Innovating Through Artistry

The Theater Rental Experience From Hell

In Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurial Tool Box on February 18, 2009 at 10:17 am

About two weeks ago I made about a dozen calls to small theaters- seat 200 or less- around the Chicago land area seeking to rent space for several Bite-Size Arts Ensemble performances. Most of the theaters I called had answering machines on during the day, but a few answered the phone. I left messages and emailed all the theaters where a “live” person did not answer.

The one’s who did answer, I asked to speak to whoever was in charge of renting their space. Three out of four said they could help and took my information. One offered no information until I sent an email. Of course when I asked the three who would speak to me, some general questions about the space, their rental fees and possible dates to book their theater, each told me they had to talk to someone else and would get back to me.

Again, with the three who I actually spoke to, and the one who required an email first to speak to me, I did send follow up emails recapping potential dates, times and our needs list (which I already knew matched what each theater offered- I had done my homework.)

Well, I made all those calls and sent all those emails on February 4th. Today it will be 2 weeks since I did. Of the 12 theaters I called, last night I received, at 9:30 pm, a call from someone from one of the theaters who said she was “following up.”

When I inquired about why it took 2 weeks to return the call and asked her to call me tomorrow during the day, she said ” Well I guess you don’t need to rent the space” and hung up on me. This is an established theater! And what about the other 11 who never even bothered to “follow up?”

Now, I would REALLY love to give you the list of theaters I called, as well as which theater it was that hung up on me, but I am going to restrain myself. However, why does stuff like this happen so much in creative fields? What makes this behavior “acceptable” in any situation, let alone the arts? In what situation EVER is not being prompt, interested and communicative ever acceptable in a business situation? Why is it that artists think that “whenever they get around to it” because they have more important things to do- like their art projects- ever makes a good impression? Who taught them this??

I mean, it’s not like I am asking them for something they don’t claim to be wanting to sell! Each of these theaters claims to be seeking to rent their space on their websites. Each one goes out of their way to show you their space online and give you contact information. If they don’t really mean it, or it’s not available because its already booked, why are they bothering to frustrate the hell out of potential renters like me by not bothering to follow up? All it takes is a prompt phone call or email to say ” thanks but we are full” or ” when is a good time to connect to discuss your space needs?”

In some ways the behavior of these theaters deserves the action that follows. Why would anyone (me) WANT to rent space from any one of these theaters if they conduct their business like this? What’s going to happen when the lights don’t go on at the dress rehearsal or the heat isn’t turned on the evening of the performance?

But in fairness to the theaters, I am sure not everyone got the email I sent or the message, right? Email, after all, can be flaky and a bit unreliable and messages can be easily deleted. Ok, so that lets a couple of these theaters off the hook. Besides, who would need the business in this booming economy anyway?

As representatives of an important part of society- the arts- we need to learn to be prompt, communicative and professional if we ever expect to be taken seriously, let alone truly innovate and change the way we are perceived.

Just because your venue or business is small, does not mean you cannot be great. Just because you are an artist does not mean you cannot make whatever audience you sell your goods and services to feel valued and important. And if you are an artist and think serving the public and running a business is beneath you, I hope you win the lotto or marry rich. ‘Cause it’s folks like you who are giving the arts a bad name…

  1. OMG lady get a grip! Do you think the world sits around waiting for your emails and phone calls? LOL I did call Jeff Green and left a voice mail (O Boy) for him to call me back to get basic rental info on Cutting Hall which is ran by the Park District in Palatine. It holds about 200 I think? As soon as I get the info I’ll pass it on or his number is 847-991-0333. On the above behaviors a editor for a art magazine commented that it was great for him as it made him shine. I don’t know that I agree.

  2. How about a drink to go with that grip??? Unbelievable, huh?

  3. A couple three did you say? You know I hate to say it, but I had the exact same problem with the Grant Institute. I called them, faxed them and called them three more times. Their voice mail was full every time! I see this happen in the arts ALL OF THE TIME. It is half the reason I am so motivated to help because it simply does not have to be this way. Simple good business practices pay dividends in spades…

  4. This is very unprofessional and I am sorry to hear you had this problem. Did you find a space yet? I know of a small theatre that might be available for rental, close to the expressway, public trans and a parking lot. Let me know if you would like more information.

  5. By all means, pass it along! Thanks Pauline.

  6. Lisa,
    If you have not tired this yet, call the Irish American Heritage Center, it is on North Knox between Wilson and Leland (I do not have the exact number). They have a small theatre on the third floor. I think they rent it out.

  7. Thanks, I will check it out.

  8. I think it must be easier to organize an event in Iraq or Sudan, like we do, where audiences and presenters and hungry for cultural events!

  9. Can you share some insights into what you think might produce a little more “hunger” here in the US?

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