Notes from International Society for the Performing Arts 2013

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I was able to attend this congress for the fourth time now. Each time I have found the most fascinating discussion goes on amongst this group of performing arts presenters from around the world. ISPA attracts some really big organizations, as well as the littler ones. Chances are if you are reading this, you’ve been in a members venue or seen an artist who was a member or represented by one. This year the conference focus was on “The Culture of Innovation” Here’s a quote from their website:

“Over the past few years most regions experienced profound changes be they economic, political or social. But did arts organizations and their leaders become more innovative in tackling these challenges or did they in fact retrench? As new technologies and leadership models became available did we as an industry exploit these tools to our best advantage? Over 440 delegates from 50 countries came together over the course of three days to explore these questions.”

I am sharing my notes and photos here. I hope you enjoy this small snapshot of the sessions, and if you’re an artist, a student or otherwise “in the biz” in the big apple in January next year, ISPA 2014 should be on your radar of things to check out.

Peace and love.

Rebecca Singh for Theatre Local

New York Congress 2013


We are encouraged to talk to one another.

David Lang- “I was a barbarian and now I’m a lion of culture”


“Everyone that makes stuff in the arts spends their entire life thinking that they will not gain the appreciation they deserve,” he  did too. But then things changed. He’s spent the last few years thinking “I was a barbarian and now I’m a lion of culture”. He said “We take it for granted that music is somehow autobiographical. If this is true then there is the second assumption that the composers are proud of these traits.” He decided to examine this and wanted to make a piece that showed how “dishonourable” his own path is. “My job has become a kind of mission to see the paths, to walk through them, to explore them.”

With most of his performances David now tries to figure out things that can only be done live. He wanted to make a piece that can never be amplified recorded or videotaped. The idea is that you have to be next to the singer to hear it. He made “The Whisper Opera”, 10 people can hear it.

Perspective of a musician innovator: “You’re in your studio thinking – how much of the world has to change so that I can get this work out there? How much of the work is tied to the ecology of the work? How much of it (the ecology) needs to change to get the work out there? What has to change so that people can hear that note?”

“These (classical) pieces still have their power, and it’s our job to open doors to them.”

“My wife is a conceptual artist and all my friends are conceptual artists.”

“Music is the byproduct of some kind of intellectual activity.”

@theatrelocal David Lang’s “The Whisper Opera” is written for a 10 person audience. Nice.

@theatrelocal David Lang kicks off #ispanyc2013!!



@theatrelocal Brazil: 115% increase in cultural funding bringing the culture budget to1.5 billion out of country budget of 2.5 trillion,#ispanyc2013

Moderator | Graham Sheffield (British Council, United Kingdom)
Speakers | Sulayman Al Bassam (SABAB Theatre, Kuwait), Kate Champion (Force Majeure, Australia), Diane Paulus (American Repertory Theatre, United States)

SESSION I | Reinventing the Wheel: Artistic Intervention

Should artists consistently innovate or is there good reason to sometimes leave well enough alone? How do we balance artistic innovation with competing demands of other key stakeholders? We will explore these questions through the prism of different cultures and disciplines. -ISPA

Moderator | Graham Sheffield (British Council, United Kingdom)

Speakers | Sulayman Al Bassam (SABAB Theatre, Kuwait), Kate Champion (Force Majeure, Australia), Diane Paulus (American Repertory Theatre, United States)

Moderator: To what extent is “innovation” as a term ,a driving force for your work? And to what context does it give in the environment you are from?

Sulayman: One of theaters beauties is its relative poverty. It’s simple elements require to be up-ended and overturned. Sometimes less is definitely more.

Compositional relationship

Devised work

Kate: Having something (ie. an design element of production) that you’ve never seen before helps given gives an excitement to the end product. Thinking as an entrepreneur is part of what I am as a director. Part of my demographic.

Diane: When I think about innovation, I think about the audience. Audiences said they didn’t feel connected anymore. I was really interested in what happened. What went dry at this theater?

What is innovative is constantly relative.

Moderator: How do you reconnect?

