In my curtain speech before each performance I mention a box we have in our program that states:

HELP!
We need your help. Like so many others we are struggling to keep afloat.
One of our major problems is how to get on people’s radars. You can help us by going home tonight and e-mailing, Facebooking, Tweeting, texting or calling five, or more, friends:
“I saw Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s production of [Name of Show] at the Vandivort Center Theatre and really enjoyed it. I encourage you to attend one of the remaining performances, running through [Closing Date]. Call 831-8001 for more information and tickets.”
If you didn’t enjoy this production, please e-mail our Artistic Director at richard.p.dines@gmail.com.

We appreciate all the promotional help you can give us.
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The content of this message is something we couldn’t feel stronger about. Over the years, great deals of money have been spent trying to figure out the best way to market and promote our productions. In the end, the most effective thing is word of mouth. Nothing sells tickets like having a friend tell you they saw this really great show that you have to see.

We feel just as strongly about the request for responses from individuals who didn’t enjoy the production. We do get some notes from patrons. Executive Producer Lou Schaeffer and I have both been diligent about immediately responding to all letters we receive. Often these letters are in reference not so much to a production, but to a specific element of their experience at the theatre (temperature, noisy patrons, etc.).

Today I received a letter from a patron in the mail. It came without a return address and without a signature. Since I have no way of personally responding to this patron, I’ve decided respond publicly to their concern. I am not publishing this letter and response in a manner to embarrass or disrespect the writer, but rather I would like to respond, but due to the lack of identity on the letter I can not respond privately. Hopefully, the writer of this letter will be reading. Here’s the letter (I have not edited or changed it in any fashion):

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Sir:

We went to the opening on 6/25/2010 of your play “Out of Order”.

You requested us to let others know of the play…and to let you know if we didn’t like the play…..

We did not like the play…..not knowing the plot of the play adultery etc….we would have thought twice before coming. Since we did not know the content of the play and was coming to support one of the players we came.

Ultimately the foul language completely embarrassed us. How sad…..

On a positive note…..the acting was good…..The senator/congressman’s aid absolutely took the show…..with the waiter coming in a very close 2nd.

The reception you had was also very nice…how thoughtful for the actors.

A relative wanting to see it asked me of it and I could not recommend it….what had the foul language have to do with anything…..absolutely nothing…

Such a sadness that one has to lower oneself to this level.

It does look like a good play is coming up later on and I am hoping to be able to go see it “The Secret Garden….. I do hope that it is not ruined by low standards of language….I am going to give it another chance because it is wonderful to see the folks in a setting so easy to see and be comfortable….otherwise it will be our last time supporting your endeavors….

Respectfully submitted

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My response:

Dear Sir or Madam:

I thank you for taking the time out to write to us regarding our current presentation of “Out of Order.” It means a great deal to us that you take the time out to put down your thoughts in regard to our production. Thank you for your kind words regarding the performers. I will be sure to pass these nice words along to them. Also, thank you for complimenting our opening weekend receptions. We do these in order to show our great appreciation not only to our casts and crews, but also our audiences for their support.

In regard to your reservations about this play, I can only say that at Springfield Contemporary Theatre we stand by the work of the playwrights whom we choose to produce. We don’t censor their works. We do not feel that is fair to their or our artistic integrity.

That said, we know that it is our choice to produce works containing such content. As we are a company committed to producing new and original works from contemporary voices, it is to be expected that these works will often contain the language of the day. The plays we choose to produce are brought to us by our team of committed and talented directors. We then select the plays that balance our season and bring a diversity to the works we produce. We are looking to produce shows that speak to a diversity of audiences and raise issues that not only entertain, but also challenge our collaborative artists and audiences.

It is not our intention, however, to mis-lead our audiences in regards to the plays we put on stage. The play description that we have published in our print materials and on our website do include a description of the play that does speak of “Conservative Congressman Richard Willey…attempting to have an affair with one of the secretaries of the House Majority Leader…” and the description does end with “This production contains adult situations and brief, partial nudity.” Our box office is also happy to answer any questions as to the content of any production when taking ticket orders. I personally have fielded a call or two in regards to this production. I was recently  asked by a parent thinking of bringing their teenaged children to the show if the show contained any objectionable material. I told her of the occurrence of any objectionable words and the number times they appeared and I explained in detail the staging of the brief nudity in play. She decided that she was comfortable bringing her children to this production.

We understand that it is the audience member’s decision on whether or not they are comfortable bringing themselves and/or their friends and family to our productions. We want to educate them the best way possible about what to expect without giving away any surprises in the plot of the play. However, we are happy to answer any direct questions when they are of concern to our audiences.

I am sorry that you were not able to enjoy this experience at the theatre due to the play’s content. I do think that “The Secret Garden” will likely be a wonderful show that may fit your tastes. In future, I encourage you to ask our box office if you have any concerns over content in the future, they will be more than happy to help you make a confident decision in your ticket buying.

Thanks again for your patronage!

Richard Dines
Managing Artistic Director
Springfield Contemporary Theatre at the Vandivort Center

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Now the question I pose my blog readers: Is it the job of the theatre producer to put ratings on theatre as the movie studios do? Should we as producers be putting ‘parental blocks’ on our  plays in order to protect our audiences? If we feel that editing plays shows a lack of artistic integrity, should we choose not to produce certain works of contemporary theatre due to the inclusion of strong language and content that might offend some audience members? I pose this question to my readership and our patrons. In doing so I do ask that no personal attacks be made to the patron that took out their time to do just what we have asked and registered their complaint to our production. This was a legitimate concern on their part and for their bravery and honesty to respond I commend them.

So… talk amongst yourselves… what do you think?

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