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Tessitura’s New CEO on Reopening, Leadership Transition, and the Art of Listening
Episode 98

Tessitura’s New CEO on Reopening, Leadership Transition, and the Art of Listening

CI to Eye with Andrew Recinos

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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In This Episode

Andrew shares what he’s learned from hundreds of arts leaders during his nine-month "listening tour" before becoming CEO of Tessitura. He also discusses what it’s like to take on a new role during a pandemic and explains why he’s confident the arts will experience a surge when venues can safely reopen.

Erik Gensler: Andrew, welcome to CI to Eye.

Andrew Recinos: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Erik Gensler: You are a great listener and we’ve talked many times on the phone and I noticed how you ask very thoughtful questions and leave lots of space for hearing the answers. And you interviewed me last December for the Tessitura Europe conference and your questions were so thoughtful, and I just appreciate the consideration you put into them. And I know before taking the helm at Tessitura, you went on a nine-month listening tour. So, my first question for you is on the topic of listening and leadership and what that means to you.

Andrew Recinos: Thank you. Well, first of all, I’m a huge fan of the podcast, as you know, and I sort of wait with bated breath as each one drops. So, it is really gratifying to hear you say that I’m a good listener because in many ways, I’ve modeled the kinds of questions I ask on the sorts of things that you ask. And I found that when the pandemic hit … I normally travel for Tessitura 60 or 70% of the time and I was stuck at home and two things happened at once. I, like, everyone else in the world, I was grounded and locked down, and I was offered the job of CEO by our board and I accepted it. So, I had nine months to figure out what that was going to mean starting in 2021, when I took over on January 1st, and the confluence of those two things meant that I was able to reach out to and, very happily, get responses from more than a hundred of our executives who work in arts and culture around the world and had incredibly thoughtful conversations with them. And I can’t imagine any other circumstance where I could have learned as much as I did in such a short period of time. I think the fact that not only was I grounded; everybody was grounded … So, executives that would normally be jet-setting and going to conferences and premieres and all of these things were also stuck at home. And I found I had these really soulful conversations, which, as you say, it just started to started with an open-ended question: “How are things?” or, “How are you holding up?” or, “What’s keeping you going?” and, finally, just because we’re a service provider, “How can we help?” And I’m a scribbler, so I just scribbled notes. I’m thinking about all of these notebooks that I have here in my office and I just scribbled pages after pages after pages of notes from all of these folks and I was just so grateful that they shared their wisdom with me because after nine months of that, I felt like I had a really good idea of what to do next, when 2021 came.

Erik Gensler: Someone I really admire, Brian Halligan, who’s the CEO of HubSpot, which is the database that we use, talks about how he makes sure every week he has a conversation with at least one of us with one of his customers to really understand what is driving them, what is keeping them up at night, doing exactly what you did. And I’ll never forget when he talked about that. And I think it’s, it’s just so important. I’m curious, what are some of the questions or thoughts or pieces of advice that stand out? I know you wrote a blog post about this, but as you sort of look back, what are the real highlights that you remember?

