One Perspective …

by Marielle E. Allschwang
Theatre Operations Assistant
Alverno Presents

Marielle AllschwangAfter a year and a half at Alverno Presents in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my understanding of the performing arts world has already expanded considerably. The Mentorship and Leadership Initiative (MLI) award gave me the opportunity to further expand my knowledge of presenting and allowed me to meet with my peer mentor, Roya Amirsoleymani of PICA in Portland, who has proven to be an invaluable source of support and growth.

Active, experiential learning has undeniable efficacy over the more sedentary, spatially limited options available. This became increasingly clear to me during my travels to NPN, Arts Presenters and the various dance and theatre festivals surrounding them.

My job at Alverno Presents involves the frequent use of social media to develop and expand our audience. Digital media and electronic communication have powerful benefits for a presenting series, and while social media has never been a habit of mine, I appreciate it now and have fun with it on the job, doing my best to use it effectively. But in the end it is a communication tool – the real communication and the real experiences we aim to create are live. Our goal is, hopefully, to make an audience feel alive. Digital tools ultimately assist us in bringing people together in an environment that encourages the same live experiences and discussions that we pursue or are privileged to access. Tweets and posts can get people into the theatre, but our ideal role is engaging that audience, drawing from our own experiences as spectators.

I was in on meetings with dance company managers, agents, artists and fellow presenters who clearly put a lot of creative energy and thoughtfulness into their work. It was inspiring to engage in conversation with presenters who work artfully to pull together complex, challenging, joyous and moving experiences the way a musician considers (maybe even agonizes over) the tone of a song and how their set list should progress.

One thing was clear to me throughout these encounters:  presenters bear a responsibility to understand and balance various perspectives on value. How do we ascribe value to a project? What concrete number do we put on it? How can we make artists feel valued? How do we optimize the value we create for our own organization and local community through the presenting process?

I loved hearing about new modes of presentation, about how different generations have approached this field and its cultural and economic challenges, what disparate audiences have responded to, how we assign value to a work, the degree to which culture is or is not tied to community, how artists are compensated through our organizations and what new presenting practices are developing.

I returned to the Alverno Presents office only to find an inspiring essay by Michèle Steinwald (Noticing the Feedback…), whose name I recognized from encounters with her at NPN and Arts Presenters. This led me to other thought-provoking reads:  the Brooklyn Commune Project report and Alastair Macaulay and Andy Horwitz’s critiques of American Realness, helping me further evaluate my impressions from NPN and Arts Presenters.

I feel grateful to have Roya Amirsoleymani as my peer mentor. She has had more direct event organizing and presenting experience than I have, and ideologically, we seem to be on the same page in many respects. Roya’s responsibility for Field Guide is and will be similar to the work I’m currently undertaking with Alverno Presents’ Solo Flight panel and community outreach objectives. She has managed Field Guide for a few years in a row, and I am confident in approaching her with questions and challenges knowing that she has relevant knowledge which comes from her recent experiences and can help me over a significant learning curve that I will surely face in the coming months. She will also attend Solo Flight in Milwaukee in April. I promise not to abuse her expertise.

Both the connections I made and the dialogues I took part in opened the door for my own engagement in problems and strategies that I hadn’t even considered previously, mostly because they were outside my reach or radar. Interestingly, no one at NPN or Arts Presenters said, “Read this. Study this. Look up this artist” directly – I met individuals, exchanged personal experiences over dinner, saw more 2-minute video excerpts than I could keep up with and was a very attentive audience member for a week of performances I had never seen (I have my colleagues and cohorts to thank for such a well-‘curated’ trip), some of which altered my ideas about the arts and their potential effects entirely. From these impressions I have pursued, or even half happened-upon, a course of questions and interests that enrich my understanding of the arts, culture and community, and motivate me to be more mindful and confident about my actions as I develop my role in the field.

Read Roya Amirsoleymani’s perspective here.

March 2014

The Mentorship and Leadership Initiative, as part of the Community Fund, is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), the MetLife Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and American Express.

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