Theatre Bay Area – Challenge Semi-Finalist

Attendees of the 2013 Theatre Bay Area conference during a breakout session.
Attendees of the 2013 Theatre Bay Area conference during a breakout session.

Our adaptive challenge

Because individual membership in our organization is down, Theatre Bay Area (TBA) will effectively communicate the value we provide to the community and build engagement in our work by focusing our messaging on the overall health of the theatre and dance ecosystem. We will also enlist individuals in our community as impassioned participants in our cause and joint owners in our work through the implementation of the public radio model of membership.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

Our individual members are the lifeblood of our organization. Buy-in from our community is what gives us credibility and allows us to do the work we do. A decrease in active participation and membership is a serious blow to us in terms of stature, revenue and relevance and lends urgency to this need for change. Shifting the focus of membership from transactional to a cause-based commitment, connected to a strong sense of value and ownership is essential to our sustainability as a service and leadership organization.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

  1. That the best business model for service organizations like ours is based on annual memberships.
  2. That promoting and selling traditional membership, based on a transactional exchange of money for service, is the best way to engage individuals in our work and create a networked community.
  3. That performing arts practitioners here in the Bay Area understand the work we do and the value we provide to the health of the theatre and dance ecosystem as a whole.
  4. That our membership reflects our regional theatre and dance community.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

  1. Across the country, arts service organizations are finding the membership model is no longer working.
  2. Here at TBA, our individual membership has been on the decline over the last several years despite increased profile and significant program achievements. Individual members consistently “graduate” out of membership when they no longer need the specific direct benefit for which they used to pay.
  3. Anecdotal evidence and attrition of members indicates that there is a lack of understanding about the value TBA provides to the community, beyond direct personal and tangible benefits.
  4. Recent studies and surveys have shown that our current members do not reflect the diversity of the overall theatre community in the Bay Area.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

We are interested in exploring the viability of the public radio model of support to replace our current individual membership structure, including member drives twice a year; we would do this by asking individuals to join at any level they can afford (pay-what-you-can) and offering access to customizable pay options (automatic monthly payments, etc.). We are also interested in exploring an overall change in how we communicate our value and promote association with TBA, by changing materials and language to reflect increased community value, joint ownership and higher purpose. We are interested in the idea of individual members joining and increasing engagement because they believe in the work and mission of TBA – not because they get “x” in exchange for “y.”

Our vision of success

Our vision of success involves having a strong base of active supporters and advocates for the work of Theatre Bay Area; not just customers or members, but true believers in the mission and impact of our organization.

Speakers at the 2013 Theatre Bay Area conference.
Founded in 1976, Theatre Bay Area is the largest regional theatre service organization in North America, serving theatre artists and companies with programs such as our general and regional auditions, annual conference, granting programs, and career building workshops. TBA builds consensus around the idea that the performing arts are critical to a democratic society.

  • Thank you for all your work. This year is a year of transitions for all of us – astrologically so it says, and it seems to be true. Thank you for sharing your transition. Eth-Noh-Tec is also going through one and sharing your process is very helpful to us.

  • Theatre Bay Area is the beating heart of the Bay Area theater community, and though their statement makes a ton of sense to me as a former member (former bc I no longer live in the region), I do not think they have adequately expressed their value here. This is the service agency for the Bay Area theater community, for every member of that community, and it has been astonishingly flexible and responsive to the needs of that community, listening to what theater artists need at any given time and developing programs that directly, practically and inexpensively (sometimes for free) address those needs. In the 20 years I have been aware of the agency, they have led workshops (and even published how-to pamphlets) on how to start a theater company and how to recruit and work with arts boards, and developed many invaluable programs including but not limited to: a mentorship program for management at micro-theaters to be mentored by their counterparts at large theaters, a peer and mentor-led business-plan and best-practices development program for actors and playwrights, and a granting program for individual artists and companies too small to qualify for foundation funding. The company publishes a monthly magazine with news, best practices information, audition and job listings and features that run the gamut of everything someone in the Bay Area theater world needs to know to make their best work and get it seen. They also have a tremendous conference every year that it still pains me to miss—each year the panels address the issues most urgent and relevant to theater artists at that moment. But even more than all this, the material that Theatre Bay Area generates is bigger than the Bay Area—it is of use to theater artists all across the nation. Since leaving the Bay Area, I have lived in two other metropolitan areas, and the training I got through TBA as well as the information I still get from them opens eyes wherever I go and never fails to get the response “Wow, I wish we had something like that here!” Well they do—we all do, thanks to the internet. This is truly a company that provides a valuable service not just to a region, but to an entire profession. Please support Theater Bay Area in its mission to make our world more receptive to theater, our arts jobs easier, and our artists more ready to lead.

    • Hey Erin!
      I agree with your glowing review of TBA. I am very interested in this new direction that TBA is exploring. I am thinking a lot myself about membership business models. so, I can’t help but wonder…since you are such a fan of the work of TBA, would you be willing to pledge membership in this way that they are proposing even though you live outside the region now? Do you think there are other folks in your situation who would pledge, even if they won’t get much out of it directly, just because they so strongly believe in the org’s mission?

  • Karen

    Please. Support the arts which give us such pleasure.
    It is so gratifying while sitting in an audience and being whisked away into a memorable experience by talented performers. Where they are able to capture your undivided attention, and enable you to experience all of your emotions like Funny Girl being performed at the Saratoga Civic Theatre.

  • Steve Smith

    To Brad Erickson and everyone at TBA ~ I so admire what you do. There is a quotation that, to me, reflects who you are with regard to theatre and the arts:
    “There is no substitute for intelligent love and interest…lit is propulsion for growth.”
    You have my vote. Always have, always will.

  • Michael Ray Wisely

    I’ve watched Theatre Bay Area grow in our community for as long as ive been a part of it. Over the years the organization has responded with programs and progress that reflect the depth and uniqueness of the Bay Area performing artist. Many of our colleagues have been a part of the journey. Tenacious, talented and dedicated are the words that come to mind. Bravo!

  • Donna Lerew

    I have just joined TBA and really need the services included here. It is very valuable. Please continue to fund this organization

  • Please continue to fund TBA. It is essential to the theater life of the Bay Area