Andrew Recinos: Thanks for the note about HubSpot. I think that … I completely agree with that (laughs). it reminds me of Georgia Rivers, who for a long time was with Opera Australia. She was an Executive Producer and she ran marketing and just an incredible thinker. And she would always be at the bar at the Sydney Opera House before the show, during the intermission, and she said that was far more useful than any kind of formal market research she could ever have done. “Why are you here? Why have you come today? Who are you with?” all of those sorts of things that get into the essence of that. As far as what I learned, the first thing is—and one of the things I love about our industry—is how open and vulnerable these executives were about how treacherous these times are. I don’t need to go on, probably, about what that means. but just, even though there was a tremendous amount of grit, nobody was a Pollyanna. Everybody said, “This is terrible. This is the biggest challenge we ever had,” and by and large, they said, “That’s what we’re saying to our board. That’s what we’re saying to our team. That’s what we’re saying to our staff, and we’re going to get through it, but make no mistake: this is hard.” And it was important to hear that. I think you might have seen in previous generations, there was sort of a stiff upper lip kind of thing, but folks weren’t really weren’t holding back. The other thing that I alluded to before is the depth of soul-searching that I’ve heard from folks. And I think we’re just starting to see an incredible outcome of that. When you’re in the hurly burly of a season or before an opening, you’re dealing with a whole lot of tactical operational stuff, just keeping the people coming through the doors and happy and the marketing campaigns running and everything else, and this enforced pause. I’ve never had deeper conversations about mission and values and, “What are we bringing to the world?” and, “Are we serving our community?” and the tangible outcomes of those that we’re already starting to see, even before people’s doors are open again, with some of the campaigns or the ways that these organizations have helped their community … I mean, Scott Stulin at the Philbrook Museum comes to mind. You know, they’ve got a garden, right? It’s Philbrook Museum and Gardens in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they took part of their garden and, and started growing vegetables for the food pantries in town. It’s not going to feed all of Tulsa, but it was a way that they could say, “We’re helping.” These really deep, soul-searching conversations that I think, in the normal course of life, we often deprioritize, and my hope is that on the other side of this, when things get super busy, again, that we’ll all remember to take some time from time to time to do that.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and we have this new foundation and base to address some of the real things that were lingering in the past., and I certainly see that as well, just a real evolution. And I think that vulnerability came not only from the pause, but just from the condition of, like, this immense, historic moment, just sort of shakes you in and forces you to ask really important questions.

Andrew Recinos: And the people that I’ve mostly written about in my blog posts, are the ones who have, have seen it as a calling, right? A clarion call. The ones that, that make me come back to work every day is the ones that say, “This is a shock to the system and we’re never going to have an opportunity like this again.”

Erik Gensler: I want to talk next about leadership transitions and you have been at Tessitura for a while and this year, you officially took over from a CEO who’s been there a very long, from the beginning, Jack Rubin.

Andrew Recinos: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erik Gensler: And I think that’s just the very … for any organization, that’s a really challenging moment and extended moment, inheriting the things, how they were, and then imprinting your style and leadership philosophy on an organization. And I’m curious for you to talk about how you approach this and what you’ve learned and what’s been hard, what’s been, eye-opening, what’s been most rewarding?

Andrew Recinos: I think if you asked anybody, “Who are the most important teachers in your life?” even if I just said that, Erik, you can probably think immediately of four or five or six people, right? And the interesting thing is, sometimes they are teachers—like, my high school Latin teacher would be on that list, for instance—probably a family member, a parent, maybe grandparent. But if I think about sort of the ten teachers, most important teachers in my life, it would also be people I’ve worked with or worked for, and Jack Rubin is the co-founder of this company and he is in that list. He’s probably in the top five. I learned a tremendous amount from him. He is one of the most brilliant business minds I’ve ever met and he and Chuck Reif, who is his co-founder—Chuck is the technical guy and Jack was the business guy, and Chuck is still with us as as our Chief Engineer—and the founding board of Tessitura all those years ago gave birth to it. I think about this a lot, but it really is almost like a birth analogy. They gave birth to this new kind of company, a nonprofit, member-owned technology company, just for the arts. And, just like a child, like, they fostered it when it was young, and they protected it and they enabled it to grow. And this is, you know, our 20th anniversary this year and Jack made the decision a few years ago that he was going to step down and the gift that he gave me is that he identified me as who he thought should the successor should be, and brought me along. So, when I became Executive Vice President almost 10 years ago, now, I was in every board meeting. He consulted me on every decision. We argued vociferously, which most of what you read will say, that’s often the sign of really good leadership team, that they don’t hold back. And I think in forging that relationship, we helped the company grow and when he finished up on December 31st, I felt completely prepared to take the helm. That is a tremendous gift that he gave me. And Jack and I have very different styles. For anybody who knows us both, there’s a real yin and yang there. And I think as you think about, sort of, the trajectory of the company, to forge a company out of nothing and create a market leader, which is what Jack did, is a very different skill set then to take what is now a mature company and move it to the next level, which is what I’m challenged to do. And I just, I think that there’s, there’s a certain amount of kismet in that. I think that I could not have forged this company out of nothing, but I feel very, energized about moving us on from here.

