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METCALF
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Stories from the Inc.
2015 Learning Network
2015

 
 
 

Focus Issue: New approaches and alternative sources of revenue

From an online theatre arts magazine to a leadership training program for women, four new projects are being launched as part of our 2015 Learning Network.

Click on each company’s logo to read about their initiatives.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

b current Performing Arts Co.

<p>Obeah Opera, 2012. Photo: Nation Chong.</p>

Supported Initiative

b inc. is a new social enterprise offering from b current that provides customized theatre-based training experiences to business of all sizes in the private and public sector.

Facilitated by a team of professional theatre practitioners working in the industry, b inc. aims to challenge and engage participants in a creative way around the importance of empathy, diversity and inclusivity in the workforce.

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

Our goal as an organization is to have “controllable” income, in order to continue to train and develop the artists we work with and to produce the work that we do.

In conceiving this initiative, we recognized the need for a new revenue generating strategy that complemented our existing programming. With 25 years of experience supporting and producing culturally-rooted work, we felt that we were in a good position to offer something new and exciting to the world of professional workplace training. Not only did we see this as a new revenue generating strategy, but we also felt creating customized, theatre-based training fulfilled our community outreach mandate by engaging our organizations and artists-in-training as facilitators.

What has been your biggest accomplishment or milestone in the process so far?

After facilitating two pilot workshops in the Spring/Summer, we thought it necessary to take a step back and rethink our approach to engaging potential clients and developing training modules. This led us to begin consulting work with Empathy—a company specializing in designing user experiences.

Since beginning this work, we have rebranded ourselves as a new social enterprise under the name of b inc., solidified what our key learning modules are, and opened conversations with potential clients. In addition to having a clearer idea about our learning modules, we were given the opportunity to present a sample of one of our modules at an entrepreneur conference for women called Success in the City in September 2016. This proved to be a wonderful opportunity in which we connected with business owners and other presenters. Our attendance there has led to a potential paying partnership.

What is one key insight you have gleaned from your planning and research?

In our initial proposal, we planned to target potential clients in the areas of law, finance and marketing. While this still remains true, we have learned that we made a lot of assumptions about what kinds of clients might be interested in our work.

Our market research has revealed that tech companies would be ideal clients to pursue due to their typically engaging and casual company culture. Law firms, by contrast, did not present the same reception to the opportunity due to the fact that their professional development offerings are highly regulated. Also, the two pilot workshops we facilitated in the Spring/Summer illuminated that organizations within the public sector would be interested in customized theatre-based training around empathy, diversity and inclusivity.

What piece of advice would you offer to another organization trying to do something similar?

Find champions outside of your current networks to support your organization’s initiative, especially if it's a new venture in which your organization has had little experience. For us, having champions in the fields of Diversity & Inclusion and Public Speaking really empowered us to develop our new offering as something of standing and merit.

What question(s) has (have) arisen in this first stage of your initiative?

The exercise of having to re-work budgets and self reflect raised the question: “will this initiative be sustainable and deliver the projected financial outcomes?” We had to look at the numbers realistically and assess how effective we've been in allocating time and resources to the development of this initiative, alongside running a small theatre company with seasoned programming.

Because b inc. is not only a new offering for our theatre company, but also a new offering in an unfamiliar field, we continue to learn by asking “how do we close the deal?”, “who are the people we need to know?” and “how do we keep these new partners and potential clients engaged when we do not yet have a “product?”

“Organizations must begin to assert their value by connecting their artistic work with opportunities to be encountered by the public outside of the performance hall.”

“With ‘entertainment’ so readily available across digital platforms, it is becoming more and more difficult to amass supporters for live performance art. At the same time, consumers are becoming weary of saturated media environments that provide little content of substance.”

“I am interested to learn how other organizations are addressing the issue of decreasing support in a time where we must constantly prove our capability to increase resources.”

-Alison Wong, Artistic Producer

 
 

The Company Theatre

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Supported Initiative

Intermission Magazine is an online magazine, launched in March 2016, designed to provide a singular online hub for fans of Toronto theatre. We’re devoted to telling the stories behind the stories on stage, both by providing a platform for Toronto’s theatre artists to write directly for their audiences, and by publishing fresh and inquisitive arts journalism. www.intermissionmagazine.ca

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

We felt that the range of content about theatre and theatre artists in Canada was too narrow. It mainly consisted of reviews and standard preview articles and even these were diminishing as the budgets of mainstream media were tightening. We saw an opportunity to provide the community with a platform to communicate with potential audiences that, at the same time, would also provide value to our company.

What has been your biggest accomplishment or milestone in the process so far?

Launching the online magazine into the world was a much more satisfying accomplishment than I had expected. The feedback we’ve been getting from the theatre community and others has been amazing. We spent about seven months working on the site before it went live and during that time it was easy to forget about the personal response people were going to have to the content.

One of our first articles was a personal essay by Christine Horne about her perceived “success”. The article was shared extensively as it resonated deeply with many people. It’s still our most read piece.