Diane: The act of going to the theater is an extremely generous act. There’s a contract that we’ve made as an artist and producers. There’s all this blaming of the audience I think about making the audience a partner and not dumbing down the work. Their voice counts, their presence counts. Not just when we are in the dark, but before during and after.

Audience expectation

Sulayman: We played in Tunis last January which was shortly after the election – the people we knew, were shocked.

Then Bashar al-Assad came out to see “Richard the Third, an Arab tragedy. (Ha.)

Moderator: Is there anything new we can do with the body?

Kate: Skills sometimes need to be hidden. We want the audience to feel like they’re watching someone they know I’m not like they’re watching aliens.

Regarding Boards

I think everyone wants to be part of something innovative.

Sulayman: Comedie français is opened in 1788 and it wasn’t until 2006 that an American (Tennessee Williams) was entered into the repertoire. Now they are including an Arab playwright.

I spent 10 years working through Shakespeare in order to make a cartography of that time. We are living in a moment of history that is moving very fast. For me, when the revolution started to happen it was the death knoll of working through those texts. I felt like a beginner again and that I couldn’t use that form and text of monologues.

Kate: Restriction can be a form of innovation.

I think we can soon sell tickets to the theater where you’d pay more to get away. She tells a story about paying more for a cruise that’s disconnected/off-line.

Diane: Innovation requires failure. How do we fund artistic risk, how do we fund mistakes?

Kate: I think presenters have to take risks as well.

Innovation is nonsense that very very slowly starts to make sense.


@theatrelocal “Innovation requires failure. How do we fund artistic risk? How do we fund mistakes?” more on this to come from #ispanyc2013


PERFORMANCE | So Percussion

PERFORMANCE | So Percussion To listen click here



‏@theatrelocal Egypt update: Things are getting harder which makes people fight harder for what they want #ispanyc2013


Moderator | Maria Roberts (International Arts Manager Magazine, United Kingdom)
Speakers | Jesper Kongshaug (Light Designer, Denmark), Doug Reside (New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, United States), David Rule (Serious Staging, Hong Kong)

SESSION II | The Greatest Thing since Sliced Bread: New Technology

Perhaps now more than ever before, performing arts leaders have access to new technologies that can change the creation, distribution, and environmental impact of our work. How are we embracing these new technologies? Does the investment by definition provide a return? This session will explore how some arts practitioners are utilizing these new technological tools. -ISPA

Moderator | Maria Roberts (International Arts Manager Magazine, United Kingdom)

Speakers | Jesper Kongshaug (Light Designer, Denmark), Doug Reside (New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, United States), David Rule (Serious Staging, Hong Kong)


Jespers images were  so arresting, I didn’t write much down, see for yourself:

Laser creates three dimensionality in Orfeo. Two video projectors create the work in  War Sum Up. Low-tech for Akram Khan. “The performance looks the same everywhere, specifications are to fit touring in many countries.” Vertical Road

Note to self: check out hotelperforma


Bamboo Theatre

one month build

two months teardown

10 year usage

30 m fly tower

can also be moved

1800 seats


What would it mean to provide greater access? ie Met Opera and National Theatre Live

1. Access creates interest

2. What we do cannot truly be replicated

3. Libraries are a promoter for work



This session is always thrilling and can’t be summed up, check ISPA’s site for more detail

We celebrate the success of one of our own projects, Tell YOUR Story, 2011 where this work-in-development was presented! See more about Movable Beast from Volcano Theatre.

@theatrelocal Pitch for A Moveable Beast at ISPA by Neema Bickersteth! Early version was at Canada’s Smallest Theatre in 2011 #ispanyc2013


@theatrelocal Australia update: creating National Cultural Policy and trying to ensure support through the entire life cycle of the artist #ispanyc2013

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SESSION III | Models of Innovation

Management models and leadership approaches are constantly changing but is there a right answer when it comes down to it? This session will explore management strategies and approaches designed to address the new old challenges. ISPA

Moderator | Holly Sidford (Helicon Collaborative, United States)

Speakers | Maestro Armand Diangienda (Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra, DR Congo), Diane Quinn (Cirque du Soleil, Canada), George Steel (New York City Opera, United States)


The Cirque asks itself: “How do we continue to wow our audiences for the next 10 or 20 years? Can we create shows (that the public will love) for less money?” The Cirque decided to share more info with artists and staff, interested in performance art, smaller shows, companies like Redbull, adding sports… and they are no longer using consultants – they’re staying in house, working with new technologies, doing more with marketing insight.