Erik Gensler: what has been one of the hardest parts of this, the transition, in terms of stepping into that role?

Andrew Recinos: Because this all happened in the middle of what is arguably the most sort of traumatic event to impact our industry in my lifetime, in a way it’s hard to not conflate the two because they were both happening at the same time. But I’ve actually, in my leadership calls that I continue to do almost on a daily basis, I’ve talked to recently to a couple of Executive Directors that ended up in … So, Brooke Flanagan at Steppenwolf Theatre started in the pandemic. I talked to Khady Kamara from Second Stage Theater just yesterday, who’s started in the middle of a pandemic. All of us sort of have the same thing, which is, taking on a new responsibility in the middle of this moment is, in a weird way, actually been okay, because you don’t have to come into like a finely oiled machine that’s doing this stamping out the same widgets today that it was stamping out for the last 10 years. You’re kind of in this crucible anyway. So, I guess I’d start by saying, the things that would normally have been difficult haven’t been as difficult because the world is already turned upside down. I don’t even know if I would say it was difficult, but the thing that I think is going to take time is, as much as much as I would like to believe that any one person at a company doesn’t change the vibe or the culture of the company, I know that to not be true. I know that no matter how hard you try, a leader sets a tone and while Jack and I were very much in alignment about the goals of the company and the values of the company, we’re different kinds of leaders and I think that I can even feel that with the team, sometimes, where there’s sort of the way Jack did it, and there’s the way Andrew did it, and the two things are a little different. And so, that is a tension that not only do I feel, but, like, we actually did a, we have a wonderful consultant who did a cultural assessment for us, so a survey of the whole team, and that was one of the things that came back from the survey, that people could feel that tension. I think that’s just it’s to be expected and whoever replaces me, you’ll feel the same exact tension.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I think the hardest part about leadership is, like you said …. a business coach I had told me this years ago, but if you are the leader of organization and you’re in a room or on a call, like, that, it just, the shadow, impacts and, naturally, humans will just pay attention to that. And it’s important to realize the impact you’re having and it’s also, it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of stress. And I think it’s like the Patrick Lencioni framework I always go back to, like, smart and healthy, and the smart part, in some ways—the strategy, the finance, all of that—is sometimes often easier than the human part. And it’s just, like, getting … I feel like that’s what, certainly what the part that like keeps me up at night that I’m often thinking about. And I think you’re talking about, in talking to leaders, they were really willing to be vulnerable, were really willing to be human. I wonder if that sort of acknowledgement and that sort of way of thinking about business is one of the things that will stick here. And really thinking about leadership differently.

Andrew Recinos: I hope so, too. I think—and this is painting with way too broad of a brush—but I also wonder, Erik, if it’s generational to an extent. Even in the last 10 years, like, when I became Executive Vice President and I was talking to executives, they were usually a generation older than me. And now I … and I didn’t realize this at first, but I’ve come to realize that most of the folks I’m talking to, you know, I’m a child of the eighties and they’re a child of the eighties. And so, one, there’s just sort of that shorthand. If I make a joke about Garfield cartoons—not that I would, but if I did—

Erik Gensler: I’d get it, yeah (laughs)

Andrew Recinos: They would get it, yeah. My daughter wouldn’t. But also, I think, it does feel to me like there is maybe a little more wiggle room to not have to feel like you always have to be the rock, you’re never going to break, you’re always gonna show a smile even if you’re crying on the inside, that sort of thing. And I think a lot of the conversations that I’ve had have had variations of that. I mean, I think about Claire Spencer, who’s the Chief Executive at Art Centre Melbourne. She’s actually won awards for the work that she has helped lead around the wellbeing of the industry of the arts workers and has done some really amazing, difficult work around that. But she is a, a people-centered leader. She’ll be the first to tell you that, that you can’t think of your team as an asset to get the thing done; ou have to think of your team as the center of your universe. And I’ve had a couple of really long conversations with her, actually, just to help me work through some things that I was struggling with as a new CEO that she’s been incredibly generous about. And she always comes back to the word, “dignity.” She’s like, “No matter what you do, no matter how hard the news is that you’re giving, you just have to remember the dignity of the person you’re talking to,” and that’s been incredible advice.

