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Lifeline Theatre

GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS:

 

Please review this  

Then respond to the questions below. (For ease of reference, each section of the overview is also excerpted where relevant within the survey.)

 

You may complete the survey in one or multiple sessions. To return to the survey, bookmark this URL or reaccess the link in the email you received. Your responses must be completed no later than:

 

 

The survey is designed to take about an hour. After entering your basic information, you may answer those questions you wish to and skip others. Comments are optional. We recognize the value of your time and appreciate your engaging at the level that works best for you. 

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In the Survey below, Overview excerpts appear in black. 

Survey instructions and questions appear in blue.

 

Note: this document is being developed through “deep dive” work sessions with Key Players and additional input from Survey Respondents to provide a snapshot of context and practices as of 2019.

 

Moonshot Evolving Lexicon (Words we use a lot and what we mean by them.)

 

Considerations: The complex of themes, values, context and issues that are weighed as Lifeline makes decisions about plays being reviewed for possible production. 

 

Key Considerations: Those considerations that are central to the Company’s identity and current situation.

 

Success Indicators: The markers of the Company’s artistic and organizational goals for a production.

 

Artistic and Non-Artistic: We’re interested in considerations and success indicators that are artistic (quality of script, performances, production, etc.) and non-artistic (financial, logistical, organizational, etc.). Some considerations/indicators can be both. Our related queries are not a bucketing exercise, but the casting of two different nets to increase our catch - and overall understanding of the full range of key considerations and success indicators at play.

Moonshot Survey 1

Alan Donahue

November 18

Draft Overview of Current Repertoire Selection Process

As you know, Lifeline is participating as a case study in this exciting research. Consultants Nick Rabkin and Kristin Patton have met with “Key Players” Ilesa Duncan, Elise Kauzlaric and Dorothy Milne for a deep dive into Lifeline’s play and season selection process, and have drafted an overview of how Lifeline makes these complex decisions. This survey will broaden input and perspective on this work, and help identify past productions for further study.

Thanks for participating in Moonshot!

Lifeline Theatre

Perspective(s) you bring: (Check all that apply)

Section 1: Your Info (Required)

Please input your basic information.

Job title/Association with the Company

In a sentence or two, describe your role(s) with the Company

Are you directly involved in play and/or season selection? (As a decision maker and/or contributor of information/input.)

Yes

No

If yes, briefly explain your role:

Year of first association with the Company

Survey responses will be reported in aggregate. In certain instances attributing an individual response or reporting an unattributed individual response can be useful. Please instruct us regarding your preference should such instances arise:

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Lifeline Theatre

Section 2: Draft Overview and Related Questions

Throughout this survey, we’re looking for key ideas only. “Bullet point” ideas/short sentences, not paragraphs. Your perspective.

Identity and Core Purpose

Here, we’re not looking for existing mission and vision statement language - but rather what you see as the most important elements of this Company’s mission, vision, values and aesthetic (without referencing the website/existing documents). 

 

Where indicated, in your own words, what would you say are the most important elements of:

Mission

Vision

Values

Aesthetic

Lifeline Theatre

Organizational Context and Factors Relevant to Play and Season Selection

(Feel free to skip any questions that cover unfamiliar territory.) 

Organization Fundamentals

Please review these organization fundamentals with an eye to clarity and any key elements we might have missed. Note any suggested clarifications/additions where indicated.

