Bring in the Outsider
"There is going to be a learning curve for me," admits C. Jane Quinn, the newly appointed vice president for marketing and communications at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Quinn, an eight-year veteran of the local marketing-services firm Frankel, has created sponsorships, promotions, and marketing initiatives for clients ranging from Eastman Kodak Company to Miller Brewing Company and United Airlines (a major CSO supporter). "Whatever she worked on, Jane did well at capturing a brand's identity," says Jim Mack, Frankel's CEO. For United, Quinn developed fare promotions and sponsorships for the Olympics; she helped target young adults for Kodak's disposable cameras and contributed to the launch of Miller's Icehouse brand. Yet Quinn has no experience in the music business, and over the years she and her family have only occasionally attended the CSO. "It's a curious choice," says one local arts marketer. "Selling a symphonic concert ticket isn't anything at all like moving beer or cameras."
Quinn is quick to concede that point but argues that a sharp marketer can work effectively in any culture: "Marketing is all about consumer behavior and attitudes toward brands, things that have always fascinated me." She thinks people who spend their careers immersed in a particular industry need objective feedback. "A good marketer will be their eyes and ears to what's happening in the rest of the world," she says. At the very least Quinn should offer some insight about people like herself, who might think about buying an orchestra ticket but aren't rabid fans of classical music. "One of the challenges for me will be to look at the product and figure out how to engage people in music who might not have considered it as an entertainment option."
In fact, the CSO's decision to hire an outsider reflects a trend sweeping through all sectors of the symphony industry, as orchestras struggle to sell high-priced tickets to baby boomers who have little knowledge of or exposure to classical music. Haven Bourque, marketing director for the San Francisco Symphony, came to that organization from a high-tech computer firm after her predecessor decamped for an Internet dating service, and Louise Ruhr, a new marketing executive for the Minnesota Symphony, previously worked for General Mills. Henry Fogel, president of the CSO, is trying to stem a decline in subscription sales that he himself admits is 4 or 5 percent this season alone, and Quinn might be able to view the symphony's problems with a fresh perspective. Still wet behind the ears, she's cautious about offering prescriptions, but she does feel that preconcert lectures are one facet of concertgoing that might be expanded. "Customers are looking for an experience," she observes, "and there may be ways to enhance the experience."
Tangled Up in Blue
Last month the Blue Rider Theatre seemed destined to join the long list of off-Loop companies that have shut down in recent years: Tim Fiori, a founding member and the company's artistic director, announced that he was closing the Pilsen theater and moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in film and television. Now Donna Blue Lachman, who founded the company with Fiori but left in 1990, is stepping into the breach. She plans to premiere her new play, The Trouble With Peggy, as a Blue Rider production this fall, and she says the theater's landlord, John Podmajersky, wants the company to stay in the south Halsted space. (Podmajersky did not return phone calls seeking comment.)
But Lachman's Blue Rider and Fiori's Blue Rider will probably be different shades. When they started the company in 1984, it served largely as a vehicle for Lachman's one-woman shows, most notably Frida: The Last Portrait, about Frida Kahlo. After Lachman left, Fiori turned the space into a clearinghouse for a variety of arts performances in addition to Blue Rider's plays. Lachman doubts that Blue Rider alone could pay the rent on the theater: "It would probably take two or three companies producing in the space to make it all work." But she hasn't mapped out any strategy for the company beyond staging The Trouble With Peggy. The play, about heiress and modern-art patron Peggy Guggenheim, was workshopped at the Gary Marks gallery in Wicker Park last summer. Fiori has already canceled the company's tax-exempt status and says he asked Lachman to come up with a new name, but "Blue Rider" is not copyrighted, and she declined Fiori's request.
None for the Road
In past years the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago has taken its holiday production of The Nutcracker on the road to either the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., or California's Orange County. This year was to be Washington's turn, but because the Kennedy Center will be closed for renovation, the Joffrey is seriously considering adding a fourth week of performances to its run at the Auditorium Theatre. A longer Chicago engagement would up the ante for the Joffrey, which began presenting the ballet on its own dime last year. The company has released no figures, but the production reportedly wound up in the black, and it could turn a much bigger profit this year if it can self-present a four-week run instead of playing out of town for a flat fee.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jane Quinn photo by J.B. Spector.