What is one key insight you have gleaned from your planning and research?

I’m not sure I can think of one insight that stands out. It’s certainly been a learning process. It’s very different from what we’re used to doing, and so there was a lot of research that was needed before we could create and launch the magazine.

Perhaps the insight was the realization that approaching something new created a greater willingness to approach things with fresh eyes. It reminded me to do this with other things I was working on that I had more experience with. There’s always a different way to approach things and it can be easy to forget that.

What question(s) has (have) arisen in this first stage of your initiative?

Now that the site is live, there are many questions about how best to spread the word about the magazine and how best to build upon our strategy for it to generate revenue. This initiative only works if we can get readership up to a certain level. So the most important question to answer is: How to we attract and maintain the readership we need?

“As someone who has spent many years producing theatre, I recognize the critical need to explore new models of generating revenue. Through our new website I hope to gain insight into what kind of online content increases people’s interest in the performing arts. It will also give us a platform to collaborate with many artists, and to create an ongoing conversation about the performing arts in our country.”

-Philip Riccio, Co-Artistic Director

 
 

Nightwood Theatre

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Supported Initiative

The Creativity Gym is a comprehensive corporate training program, inspiring leadership and innovation in business through the arts. Through this initiative, we want to expose the business world to the artistic process, allowing individuals to step outside of their comfort zone and awaken their imagination to abstract and new possibilities.

Innovation, creativity, cognitive flexibility – the ability to discover and create new connections and ideas is critical to success in today’s economy. The good news is that creativity, like any muscle, can be trained and developed. The Creativity Gym is a unique opportunity for leaders to exercise their creativity, improve their ability to generate interesting ideas, and make those ideas perform. After all, isn’t great theatre all about making great ideas perform in great ways?

In a safe and supportive environment, Nightwood Theatre will engage in a range of theatrical exercises in order to improve various aspects of individual and/or group learning. As a women’s theatre company, Nightwood Theatre believes it is important to offer training in both one-on-one as well as group settings for women to help improve their communication and presentation techniques in high-stress situations and to assist in building communications skills. By working in various theatrical techniques, groups will learn how to strategize, communicate, prioritize, and work together in innovative ways in order to accomplish a common goal.

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

Seven years ago, Nightwood theatre launched its inaugural Lawyer Show—a fundraising event where over 30 lawyers take to the stage mounting a production and raising funds for Nightwood Theatre. Having witnessed the positive impact The Lawyer Show has had on the lawyers themselves, coupled with their testimonials of how participating in the show benefitted both their careers and lives, we felt confident in pursuing this venture.

The success of the Lawyer Show has allowed us to secure a stable stream of projected revenues year after year. Between the Lawyer Show and guaranteed government funding, we can ensure a portion of our revenues are achievable every year. Now we're ready to implement a corporate education wing to further stabilize annual revenues and end our reliance on unstable box office projections.

As Canada’s national women’s theatre, we possess a unique brand with which to intersect the worlds of the arts and business, and to promote women’s leadership by giving them the tools to succeed through creative innovation. We see The Creativity Gym as an initiative, which will eventually function as an autonomous wing within the organization to support growth and sustainability in Nightwood’s artistic programming.

Nightwood has a history of conducting masterclasses for the Legal community, attracting many participants that eventually audition and participate in the Lawyer Show. Significantly, many female lawyers over the last couple of years have expressed a desire for Nightwood to do workshops specifically aimed for women, around presentation, voice and body. We believe The Creativity Gym may finally serve this need.

What has been your biggest accomplishment or milestone in the process so far?

Our biggest accomplishment/milestone was the market research we did to further explore our idea of venturing into Corporate Education. We spoke with several members of the legal and finance communities on the various challenges that they face in their jobs, the value of the current training they receive, and their thoughts on our plans to enter this rather congested market place.

This research brought to light a lot of new information, and assisted us in forming our marketing techniques and curriculum. It also gave us a better idea of what our competition was, and what was unique about our offering. We also interviewed organizations that ran classes similar to what we wanted to do (from a theatrical background) and received valuable information regarding contracting and how to build relationships with corporations. We also learned what pitfalls to watch out for when building those relationships and the importance of communication.

What is one key insight you have gleaned from your planning and research?

We were aware from the beginning that we would have to legitimize our work, and possibly align with an individual or corporation that had already developed a name in the Corporate Education world. What was new to us, however, was legitimizing our work through accreditation. There are several ways to legitimize the work to ensure that the courses that we offer are of educational benefit to the employees and that the classes can be seen as beneficial to the employers. The legal community must complete a specific number of professional development hours so we will ensure our classes align with the criteria needed to fulfill those professional development hours.

What piece of advice would you offer to another organization trying to do something similar?

It takes time. It takes more time than we had anticipated, and we had already built a relationship with several individuals in the legal community and felt we knew exactly what our curriculum would consist of. This is why the market research was such a big element for us. We realized that we were not as far ahead as we had thought.