  • Types of Work
    • New Work
    • Adaptations
      • Based on specific literary works or broader literary references (example: Norse mythology)
      • Love Public Domain
        • Rights have often been an issue when not in public domain
        • This has meant a lot of classic and old British literature
      • Many drawn to Fantasy, Sci Fi, Adventure, Mystery
      • Musicals
        • Particularly in KidSeries
        • Occasionally MainStage
      • Seeking to broaden range of stories/voices represented
  • Ensemble Based
    • Ensemble has included actors, directors and designers from first inception -- rather than as is more typical, beginning with group of actors
    • Artistic collective for whom this is Artistic home
    • Ensemble decides together what work makes it onstage
      • Projects begin from personal interests in ensemble
      • Ensemble supports leadership in the development of the work
      • Company of dramaturgs -- interrogate the success of the storytelling based on what the creative team is trying to do
    • Ensemble members serve as ambassadors
      • Events
      • Getting to know subscribers and donors
    • 30ish ensemble members
      • 20 active with voting status
    • Monthly meetings
      • Attend at least 4 per year to have voting status
    • Artistic Breakdown
      • Largest representation actors and/or writers (mid teens)
        • More than half have taken a stab at writing
      • Next largest representation Directors (about 10)
      • Designer and Dramaturg contingents the smallest
    • Demographics Breakdown
      • Age span 30 - mid 60’s
      • Balanced in gender -- close to 50/50
      • Mostly white
      • 5 POC members
    • Joining / attrition
      • A couple of founders (30+ years), some 20+
      • Ilesa the newest (January 2019)
      • Some members who do not have voting status remain active in other ways.
      • Some are on hiatus
  • Season Model
    • 3 MainStage
      • Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer
    • 3 KidSeries
      • Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer
    • This model has been in place for 10 years with some wiggle room in dates
    • Additional Programming:
      • Concert reading series
      • Storytelling festival
      • Touring (new in 2018-19)
  • Audience
    • Like reading.
      • Enjoy book-based element
      • Coming because love the book
        • Avid/rabid fans of certain works
      • Excited to be introduced to new work
    • Geeky granola-y
      • Staunch middle class base - not the elite
    • Age
      • Kids series targets younger
        • K-4th grade from schools
        • Some grandparents
      • MainStage skews older
        • Younger than it was 10 years ago
        • Depends on the work
        • Sci-fi/Fantasy brings in younger
        • On average
          • half or more over 50
          • remainder teens up to 50
  • Staff
    • 5 full time:
      • Artistic Director
      • Managing Director
      • Operations Director & Accessibility Coordinator
      • Marketing Director
      • Production Manager
      • (Development Director Duties currently split among other staff)
    • Part time
      • Technical Director
      • Master Electrician/AV Supervisor
      • Education Director
      • Casting Director
    • Hourly
      • Box office / house management / shuttle staff
      • Education staff -- about a dozen teaching artists
  • Artists
    • Non Equity
    • Ensemble unpaid unless working on show
  • Board
    • Appx. 12 board members
      • Currently 9 in addition to staff and ensemble reps
    • New president -- a dynamo
    • Just added a board member
    • Some very engaged
    • Culture - Love us - Feel discouraged and helpless that they can’t do more
    • 3 Board Members on Change Planning Initiative
  • People with Decision-Making Authority
    • Season selection by ensemble
    • Management and Operations decisions made by AD & MD
      • Decisions that impact artists/artistic product discussed with Ensemble
  • Financial
    • Operating budget right around $1 million
    • Roughly 50/50 contributed to earned. Keeps flipping which is higher
      • Adult programming has been carrying children’s programming
    • Financial strength
      • Always Shaky
        • Frequent cash flow crises
      • Now also feeling industry-wide pain/current ticket sale crisis. Hearing from peers:
        • Whole mood of the world impacting attendance
        • Ticket sales down all over Chicago
        • Particularly feeling this year
  • Facility
    • Own building (with mortgage)
    • 95 fixed seats
      • Front row room for additional accessible seating/wheelchairs, floor seating
    • Theatre, rehearsal hall, offices, props and costume storage, basement shop
      • All building done onsite
    • Building is source of rental income, including
      • Theatre
      • Shop
      • Rehearsal room

Current Challenges/Opportunities/Big Picture Goals (near-term horizon)

Review the following near-term challenges, opportunities and big picture goals, and think about their relevance to play selection and season planning. Note any suggested clarifications/additions where indicated.

Challenges

  • Pursuit of rights - always
  • Financial constraints and challenges
    • Compensation
      • Impacts casting - Performance pay not competitive with other theatres
        • $20/show MainStage
        • $15 ($35 weekday matinees) for KidSeries
        • Ask for a longer commitment than other companies due to rehearsal new show development process, with no pay for rehearsals
      • Designers need to wedge us in between better paying other gigs
      • Staff (deferring replacing Development staff to cut expenses with others absorbing duties)
      • “We can’t go on like this...paying too little for too much work.”
    • Every three years, we’re in the hole + now industry-wide sustainability issues
      • Changes and challenging trends impacting earned and contributed income.
      • Status quo not sustainable
    • Touring poses its own challenges
      • In first year touring - 19 shows cancelled in Seattle due to polar vortex
  • Space
    • Limits to capacity
      • Space sharing -- always have two shows going: mainstage & kids
    • Limits to artistic choices

