Book Review: Performing Arts Management: A Handbook of Professional Practices


Note to self: develop new ways to strengthen back muscles.

Idea one: lift the 545-page textbook called Performing Arts Management: A Handbook of Professional Practices, a how-to and best-practices guide for aspiring as well as current professionals who lead and manage theater companies, opera companies, dance companies, music groups, orchestras and festivals — plus the edifices in which audiences see the work.

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Published by Allworth Press in 2008, this is to say that Performing Arts Management isn’t ideal for blithely toting around a rehearsal room or doing a quick thumb-through on the A train. Nor is that, in fact, the volume’s intention. Rather, Tobie Stein and Jessica Bathurst of the faculty of Brooklyn College have brought forth a bible, perhaps the most indispensable book of its type out on the market, that addressed two questions — “How do they do that?” and “Why do they do that?” in 12 whip-smart chapters.

The book’s structure acknowledges that, in an era of falling nonprofit funding and rising aggression by the commercial theater, in an era of marketing mayhem and mission messaging, in an era of social-media madness, in an era of major technological advancement and back-to-basics idealism, the 21st century performing arts manager really requires a reference manual that is distinctly contemporary yet profoundly evergreen — or at least likely to remain relevant for the next generation or so. That’s tricky to pull off, given the expense involved in assembling a tome of such magnitude.

“Organizational Structures and Managerial Positions” (Chapter 1) is a sharp primer on the nonprofit and commercial sectors; “Mission, Vision and Strategy” (Chapter 2) talks boards, management and that most elusive of all creatures, the strategic plan. There are granular explorations touching on finance, and lots of workbook-like investigations into basic accounting. There is a blissfully unbiased exploration of labor relations; a peek at facilities management; and, of certain interest to certain overly self-righteous bloggers, a section called “Career Development Strategies: The Role of the Internship” (Chapter 12) that shimmies up against the third rail of the American stage. The bottom line on that is that organizations should at least pay their interns a stipend. True, the authors are content to use interview quotes to make this point, but it’s there.

As a teaching tool, Performing Arts Management balances text with immersion: pages 120 and 121 asks readers to eye timetables for commercial recoupment; pages 121 and 122 examine royalty pools; the appendix on page 156 contains an income statement; the appendix on page 157 features a cash flow statement; the appendix on page 160 offers a full production budget; the appendix on page 161 unveils a weekly operating budget. And more: a development plan from page 173 to page 175; sample fundraising letters on page 183; a sample thank-you letter on page 185; a prospect sheet on page 187; an online appeal on page 191; a sample corporate sponsorship deal agreement on page 207; a sample pledge form on page 237; a sample press release on page 314 and page 315; a sample touring route on page 418; a sample house management report on page 439. And on and on.

One should note, by the way, that all these samples really are real-world examples, not arbitrary mock-ups. True, there could be a more rigorous look at software, but then again, this is a textbook, not advertising, so young performing arts professionals will need to locate, analyze and promote those on their own.