Erik Gensler: The generational note that you mentioned, I think, is super important. We’re in a moment, new generations coming into the workforce. We have, of course, the boomers, we have gen X, we have the millennials, we have Z now, and I often think that, like, a lot of the work is navigating difference among those generations who have very different expectations of what a workplace is. And I really think, like, even if I don’t necessarily agree with how those expectations—and I’m not saying I don’t—but, like, my job as a leader is to make sure all of those generations feel heard and can be successful. And so, like, it doesn’t matter if I don’t agree with it. If the majority of my staff is from a certain generation and, like, this is what they value and this is how they see the world, we have to create environments where they feel heard and can be successful.

Andrew Recinos: I completely agree with that, and I think that it goes back to the listening and I think that when I stumble—and I do—it’s from a lack of listening or lack of hearing, I mean, it sounds like that’s the same word, but it’s not. Like, am I hearing what they’re saying? When I have a millennial person on my team who’s happy to do the work but wants to know more of the backstory, for instance … like, this is a very common millennial thing. Again, painting with a broad brush, but it’s, “Yes, I’m happy to go help do this research for you, but why are you asking? And that’s interesting to me, and I want to understand how I’m making an impact.” Whereas me, as a gen X, most of my bosses growing up were boomers or greatest generation folks and it was just like, in the nicest possible way, “Just do the work and don’t ask. I just need you to get it done.” And so, I find that when I stumble, it’s because I’m, in as many words, saying a, “Just do the work,” thing.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Andrew Recinos: But I think this is great because, gosh, I would have loved to have known the backstory., I just wasn’t trained that I was allowed to ask that or felt comfortable being asked that. But, just broadly, our millennial team members, of which we have more and more, and now some gen Z’s, as well … they don’t hold back. They push back and they should.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and I think the leaders that aren’t open to that and aren’t flexible about that, I just see them stumbling. And I just, like, you have to change. Like, you can’t say like, “No, this is how it’s done. This is how it is. This is what work is like.” It’s like, no, you as a leader, you have to adapt. You have to change the workplace to be more open, more flexible, more collaborative, less top-down. And organizations I certainly grew up working with or in were just incredibly top-down.

Andrew Recinos: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Erik Gensler: And, like, that’s not … that doesn’t work anymore. And I just think, like … you know, obviously, some things certainly have to be decided at a really senior level, but like there also needs to be pathways and channels for more input, collaboration, and policymaking throughout an organization.

Andrew Recinos: I agree with everything you said. The challenge becomes—and I think we all get this sometimes or all feel this, or I’ll just say, vulnerably, there are times in the midst of all of that, that I’m like, “Oh my gosh, can we just decide and move on?” There are times that I just want to say, “I’m the boss and I’ve made a decision. Let’s go.” And sometimes, I do. I say it as nicely as I can but it always feels like-

Erik Gensler: You can do that.

Andrew Recinos: Yeah, I mean, at some point, you have to decide, but it’s so important to, I think, to put context around decisions. “Because I said so” is never a good answer.

Erik Gensler: The executive coach I work with, Jennifer Zaslow, says, like, there’s … you need both. It’s like, a lot of decisions should be made collaboratively and with lots of input, but some decisions can’t be and some decisions just have to be made and have to be accepted and that’s … I think, as long as people trust you, that’s the big piece.

Andrew Recinos: Yep.

Erik Gensler: They’ll be much more willing to accept those kinds of decisions. I want to move on to just talking about, how the team at Tessitura has spent the last year and what are, sort of, your priorities moving forward? How are you supporting just the massive changes that have happened during the pandemic, supporting digital programming, thinking about the hybrid we’re all moving into, where organizations are going to maintain digital but go back to in-person? Managing with reduced capacities, all of those things … What is Tessitura doing to support that and how are you thinking about, sort of, the next 12 months?

Andrew Recinos: There is a lot in that question.

Erik Gensler: (Laughs) Small question!

Andrew Recinos: (Laughs) Yeah, I know! I kind of want to answer, “Yes.”