Opportunities

  • Touring
    • Got Booking Agent for Children’s shows across the country
    • Encouraged by Griffin - touring has stabilized their finances and are 20 years in
    • First year not successful due to polar vortex cancellations, bookings rate
      • Sense bookings may be trending down for touring generally
    • Giving it another year
  • Partnerships
    • Would be great to move KidSeries offsite
      • Could use more capacity for school groups
      • Solve space sharing challenge.
        • Loyola?
    • Co-productions
      • Looking at, haven’t done for long time
  • Space is an asset, source of rental income (though using to the max and beyond)
    • MacArthur funded evaluation provided recommendations - haven’t had money in place with which to act on recommendations

Big Picture Goals

  • Solve sustainability
    • Change Planning process underway to help address
  • Solve space issue of no longer being a good fit in the building
    • Looking at Campus Approach and/or Strategic Partnerships, Space sharing, Co-productions
    • Move KidSeries to a more conducive space, freeing own space capacity for other needs
  • Higher artist and staff pay
  • Become Equity Company

Lifeline Theatre

Play and Season Selection Processes

The Overview is divided into play and season selection. 

 

Please review each section for clarity and completeness and respond to the questions, using bullet points or short sentences. If you have nothing to add, skip to the next section.

Play Vetting and Selection Process

Any suggested changes, additions or other comments to this description of the current play selection process?

Who’s who

  • Ensemble

Initial Sourcing: Early Proposal

  • Ensemble member makes proposal
    • Has to be written proposal to be put into process
      • Accompanied by verbal proposal
        • Typically at one of the monthly meetings
      • In most instances, proposal includes the book Ensemble member proposes to adapt and written plans for adaptation
      • Occasionally includes a script
      • Include in proposal discussion of how envision being cast/EDI
    • Typically Ensemble Member’s own proposal
    • Occasionally an outside proposal championed by an Ensemble Member (required for consideration)
  • 3 other Ensemble members volunteer to read book, evaluate and rate early proposal
    • Ratings system 1-10
      • There is a Ratings narrative document that everyone has access to
        • 10 -- Holy!*&%(! / We have to do this! / Awesome story to tell!
        • 8-9 -- I am extremely excited about this piece and am totally behind us telling this story.
        • 7 -- I can see this as a play and think our audiences will like it. / I'm particularly interested in the concept or proposal. / I am in favor.
        • 5-6 -- I am not that moved by the material and/or concept and/or have concerns about overall appeal.
        • I’m very unexcited about this as a play. / I don’t think it’s a good story for us to tell.
        • I actively hate this material/idea.
    • If rates a 7 or higher, it could potentially move forward
    • 3 people have to rate it 7 or higher to move it forward to Strong Lead status
    • If it doesn’t move forward through first 3 readers, then 3 more will be assigned
      • If read by 6 and doesn’t move forward, AD will have a conversation with the ensemble member who proposed it
        • Generally put on the back burner or dies there

Strong lead

  • After rated 7 or higher by 3 people
  • 3 more readers assigned
  • At least 5 rating it 7 or above moves it forward to Top Contender (minimum 6 readers)

Top Contender

  • As many Ensemble members as possible will read it
  • Slate for discussion
    • At monthly meeting
    • Pose questions to adaptor (and about half the time Director also onboard by this point in process and participates)
    • If not able to attend, members can email thoughts and cast a vote electronically
    • Generally very supportive / group moved by passion when it gets to this status, persuaded by end of discussion
  • If a simple majority (including absentee voters) says yes, it is greenlit
  • Almost 100% of the time, if it is discussed and voted upon, it is greenlit.
    • Some discussions lead to withdrawals before voting
      • Hunger and Twelfth Night for Tots both examples of ensemble not understanding how the proposal could work so the writer withdrew and wrote and later brought back a draft or at least a partial draft of several scenes so ensemble could get where writer was going. So taken off the table and then brought back for a discussion/vote

Greenlit Status

  • Rights pending, joins pool of projects eligible to be slotted into any future season
  • Ensemble in support of producing
    • Commitment to help develop it
      • Including support for new adaptors

