The Real Story

It’s so difficult to communicate those things that are most important. We have 3 weeks to go yet, but I am already partially in the post-season game of trying to characterize what happened here in these 14 weeks that are WTOC 2008.

I’m ahead of myself partially because the minute the curtain comes down, it will be necessary to summarize what just happened – artistically, fiscally, philosophically, and logistically. We must do this in order to avoid making the same mistakes twice (and I guess to also stand a better chance of replicating our successes). And as I wrestle with how to communicate what really happens here, I realize that the two main ways in which we report on our season are not acceptable in and of themselves.

1. Reviews

I say very little about this during the summer for a multitude of reasons, most of which I’ve enumerated here. (I’d look up the posts for you and link to them, but I’m too lazy.) I neither rail against nor enthusiastically embrace criticism. I try to remain aloof – something of a mildly interested bystander – and I believe that many of our artists are trying to learn a similar balance in their own relationship with the press.

But even as I describe this somewhat delusional, noble philosophy, I know that the first thing I’ll reach for when trying to justify my existence to funders, supporters, board members, and colleagues is…. press quotes. Kinda makes me uneasy, but I don’t have a good Plan B. When it’s all done, I believe we all know what was great, what was good, and what didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. But we don’t have the street cred the press does. Even as I pretend an arts organization doesn’t need good reviews, I realize how difficult it would be to continue to drum up support without them.

2. Statistics

Numbers – of artists, of staff, of guest faculty, of patrons, of performances

Percentages – showing the elite nature of our artist pool, the success our singers enjoy after leaving us, the capacity to which our house was filled for performances

Dollars – where we saved a few bucks, the ways in which we were creative with our funding, the maddening essential things (travel and housing, anyone?) whose cost keep rising and taking a chunk out of the mission

The numbers tell a story, but perhaps not the right one. Certainly not the complete one. But I will reach for them again and again.

The Alternative?

I have no idea, really. But I suppose the answer is related somehow to the reasons that this topic consumes me today.

I’ve been missing out on Strauss, and I finally got a dose this morning – a sing-through of the Opera (without its Prologue) in the rehearsal room. And even though we have more than two weeks left, and there is still work to be done, I was uncharacteristically touched and impressed by what I heard. I normally multi-task in the rehearsal room, industriously returning emails and creating spreadsheets while I listen. But today’s rehearsal stopped me in my tracks more than once. And it is forcing me to wax philosophical.

This afternoon, our Filene Young Artists were generous enough to spend a lunch hour talking to the younger Studio Artists about the many young artist and apprentice programs in this country, giving first-hand advice and reactions to the seasons they spent in those programs. I expected a fair amount of “thank god that’s over” in reaction to the entry-level YAPs that work their artists very hard. But there was not all that much of that, and quite a bit of affection and enthusiasm for those formative experiences. Mixed in with a dose of realism on the ways in which the business works and the ways in which you can benefit if you’re smart.

And this past Saturday afternoon I heard a sing-through for the Britten Project that the Studio is preparing for its final performance this coming weekend. Again, a work in progress, but one that so clearly shows how much these singers have matured since I heard them in audition last fall – and even how their artistry has been shaped throughout this summer.

These are the real stories. And there are dozens of them, all of the details of which I will never really know. I do know that we are privileged to take part in helping people figure out how to be outstanding, generous, fascinating, and compelling artists who will have a big hand in making the world a more beautiful and interesting place for years to come. Somehow, I think this is why people give money to organizations like ours; this is one of the big reasons the loyal patrons get addicted; this is why folks work very hard for modest money in arts organizations. This is the real story, and I still have no idea how to tell it when it matters.

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