We would also advise companies not to expect to turn around a huge profit quickly. We spent one year on market research and implementing that information, then building the curriculum into various segments to allow us to offer classes that could be flexible not only in content, but also in time. Each organization is looking for something different and unique and this is the challenge that we faced when creating our curriculum.

What questions have arisen in this first stage of your initiative?

What are we doing and how are we doing it? These are fundamental questions, but the options and varieties of ways that courses can be offered makes these questions essential. The more flexible we are in our offerings the more success we will have in selling our classes to the corporate world. In asking these questions we also have had to answer “How do we set ourselves apart from everyone else in this congested marketplace?” Also, “How do we communicate the value of theatre to a corporately-minded clientele who may not have been exposed to theatre?” “How do we get metrics that prove that what we are doing is of benefit to the corporate world?” It is difficult to track qualitative benefits, making it difficult to figure out what part of our programming is of greater benefit than others.

“The Creative Strategies Incubator asks us to devise a business plan, to approach our ideas methodically. As a playwright will often spew out the myriad ideas of their first draft, it is in their second draft, their rewrite, that they develop critical thinking towards their idea, their artistic voice.

I want to apply these ideas, and gain the tools to truly explore viability and profitability, articulate and analyze potential customers, understand competition in the marketplace, and how to define ourselves as a unique brand.”

-Kelly Thornton, Artistic Director

 

“We are fortunate to have many networks available to us where we can promote our offerings, and finding the most effective and powerful message will be our goal.”

-Beth Brown, Managing Director

 
 

Soundstreams Canada

<p>Adrianne Pieczonka and ensemble. Photo: Trevor Haldenby.</p>
<p>Sealed Angel. Photo: Soundstreams.</p>
<p>Daniel Hope Virtuoso String Orchestra. Photo: Soundstreams.</p>
<p>Maria Mulata, Jeffrey Beecher, Sarah Thawer & Fabio Zanon, Encuentros. Photo: Trevor Haldenby.</p>
<p>Patricia Rozario and Choir 21, Song for Athene. Photo: Trevor Haldenby.</p>

Supported Initiative

In an effort to reach broader audiences across Ontario, Soundstreams has begun a comprehensive market development strategy to cultivate awareness, taste, and ongoing interest in contemporary music amongst a small group of programming directors at multi-disciplinary theatres in Ontario. We will adapt a focused model designed to package and sell Soundstreams’ most popular offerings, developing conditions for sustained activity based on forging long-term relations with presenting partners. We will do this by educating our customers (in this case, regional presenters) about our work, lowering their risk, and leveraging the value of each production (our core artistic assets).

Concurrent activity streams:

  1. Identifying presenter prospects.
  2. Engaging in reciprocal outreach/professional development with presenters.
  3. Selecting Soundstreams productions that are suitable for regional markets and meet the needs of the presenters.
  4. Delivering regional programming based on sound financial models and market research.

Cultivation of an identified group of regional programming directors will, over time, build a group of tastemakers in the presenter community with ongoing interest in Soundstreams’ productions.

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

Soundstreams was looking for a way to grow that leveraged our existing core strengths and investments, and stayed tight to our mandate.

Our main stage concert series is our largest public-facing program, and it's where much of the company’s resources are concentrated. We identified an opportunity to scale the series by offering repeat presentations of new and highly popular productions in markets outside of Toronto, building on our touring activity to create a sustained regional presence.

What has been your biggest accomplishment or milestone in the process so far?

Our production "The Music of James MacMillan" toured to Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, and London. The production was adapted to fit the particular opportunity in each city, demonstrating a key principle in our scaling strategy.

A robust combination of activity occurred, including everything from a direct transposition of our full production for string orchestra and chamber choir at the Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, to James MacMillan serving as a visiting guest lecturer at Western University in London. Consistent brand guidelines were applied throughout, and the project generated significant revenue.

What is one key insight you have gleaned from your planning and research?

Never underestimate the concerted effort required to warm up a new market that is unfamiliar with your product. Soundstream's expertise lies in B2C (business to customer) marketing, whereas this project required B2B (business to business) marketing to presentation partners. This realization has led to a shift in approach towards developing sales acumen, and articulating value of our product from the perspective of the new set of customers.

What piece of advice would you offer to another organization trying to do something similar?

Conduct as much primary market research as possible before beginning your project. We completed some, but without resources to devote did not gather an ideal amount of intelligence before the project began.

What question(s) has (have) arisen in this first stage of your initiative?

What exactly makes Soundstreams’ productions different from other offerings?

What are the qualitative and quantitative measures that we can weave into a sales pitch that articulates clear value to our potential presentation partners?

“The Learning Network is an excellent opportunity for skill sharing. In particular, I look forward to discovering how other companies are handling the institutional repositioning required to pursue the goals of their CSI initiative, discussing planning for our post-Metcalf period, and sharing evaluation tools”

-Ben Dietschi, Associate Director of External Relations

 
The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation
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