Rights Acquisition

  • Chase rights
    • Difficult
    • Can be a long process
      • Can take weeks to years for an answer
      • Have to find who has the rights
        • Cultivate relationship
          • Relationships help
          • But tend not to transfer if point of contact changes
      • Requires persistence. No can change to yes
        • Film rights may expire (Disney holds lots of rights - the Mouse in the room)
      • As a result, start process as early as possible, often before greenlighting
    • Reason for favoring public domain and almost always including 1-2 public domain pieces of the 6 plays in MainStage + KidSeries season
      • Usually MainStage
      • KidSeries is rarely public domain

Variations to Play Selection Process

  • KidSeries is an abbreviated process
    • Typically much shorter books - in which case can pass and everyone read
      • Discuss
      • No rating
      • Generally not contention among Ensemble
    • More interrogation if a novel
    • Typically voting on idea, rather than book at face value
  • Needs Illuminated in Season Selection
    • If among greenlit works, there is a need that can’t be filled in the season, a proposal can go straight to greenlight discussion / short cut
      • Occasionally will be complete script developed outside standard process but that fits the need
    • Nimble when have to be

Key Artistic Considerations in Play Selection

Review the outline of key artistic considerations below and rate the importance of each using the following scale: 

1 = unimportant

2 = somewhat important

3 = important

4 = very important

5 = critically important.

(You are rating importance of each consideration to play selection, not rating these considerations against each other.)

 

Feel free to provide brief comments or questions where indicated. If you are unsure of importance, leave the rating blank.

Any comments regarding the artistic considerations in play selection? If so, please note.

Are there other artistic considerations you believe rise to a #4 or #5 in importance?

If so, please note.

Awesome story to tell

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Art leads approach to adaptation

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Ensemble excitement

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Casting considerations

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Answers “why now?”

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Authentic voices

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  • Awesome story to tell 

  • Art leads approach to adaptation

    • Passion of artist proposing project

    • Compelling concept

  • Ensemble excitement

  • Casting considerations 

    • EDI

    • Gender breakdown

  • Answers “why now?”

  • Authentic voices

Key Non-Artistic Considerations in Play Selection

Review the outline of key non-artistic considerations below, then rate the importance of each using the following scale:

1 = unimportant

2 = somewhat important

3 = important

4 = very important

5 = critically important.

(You are rating importance of each consideration to play selection, not rating these considerations against each other.)

 

Feel free to provide brief comments or questions where indicated. If you are unsure of importance, leave the rating blank.

Any comments regarding the non-artistic considerations in play selection? If so, please note.

Are there other non-artistic considerations you believe rise to a #4 or #5 in importance?

If so, please note.

Audience appeal

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  Audience appeal

Lifeline Theatre

Key Artistic Success Indicators for Plays Produced

  • What was the experience like for the lead artists
  • Surveys and in-person feedback from artists involved in project
  • Post-mortem meeting between ensemble members involved in the show and the artistic director
  • Post-mortem evaluation with the ensemble

Comments on artistic success indicators for plays?

How we know we’re successful - by our own measures.

 

Please review this list of artistic success indicators for plays selected and produced. Briefly comment on any that are confusing, that you disagree with, or that you'd articulate differently.

Any additional artistic success indicators for plays you'd suggest?

Key Non-Artistic Success Indicators for Plays Produced

  • Reviews

  • Awards

  • Ticket Sales

Comments on non-artistic success indicators for plays?

Please review this list of non-artistic success indicators for plays selected and produced. Briefly comment on any that are confusing, that you disagree with, or that you'd articulate differently.

Any additional non-artistic success indicators for plays you'd suggest?

Lifeline Theatre

Current Season Selection Process

Any suggested changes/additions or other comments to the Season Selection Process?

  • Ensemble considers bank of greenlit plays to pull from

    • 11 titles currently on that list (more with rights unavailable)

  • Queries who would be eager to have their piece done this season

  • Around May, begin discussion of next year’s season

    • 19-20 was locked by February 2019

      • Goal had been August.

      • “Had” but lost rights promised on 2 plays

    • 20-21, discussing since May 2019

      • Had penciled in season with hope to nail down by end of summer 2019 and move on to discussing 21-22 but had to return to drawing board for two MainStage shows due to rights and adaptor availability

    • Trying to push earlier

      • Goal is May - August

      • Historically has been November - January

Key Artistic Considerations in Season Selection

Review the outline of key artistic considerations below and rate the importance of each using the following scale: 

1 = unimportant

2 = somewhat important

3 = important

4 = very important

5 = critically important.