Maestro Armand:

The Maestro received a standing ovation by the delegation after we saw a clip of what he’s accomplished with his Orchestra in Kinshasa. He makes opera into a flexible art by making instruments that can be put into the hands of artists. “We have to listen to the artists. Composers tell us what opera is not the other way around. We have to adapt ourselves to the art and not the other way around.”

I am compelled to look up more about Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra and its story:

Behold the beauty of the Congo!- check out a performance here:

Here’s a link to the producers of an award winning documentary

and the 60-minutes clip that brought the delegation to its feet:


A great tip!: The Drama Bookshop 40th and 7th– great place for librettos

And a Funny: If even the Cirque du Soleil has it rough -try selling Handel operas!

Now back to business; “If I can make a company that has new work as it’s natural product, I will have succeeded.”

George tells us the story of how the New York State theater give up their theatre; It was 9 million per year just to run the building. To make matters worse, there were dramatic theatrical union contracts with severe consequences. Now, instead of saving sets in a warehouse that cost a half million per year they will rebuild shows for $200,000a pop instead as “reviving a show must be an active passion and not a default”. Amen to that. Sounds like George is sticking to his vision.


@theatrelocal “Reviving a show must be an act of passion and not a default” #ispanyc2013



“Without rejuvenation opera will grow stagnant and die.”

“If the public doesn’t want to come you can’t stop them.”

Mr. Peter Gelb (he runs the Met in New York)

@theatrelocal Delegate from Taipei takes an opportunity to chat with Peter Gelb #ispanyc2013

@theatrelocal Peter Gelb presents a piece about Lepage’s Ring Cycle #ispanyc2013


Moderator | Dr. Vishakha Desai (U.S. National Museum and Library Services Board, United States)
Speakers | Julie Chénot (Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture, France), Ruth Mackenzie (London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, United Kingdom), Meriç Öner (SALT, Turkey)

SESSION IV | What’s Next?

The arts have sometimes been accused of being too insular and not looking outside its own “walls” for new ideas and initiatives. In this session we will speak about cultural innovations that have successfully bridged different sectors. -ISPA

Moderator | Dr. Vishakha Desai (U.S. National Museum and Library Services Board, United States)

Speakers | Julie Chénot (Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture, France), Ruth Mackenzie (London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, United Kingdom), Meriç Öner (SALT, Turkey)


The politics are our problem, they’re not the problem of the artist.

Interdisciplinary work is about making it ready for the audience.

Julie explains that the Marseille-Provence project is actually not a city project it’s a regional project. It’s first project where they had all the local leaders sitting around at a table together. It’s been difficult to keep an artistic line through elections and people changing over 10 years. She tells us Marseille is going through a huge renovation plan. Marseille is a poor city, over 25% of the population lives under the poverty line so it was important that the project provided infrastructure that lasted long term.

Moderator: The scale is really mind-boggling and the idea that the project would revitalize the area: I’m wondering if the idea came from the politicians to revitalize or vice versa?

Julie explains that it’s a hard question to answer because it’s not clear-cut. “OK the mayor has to say, I want Marseille to be the next center for culture in Europe, the funding comes 70% from local authorities and 15% from private sources. But then if suddenly, the authorities want to direct the programming the programming would likely not be very good.”

Meriç tells us about SALT: The criticality of the institution is based on questions instead of looking at answers and feeding them to people, which has been more the way in the past.

Moderator asks the question about how to deal with asking questions – It’s somehow always considered subversive? How do organizations deal with this?

Ruth: it comes down to curation, it comes down to who you invite. “Subversive” is almost always a badge of honour. Shakespeare has been a fantastic way in communities where is difficult to speak freely, to express. Then she confesses “I couldn’t live with myself if I thought we had programmed stuff that wasn’t subversive.”

beyond institutional walls

Meriç: Actors gave a reading in a building where the audience was sitting in furniture that was from the 60s and belonged to a famous composer. This allowed a connection to a specific time and provided additional programming opportunities to talk about the history the space.

