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Sunday, March 22, 2009


How Not to Promote the Arts

Classics for Kids field trip

[warning: impassioned rant below]

Today was already slated to be a long, full day; but it was the crap at the beginning that drained me of some energy early on, making the day feel even longer.

First, the schedule:
0845 - Field trip to Balboa Theater for a Classics for Kids orchestra performance.
1230 - End of school day (Thursdays are short days)
1600 - PE Night (No sense adding 90 minutes of driving home and back, and home again, so just hang out at school)
1530 - Ren's class's Project Night
Since I'd missed the last field trip, I volunteered to be a driver (school transportation is way down the list on the budget)--not because I enjoy having a car full of 7 year olds, but because I enjoy being there to take photos.

So we go to the newly renovated Balboa Theater, for which I wish I had a fast, wide-angle lens. Oh well, I at least had my 135 2.8, which has served me well in similar conditions.

The theme for the performance was Cultural Crossroads, and being Nowruz, the Persian New Year, a couple of guest musicians, with traditional Persian instruments, joined the small orchestra. There were also dancers from local dance company, Malashock, accompanied by young dancers from the local Persian Cultural Center.

Alas, I got no photos of the sinuous dancers in their colorful costumes, for just before they took the stage (a full 30 minutes into the performance) I was accosted by a rude, volunteer usher:
"Sir, there is NO filming allowed."

"I'm not filming," I demurred.

"Turn it OFF, and put it away."
I was extremely put off by this. I wasn't using a flash (which would've been useless from my seat, anyway); I only tripped the shutter while the orchestra was playing, so as to mask the mechanical sound; and furthermore, there was no announcement at the beginning of the show prohibiting filming, recording, or photographing the performance. But more than this, I was put off by being commanded to do something. If the old bitch (sorry, reliving it in order to write it down has me riled up again!) had simply said, "I'm sorry, sir, but there is no photography allowed during the performance," or had there been an explicit announcement or signage to that effect, I would have complied, albeit with disappointment. Instead, I got a crusty old whisker-biscuit, flapping her over-zealous usher badge at me like I was one of the school kids invading her theater.

Kristen, the mom who had arranged the field trip, witnessed the exchange, and later told me that she used to work for the theater. She shared with me that Janey, the hag, has always been like that, even with opera patrons.

My stung ego aside, what baffles me is why would the theater prohibit photography of what was billed as a cultural performance for the benefit of local school children? Given the state of the Arts in schools in general, and San Diego in particular, you would think that good, solid word of mouth endorsements would be welcomed by the Art community and industry.

And it's not just in schools, either. I know for a fact that performance arts has taken quite a hit in this recession. Ren and I have been fortunate to attend several plays at the illustrious La Jolla Playhouse as "seat fillers", to help bolster the audience numbers on key nights. In all our visits to the LJP, we've never been made to feel "less than" for having "seat filler" tickets, and we've always received friendly and courteous assistance from their staff.

The Balboa Theater, however, does not sit as well in my mind. Sure, it might seem petty, to hinge my opinion of the place on the poor people skills of one volunteer usher; but a business is a business, top to bottom, and people will always remember the worst part of their experience. As the saying goes:
If you put a drop of wine in a bucket of filth, you still have a bucket of filth.
If you put a drop of filth in a bottle of wine, you get a bottle of filth