(You are rating importance of each consideration to season selection, not rating these considerations against each other.)

 

Feel free to provide brief comments or questions where indicated. If you are unsure of importance, leave the rating blank.

Any comments regarding the artistic considerations in season selection? If so, please note.

Are there other artistic considerations you believe rise to a #4 or #5 in importance?

If so, please note.

Fit/how plays look together

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Balance in tone

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Artist balance

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Time of year

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Balancing risk

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  • Fit/how plays look together

    • not looking at theme, but one may naturally emerge

  • Balance in tone

    • Dark/Light

  • Artist balance

    • Who eager to have work done this year?

    • Spread opportunities

      • Ensemble Artists

      • Broader Artistic Community

    • Gender

    • EDI 

      • in casting process as well

  • Time of year

  • Balancing risk

Key Non-Artistic Considerations in Season Selection

Review the outline of key non-artistic considerations below, then rate the importance of each using the following scale:

1 = unimportant

2 = somewhat important

3 = important

4 = very important

5 = critically important.

(You are rating importance of each consideration to season selection, not rating these considerations against each other.)

 

Feel free to provide brief comments or questions where indicated. If you are unsure of importance, leave the rating blank.

Any comments regarding the non-artistic considerations in season selection? If so, please note.

Are there other non-artistic considerations you believe rise to a #4 or #5 in importance?

If so, please note.

Art drives decisions, but “we are fiscally responsible”

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Fit: how season works together in terms of resources required

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Risk balance of known vs unknown entities

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Balance in audience appeal

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EDI in casting

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  • Art drives decisions, but “we are fiscally responsible”

    • Office encourages Ensemble to just think about art - but Ensemble does think about what will sell 

  • Fit: how season works together in terms of resources required

    • Cast size balance - can’t afford three 13+ casts

    • Cost of out-of-normal production needs

  • Risk balance of known vs unknown entities

    • Has anyone heard of this title?

    • Author recognition often biggest thing gauge

  • Balance in audience appeal

  • EDI in casting

Lifeline Theatre

Key Artistic Success Indicators for Overall Season

  • Ensemble Response

  • Critical Response

  • Audience Response

Comments on overall season artistic success indicators?

Please review this list of artistic season success indicators. Briefly comment on any that are confusing, that you disagree with, or that you'd articulate differently.

Any additional overall season artistic success indicators you'd suggest?

Key Non-Artistic Success Indicators for Overall Season

  • Financial

  • Awards

Comments on non-artistic success indicators for overall season?

Please review this list of non-artistic season success indicators. Briefly comment on any that are confusing, that you disagree with, or that you'd articulate differently.

Any additional non-artistic success indicators for overall season you'd suggest?

Lifeline Theatre

Past Production “Hits” and “Misses”

Within each of the following categories, name 2-3 MainStage and 2-3 KidSeries plays that, in your opinion:

Every theatre company produces work that hits its marks artistically and by other measures and standards. Every company also produces work that doesn’t. In the next stage of research, Moonshot will pay particular attention to the selection and outcomes of select outlier plays at the two extremes as well as all plays in the most recently completed season.

 

To help us find the outliers - productions that significantly outperformed or underperformed collective hopes and expectations - please consider those productions you experienced or recall from the last 5 seasons (listed below) and respond to the questions. For purpose of our inquiry, we are looking at both artistic success/disappointment and non-artistic (financial, institutional, and other) success/disappointment.

 

This is a subjective exercise for which results, tabulated in the aggregate, will help inform which productions we select for more in-depth study.

Were particularly successful by non-artistic measures and standards

Were particularly successful by artistic standards

Were particularly disappointing by artistic standards

Were particularly disappointing by non-artistic measures and standards

While we’ll be delving into the “why’s” of success/disappointment later in the Moonshot process, feel free to briefly comment on your sense of the “why’s” for any of the shows you listed.

Lifeline Theatre

Almost Done!

Any other observations/thoughts/comments you think would be helpful to further informing our collective understanding of the current play and season selection process?

Thank you for participating in this process. Are there any observations/thoughts/comments you would like to share with us regarding survey design, interface or your experience of taking the survey?

How long did it take you to complete the survey?

All done - or - No, not yet!

Lastly, let us know when you’ve completed the survey by checking the box below.

I have completed the survey.

Thank you again for participating in Moonshot! A reminder that you may return and complete or update your responses anytime through

November 18