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Andrew Recinos: So, first of all, just a reminder that we are a nonprofit and we are member-owned and report to a board and the board is made up of executives at organizations that use Tessitura. So, we are an actual co-op. And I say that to begin with because we have a mission to ensure that arts and culture thrives, and we don’t have a mission to make money for investors. And it’s important to say that, I think, at the start of this because it drives every single thing that we’ve done in the last 12 months. A year ago, when the world stopped, it was one of the most distressing and harrowing things I’ve- all of us have ever been through. I can give you a window into Tessitura, which is, we have, like any other company in the modern age, we have sort of our internal Slack and Yammer and all of this to communicate with each other, especially cause we’re a hundred percent virtual company. We’re all 225 people working from home. And people just started posting the notices. “This theater just closed their doors. This museum just closed their doors. This opera company just canceled their season.” And it was like every 10 or 15 minutes, there’s another link cause we’re in 35 states and five countries, so everybody was sort of looking after their city. “This is what’s happening in Kansas City and this is what’s happening in Miami and this is what’s happening in Seattle.” And, finally, we had to sort of say, “We have to stop.” Right? Because it was about the most psychically traumatic thing we had ever seen happen because all we do when we come to work every day is help arts and culture organizations succeed and we were watching this calamity unfold in front of us and there wasn’t a single thing we could do about it. And we took a couple of days to just sort of take stock of all of that and to do whatever we could possibly do to help. And then, we kind of dusted ourselves off and said, “All right, here we are,” and the first thing that we knew we needed to do was keep those organizations from having all of their money drained away. Suddenly, you know, you’re canceling 65 performances or a hundred performances or you’re a museum and you’re not going to have any admissions now for, you don’t know how long. And yeah, this is a little bit technical, but we’ve always had the ability to refund a performance, right? The artist cancels at the last minute and you have to refund all the tickets. There was nothing in our system that would refund 65 performances at once because that wasn’t a use case that had ever happened before. But without that, all of the sudden, in the midst of everything else you’re dealing with, you suddenly had to have your entire box office or customer service team calling up of thousands of people. And, you know, there was no way. And the whole thing that we exist to do is to use digital tools to be able to do things better and faster and more effective and more efficient. So, our team worked over weekends, late at night; within six days, we came out with a tool that not only could bulk refund, but could also allow the customer to decide what to do with that money. Because, actually, you didn’t want them to refund. Right? Yeah. So, that was that was sort of like the fine print at the bottom, “Or you can refund,” but the first thing was, “Would you like to donate it?” which, we built a thing so you could do that very easily. “Would you like to put it on account so that when we open back up, you can use this for something else?” or if you must, “Would you like to refund it?” And, you know, we ran the numbers after all of that, and tens of millions of dollars got turned into contributions because of this one piece of technology. And if there’s anything that is a microcosm of why we exist, to advance the business of arts and culture, it is that piece of technology. In that moment, in six days, for 725 organizations in 10 countries, we were able to retain tens of millions of dollars that otherwise would never be back. We’ve put out 40 more COVID-related features since then. That was just the first. We had museums start to open and in the spring. Museum of Fine Arts Houston opened in May. Dallas Zoo opened in May, physically distanced, masked, capacity controls, all of that. We had all the technology to do that, anyway, as it turns out. So, that was helpful. But the name of the game was contactless everything, right? You don’t want to get within six feet of another human and you’re an usher; how are you going to scan someone’s ticket? S,o we came out with a scanner on a stick, as we called it. You know, it’s just this-

