02 April 2008

the crack whore in the back alley will consider interviewing you, but would like to see some higher-class personal references

I’ve been baffled by Cal Performances’ fund-raising methods in the past; several years ago, for example, they actually sent out a letter with a glossy brochure asking me to look for an upcoming phone call in which they would ask me for money. I guess that faux-personal touch works for some people. I never pledge money over the phone, because I figure that’s the best way to discourage people from calling me and asking for money. I couldn’t be the only one to feel that way, so I don’t know why the glossy brochure and letter didn’t offer the choice of just sending in money in response to said letter (and glossy brochure).

I would have thought that an arts group, particularly in these parlous times, would not be too proud to accept money any way they could get it. But then I got their latest request. As I was filling it out, because even in my own financially parlous times I like to satisfy my Medici delusions by giving to arts groups, I noticed that the form was labeled “Membership Application.”

What’s the matter, Cal Performances? My money not good enough for ya? Too proud to beg for it? Bitch!

I assume the rigorous application process pretty much involves making sure the check doesn’t bounce/the credit card isn’t declined. And I didn’t even notice the silly label at first. But it still irritated me. A lot.

Is anyone seriously going to give, or give more, because of this sort of embarassingly cheeseball luxury-vehicle-with-fine-interior-leather tactic? Because I’ve been sitting in their audiences for years, and believe me, the club is not that exclusive (you can supply the relevant Groucho Marx quip, I’m sure; even that is commonplace).

But what really bugs me is that this trend is both antiquated (does anyone seriously rent a box at the Opera for social reasons anymore? I mean, anyone who doesn’t have a weird Edith Wharton fetish?) and inimical to art (those who truly and deeply respond to such lower-class beings as singers and musicians and even, God help us, actors, tend not to be the sort of people who take high-society-veneers seriously).

One of the things I love most about theater is its democratic nature: given a credit card and an interest in going, anyone can attend, end up sitting next to a CEO or a student, and see the same performance. This whole “pay the extortion fee for the right to buy premium seats” disgusts me on a deep and somewhat irrational level (because these forced “donations” are tax deductible, whereas a higher-priced ticket is not). And over the years, I've seen Cal Performances move unofficially towards the official policy of the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet that reserves subscriptions in the premium seating for big donors. And while I realize such tactics are necessary in a country that has plenty of money for bombing Iraqi children and bailing out spendthrift bankers but pennies for arts funding, I hate to see companies wallow in it more than is absolutely necessary.

Cal Performances, you’re better than that, or should be. Examine yourself: Would Walt Whitman respond to an “Application for Membership”? If not, why should I, or anyone else?

2 comments:

sfmike said...

I refuse to attend a Cal Performances sponsored event ever again. Their tickets are too expensive, they use public resources as if they own the goddamn university, and their audiences are some of the smuggest, self-indulgent, chuckling-at-their-own-erudition middlebrow academics imaginable.

Plus, some bitch from their p.r. department called me up a couple of years ago at home and went after me after I posted a couple of inoffensive photos pn "Civic Center" of Alarm Will Sound with John Adams when they were bowing onstage at the end of their concert at Hertz Hall (which I took without a flash, unobtrusively).

There's something seriously wrong with that organization, and I have no idea what it is, but if they ever have the bad sense to call me for a donation, the scene isn't going to be pretty.

pjwv said...

Mike,
Promise me that if that call ever happens you will record it ("for quality control purposes" as they always say) or at least live blog it. Your fans demand no less.
I think I would disagree about their ticket prices -- I think they're in line with what other local groups charge for similar events. Other than that . . . well, they have Mark Morris, so I'll keep subscribing, and put up with the rest.
I did actually donate, because I want my Mark Morris seats where I want them -- in fact, they're the beneficiaries of Gockley's boring-ass season, because the Opera is getting nothing from me for their endless loop of La Traviemeosca. We all have our bitter theatrical resentments. . .