Julie: Loves presenting work that is free becasue its so accessible. “I think it’s really important for curators to know it gives you an opportunity to be more adventurous because audiences are more generous. It also gives you budget certainty. 38% who attended our events were under the age of 24.”She refers to a project called “Cabaret Crusade” and a “Life-size inflatable Stonehenge”, a Pop-up project that was not in the program and not in the schedule, a nice surprise. She presented “Piccadilly Circus Circus” “For logistical reasons we couldn’t publicize because the authorities were afraid to many people would turn up. In the end only 125,000 people got to see this. One of the ways we got the word out, was to ask friends- to ask Stephen Fry or Yoko Ono to tip off the few million people who turned up. I would strongly encourage people to think about it, it gives your staff a nervous breakdown but it provides a wonderful opportunity for spontaneity.”

Question from the audience, Brazilian Cultural Olympiad organizer asks “What’s your feeling about how to make the regions and the country integrated within the Cultural Olympiad?”

Ruth: “I think I was far too worried about every village and every part of the country about having their part but now I think that I would think you have to take your very best parts and have them happen not just in London but in Birmingham and all over the country. Find a way to take your best parts and show them to everyone. I think in London we tried too hard.”





@theatrelocal Canada update: many new cuts and some modest increases, new funding for intl. touring, Calgary has plan #ispanyc2013

Moderators | Alicia Adams (John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, United States) & Chris Lorway (Soundstreams, Canada)
Speakers | Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky, (Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Artist-In-Residence, United States), Raj Patel (Arup, United States), Katherine Zeserson (The Sage Gateshead, United Kingdom)

SESSION V | What’s Next?

While the certainties of death and taxes may be with us, what is next on our horizon? In this wrap-up session we’ll discuss what we can expect in the coming years (and months) from technology, funding and artists. -ISPA

Moderators  | Alicia Adams (John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, United States) & Chris Lorway (Soundstreams, Canada)

Speakers | Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky, (Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Artist-In-Residence, United States), Raj Patel (Arup, United States), Katherine Zeserson (The Sage Gateshead, United Kingdom)

Katherine: Being a leading institution is the platform for being an innovative institution.

Boundaries are dissolving therefore identities are dissolving – am I an artist or am I an audience? The gift of boundary dissolution is that it allows for greater integration.

Long gone are the days when people from North America and Europe are seen as experts to go and advise people from around the world and I think it’s great.

Some of us love the feeling of change, some of us love the question of what’s next? and some of us find it terrifying and crave the stable, the deep. Innovation is a place for which we harness the purpose to find what we absolutely need. There is a place for all of us in it.

Raj: Shows us SAGE Gateshead and its architecture. talks about the ingenuity of the space and how its innovative. Mentions other innovations: To sleep to dream – 3-D sound,  Nick Cave-The death of Bunny Monroe 3-D sound that you listen to while reading the book

“The changes in architecture tell us something about what audiences are looking for, we see more integration of the artist and audiences.”

DJ Spooky: “We’ve moved out of the culture of mass production and into the culture of mass customization.” He talks about his app as something Beuys would have done. “It’s a social sculpture”

Katherine: Sometimes we think culture is democratized just because people can grab a sample of this and the sample of that but that does not mean culture is democracized. That would mean people can say what they want and not be killed for it.

Whatever we’re making and doing has to be worth making and doing. It poses a very profound question to cultural institutions in this moment of change and flux; Do we have the right to choose undemocratic space? Otherwise we have no right to take resources to run our venues if we are not putting that negotiation at the center of our justification.

Remark from Audience: Syrian producer takes his festival online since his space is gone.

Katherine talks about inviting people in, if you are open innovation will find you. “Just do it. Leave your doors open and we’ve had people wander in, we do it- only good things have happened.”


@theatrelocal “what’s next” draws DJ Spooky, Imogen Heap and a Syrian producer who is producing his festival online since his space is gone #ispanyc2013



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