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Andrew Recinos: And I’m sure you’ve seen them now cause they’re quite pervasive, but it’s this piece of hardware and you take the scanners you already owned, and you plop it in the hardware. You still have somebody, a docent or somebody, standing six or seven feet away in case there’s questions. It’s like being at the airport, where there’s usually somebody standing around the kiosks, but now you can just hold your phone up to the thing and scan it in. And we went from there. You can’t even imagine the amount of analytics that you need when you are canceling half or all of your season, so we put out analytics because around who’s canceling, who’s not, who’s turning it into donations, who’s not, how much money do we have to keep on the books? We came out with a gated content feature on our e-commerce so that, it doesn’t matter what kind of streaming platform you’re using, whether it’s YouTube or Vimeo or Brightcove or you name it, you can hook it up to our purchase path, as sort of step one, so that there was a seamless way to do that. And then a step two, you know, we’ve just announced a partnership with Vimeo so you can use Vimeo OTT and to have an integration with Tessitura. So, you can basically … your patrons have one login and they don’t have to remember anything more than that. So, it is, you know, not to sound like Churchill, but it felt a little bit like our finest hour. At this moment, where the two things that every arts and cultural organization needed to be able to do after they had taken care of the safety of their team is to retain and make money and to keep in touch with their customers, and those are literally the two things the Tessitura is about. And that’s what I said to the team the week after the pandemic started. I mean, “This is our moment. They are going to need us right now, more than they’ve ever needed us before.” And our Chief Member Officer who you know, Karen Elliot she quoted the very famous Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.” And she said, “This is what our members need right now. We need to help them, and we need you do these things, and we need them to feel really great and that we’ve got their back.” So, that’s sort of the last 12 months. The next 12 months is … I’m sure you’ve hearing this from everybody; I’m hearing this from everybody. The pandemic has accelerated so many things and the centrality of digital being one of them. Adam Cox, who’s the Executive Director at New York Philharmonic said, “Everybody knows how to use a QR code now,” and that, to me, is sort of the Tweet version of the world we’re living in now. And I know this is sort of the world you live in, Erik, like, at Capacity Interactive. I mean, you’ve been banging this drum for years about the importance of digital. It’s not that it’s important anymore. It’s just, it is everything (laughs). Like, how important is sending postcards to people anymore? When we think about that … I mean, we have been digital first. It’s why we began. You know, people were coming off of paper tickets and, and Rolodexes, and we are still digital first. It’s funny how much we’re talking about generations on this, this conversation, but I think about what I started in the arts, 1995, Carnegie Hall, Development Assistant … and if I were to go back in time, get in a time machine and go back there, nothing about I worked is the same, is even close to the same! The Berlin Philharmonic performing in Stern Auditorium as the same, but nothing else is the same. The way that we collect information from customers used to be, they called us up and we wrote it down or they came to the box office, or we sent them a thing and they sent us a form. Like, Erik, I mean, I think we were in New York around the same time, even, then. I don’t know. You’re probably younger than me, but do you remember the piles and piles and piles of subscription renewal forms and-

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Andrew Recinos: … “buck slips,” they called them in development. You know, “Please upgrade my gift from $50 to $70.” All of that’s digital now, a hundred percent. Not a hundred percent; a lot. So, how we collect information, how we transact with people is digital. How we fulfill those transactions, right? Like, is it a ticket printing out of a BOCA or is it print-at-home, which was an interim technology, I think. Or is it, more likely, just arriving on your mobile? There used to be a person, like, whole teams of people, who would do nothing but print out tickets and take in those forms and type that information. And now, the information is being typed in by the customer themselves or not being typed in—clicking on a button saying, “Just grab it from Facebook. I don’t have time to type this in.” Right? So, that’s changed. So, how we collect information, how we transact, how we deliver, and now, thanks to the pandemic, how we deliver culture has gone digital, right? Like, it was the forerunners. It was the Met Opera and the National Theatre and Detroit Symphony who were sort of the ones that were starting to do this digital streaming thing, and now it’s darn near everybody. So, literally, if I go back to that kid in 1995, who was, you know, typing donor information into a system—this is before Tessitura existed—it’s all different now. Like, it’s all digital. The buzz phrase is digital transformation, and I guess what I’m saying is just putting some meat behind that. Like, we are in the digital transformation business and we have been from day one, but as I’m looking to the next 12 months, I’m thinking about, to your point, these organizations that have had to shed budgets, have had to lay off or furlough staff, who are telling me it’s three to five years before we’re back to any semblance of real normal, whatever that means. They have to be able to do more with less. They have to be able to leverage their tools in new ways, and that’s what we’re here for. So, if 80 or 90% of your donations and sales are coming in through online means, we’re continuing to refine and bulk up and add features and functionality and user interface to make that easier, to make that more facile. If you need to be able to deliver quickly and easily and securely, we’re working even more on that. We can do all of that. We’re doing even more. And then the digital delivery, like I said, just with the Vimeo integration, and we’re just looking at other ways that we can work with that, kind of keeping a foot in each category. Cause I don’t think any of us knows, once we’re back at a hundred percent capacity in theaters and halls, how much the, the digital presence will continue to be a thing. Is it going to be 50% of what you do? Is it going to be 10% of what you do? Is it going to be 80%? I think it’s going to be something. I don’t think it’s just going to go away and I think it’s going to be situational. I think, again, talking to so many executives, like, there are some who have not embraced it and won’t embrace it and just say, “Look—” and I completely respect that—“We are a theater. Theater is about the in-person experience. We are not a film company. We don’t plan on being a film company. We’re waiting it out.” And I totally respect that. Like, I think it just depends on what your mission is. You know, another, which I wrote a blog about the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, has wanted to expand their reach since the nineties, right? They were working with a broadband technology back then to figure out how to do distance learning before the technology was quite ready and they saw this as a huge opportunity. And so, they’ve gone completely digital. They’re going to be back in theaters and they can’t wait to be, but they’ve become my favorite dance company during the pandemic and I’ve never seen them in person, but what they’re doing are just these amazing films and if you like dance—and Erik, you know, cause I’m a fan of your podcast, I know that you’re a big fan of dance, Erick—how freeing it is to see dance that is not in a dark theater. They’re dancing on the side of a lake.They’re dancing at the top of a skyscraper. They’re dancing on railroad tracks with natural light.

