I mean bullllllll-shit. How can I know who you are when you won’t even say what music you like?

That is a marketing-driven bar, appealing to the cult of the individual. What’s on your juke? Whatever you like, baby. I see all the possible advantages here. Nobody ever walks away from that juke disappointed, and the public is fully in charge. It is all very open source.

But it reveals the flaw in the confluence, which is inevitable, between open-source and I-marketing. Namely, when we worship I and have the power to individuate, public spaces and possibilities for institutional character erode. We destroy the ability, in the face of competition from the clones, to create things that can have life beyond the immediate. We destroy continuity of shared existence in favor of gratification.

20 of my friends pack this bar and play this juke, and a Renton bachelorette party does the same the next night, can we even call it the same bar?

We go too far. Kill the spirit of place and time in favor of here and now.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Keep yer dramaturgy paws off

Had the chance to share a smoke with a dramaturg in from the East Coast for a production at one of the local big houses. We did the usual small talk things. So, been to Seattle before? and such. He had kind things to say about the city and I politely paraphrased and parroted them back.

I mentioned that we have a fairly educated and literate populace here (and before you get all up in arms and start in with words like “provincial,” think about all the other places you could be), and used the marketing of the play he was working on as an example.

“This is the kind of town where you can say a play is a retelling of Medea and people understand what you are talking about.” Fairly innocuous, I thought.

He looked at me as though I had finally let the cat out of the bag, broached a subject he had been dying to get into but wouldn’t bring up himself. Very serious, intense, “yeah-I-been-meaning-to-tell-you” kind of look.

“Yeah, hmm. Actually,” (I hate it when people start sentences with that word) “we weren’t too happy with the way the play was marketed.”

“Oh, really?” Not sure why I would care, why that would be a subject to be gently yet intensely approached. I’m not in the marketing department, I’m just a cage monkey pressing a little button to let people in. But anyway…

“Well, because, it isn’t a retelling of Medea.” Long pause here, as he looks me in the eye. I almost think he expected me to challenge him.


“No, because…” And here he launched into a long but, actually, very cogent explanation of the play, and how it relates to the Medea story, and why “retelling” does no service to what the play actually is.

OK, sure. All made sense to me. But, here’s the thing. While I may not be in the marketing department of this particular theater, I am in marketing in general, have a degree in Advertising and everything, and most of my recent marketing experience has been for the arts, and of that mainly theater.

And, while his little speech was interesting, and quite obviously heartfelt, there was nothing in it even remotely useful for the marketing of that play. It was an explanation that works well in person, even perhaps from a podium to a bunch of donors after the show, but is too long and allusive and structured and nuanced to be a marketing message.

Dramaturgs make shitty marketers.

Maybe that isn’t a big surprise to anyone, but I don’t hear it talked about much. Maybe it is that those who do marketing for arts organizations like to pretend they aren’t marketers in front of the artists, try too hard to protect artistic sensibilities from the utilitarian vagaries of marketing.

The hot talk in this arena is always from the artists, bemoaning the fact that marketing departments are making artistic decisions at big Equity houses all over the country. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want marketing departments walking into AD offices and saying “Look, to meet projections, I need to do some niche marketing, so I’m gonna need a black play, a chick play, a romantic date play and a big-name-big-star play this season – think we can open with Tom Skerritt in Our Town?”

But, and I say this for having worked with so many lovely people that couldn’t handle this simple point – Keep the dramaturges, or whoever is filling that role, out of marketing and let us do our jobs! What makes your show art doesn’t necessarily make it marketable! Audiences don’t materialize like lovesick moths out of the darkness every time your throw on the light! Your lovely, nuanced description of your reasons for choosing a play and the influences and themes that run throughout does a wonderful job of showing off your MFA, but it isn’t going to fit on the fucking postcard!

There is nothing wrong with having both influences at work. Actors want to make a living, they can either cry that the audiences won’t come running barely bidden, or they can hire people to put asses in seats. Art is often a better product than a draw, ya dig? And having a marketing department doesn’t mean that they get to force a holiday musical into the line-up, but it might mean that they suggest that if you want to do the dark, edgy drama with a downer ending, you consider not opening a mainstage season with it.

They have to understand and respect each other’s worlds. One’s focus is art, the other audience, and this is not a paradox that needs be collapsed, one assigned dominant and the other subordinate roles. Artists make the art and marketers sell it, and they should neither one of them stray into the other’s territory.

I think it is harder for the dramaturges, the backdoor alpha beasts of the artistic rhetoric in arts organizations, to let things go, to keep the mitts off. To them I say, know your limits, and to the marketing departments, bravely protect your turf.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Open Source Bullying

Remember the sheer genius of knocking a folder or book of papers out of a victim's hands?

I was reminded of this just this morning as I walked from the Post Office to the Rep with a bucket of mail on my shoulder at precisely the moment I realized that I was at that moment totally open to that kind of attack.

It was a flash to elementray and junior high and high school that hit like a subtle taste or a smell, evocative of a whole body feeling in a flash.

The genius of this kind of attack is that it immediately puts the victim in the position of having to make a choice: chase the attackers or attend to the papers now scattered across the hall, sidewalk, playground, whatever. And that hesitation, that moment of indecision and weighing options, provide plenty of time for the attackers to flee, should it become necessary.

No matter the victim's choice, they will have to at some point return to the disorder, perhaps the muddy, rainy destruction, of their belongings.

In an instant, the attackers have won. Game, set, match, checkmate, book it, take that shit to the house and drive it down.

This is the kind of tachnique that can only arise through practitioner innovation and evolution. The system designed and developed by those who use it is always the strongest. Open source bullying.

Yeah, open source can be applied further than it is, and it is more than "clever" meme-constructing juxtaposition. It works with software as it works with sidewalks (as the smart civil engineer leaves a space of lawn clear until walkers wear the paths and then lays down the sidewalks).

Somehow, this is feeding my wrestling match with the phrase "open source religion," both in terms of how that term is derisively used (like in the Left Behind series) and how it is perhaps positively used (Douglas Ruchkoff's Nothing Sacred talks about this quite eloquently), and how I want to fit that term and my use of it into my narratives.

(And, just for the record, I was rarely if ever the folder-shover, and often the one picking up soggy papers as a group of cooler, and apparently open-source-dedicated, kids ran away.)