Erik Gensler: Sculpture gardens.

Andrew Recinos: In sculpture gardens. I mean, it’s just taken it into a whole different dimension and I’m very excited by that.

Erik Gensler: I’m sure, like, in these conversations—and you have this really unique purview from all these conversations you’ve been having—but we recently learned that there will be enough vaccines available for every American by May. When do you think, in terms of timelines … I know you can’t predict the future, but when is the real sense of going back to theaters, in terms of your internal planning for the next 12 months and the people you’ve been talking to? Do you think by fall that we’ll have some return to normalcy where theaters will be more than halfway full? Because this is … Specifically for performing arts organizations, the economics are already so challenging and we all know, without a full theater, without a chance for a full theater, it’s very hard to make that work. So, what are you hearing from timeline of going back to being in person and our return to “normalcy?”

Andrew Recinos: First of all, we’re in a lot of different countries, so I’ll speak mostly about North America in this case because, you know, New Zealand is a hundred percent back. Australia is almost back. And just as a side note, that’s actually been a huge benefit for us that we’re global because we’re learning from the different countries, right? Like, now that North American organizations are really thinking about opening back up, we’ve actually hosted webinars for our community where we have our New Zealand and Australians who are like, “This is what we went through. This is the things we would have done differently

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it’s done (laughs). I have friends in New Zealand and you just see their normal life and you’re like, “Oh gosh. That’s amazing.”

Andrew Recinos: Yeah, yeah, yes. Well, yeah, actually, one of our senior executives who runs that whole region, Jeremy Dixon, I’m on Zoom with him all the time and I’m like, “so, what did you do today?” And he’s like, “Oh I went down to the coffee shop,” and I’m like, “All right, stop, stop, please stop telling me all these things.”

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Andrew Recinos: But anyway, so, what I’m hearing in North America, and to an extent also in Europe, is that—and it’s even regional within North America—but the average is the fall is sort of a midway point and there’s a lot of banking on being able to do the holiday shows pretty much at full boat, right? Because, as you know, as well as I do, like, for a lot of our organizations, that’s where they make the bulk of their money, whether it’s Nutcracker or Christmas Carol, Messiah singalongs, those sorts of things … zoo lights … Although, the zoo lights thing, I love … like, Dallas Zoo just did it as a drive-through zoo lights. They actually did a great zoo lights in December. It was the number one attraction in Dallas. But what I’m loving … like, again, just from sort of a nerdy watching-how-businesses-work perspective, what I’m really loving is the risk mitigation thoughtfulness that’s going on around the fall. So, there’s one theater, for instance, that’s going to open in September, their normal season, but it’s a one-person show. You know, let’s say they’re a 1200-seat theater; as long as they sell 300 seats, they’ll be fine. So, they’re preparing for if they have to do social distancing. If they don’t, great. Very limited set, and just basically performing in front of a curtain. What’s behind the curtain—this is the part that I love—the next show that they’re planning on doing … So, that’s sort of, they’re dipping their toe into the water. We’re learning how to have an audience again; it’s a one-person show. It’s not very expensive to put on. We can have a smaller audience. It might even be better to have a small audience to just sort of work out the kinks. What’s behind the curtain is the show that they had just started when the pandemic happened. I’ve heard so many stories of, “We had done two days of whatever—” name your show—”and we had to shut the whole thing down.” They have, the set is still sitting on the stage, collecting dust. They’re pushing the whole set to the back of the stage, bringing down the curtain, doing the first show with one person. Two months later, they’re hoping—so this is like November, now—they’re going to pull the whole set forward. It’s already built. They don’t have to build it again. Bringing back the cast, bringing back the crew, and hoping to have sort of a 75%, 80%- capacity show. And then, they’re hoping to be full guns in January. I’m hearing a lot of variations of that, which I think is just really cool.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that’s, that’s really helpful context and are in a really great illustrative case study. So, believe it or not, we’ve come to your “CI to Eye moment,” and as a listener to the podcast, you may have thought about this but I’m going to ask the question, if you could broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of thousands of arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them right now?

Andrew Recinos: In the last year, the words “spike” and “surge” and “wave” have had negative connotations. “We’re experiencing the second wave,” or, “There’s a spike in this community of the virus.” And I think—and this is not just being a Pollyanna—I think that we are going to have a spike and a surge in a wave of engagement with arts and culture when we open back up. I think it’s gonna be massive. And that’s not even, just, sort of, my opinion. As I just said, we’ve seen this in New Zealand. We’ve seen this in Australia. Frankly, a lot of times, sort of, your Tessitura timeline is about six months before your opening timeline because that’s when your big on-sales are happening. We’re running multiple Hamilton on-sales right now and ticket sales are good. Like, people are buying tickets now. They are expecting to be able to go see Hamilton in the fall. And so, there’s going to be a surge, there is no question. And I think it’s gonna be a tsunami of people who are just crawling up the walls right now, cabin fever, just like all the soul-searching we’ve been talking about, coming to terms with all of these deep things that they’ve missed. You know, I was listening to … I haven’t been to a jazz club in years. I was listening to a recording in the car of a jazz record, a live jazz recording. And, you know it’s like, the soloist finishes on a high note and it’s this great solo, and you can hear the jazz club audience, like, whooping and hollering, and I thought, “God, I really want to go to a jazz club right now.” I haven’t had that thought in 15 years, probably. So, I think that the advice is to prepare for and harness the surge when it happens because you could so easily just watch it go by and be really excited about the ticket sales that happen in these two months and then, basically, you’re back down to normal. And I think without intention, that is exactly what will happen. Speaking of Hamilton, the performing arts centers all over the country, all over the world, really, talk about this thing called the “Hamilton effect.” You’ve probably talked about this on the podcast. The Hamilton effect is, if you put Hamilton in your season, you’re going to sell twice as many tickets because Hamilton’s in the season and people will buy a $1,200 subscription just to get that one ticket To me, this is like a Hamilton effect for the entire industry. There was an article in The New York Times, I think just last week about movie theaters opening up and they were interviewing people. They said, “We don’t care what the movie is. We just want to be in a movie theater again.” So, my advice is to be ready for that surge, to prepare for it, to lay the groundwork. “Can’t wait to welcome you back. Here’s some behind-the-scenes pictures.” I mean, if you don’t have somebody with a camera on site for the first couple of weeks, when those people are coming back in and they’re crying because they haven’t been in the theater for a year … whatever your system is, Tessitura or otherwise, if you’re not gathering that information and holding onto those people after that first moment and reminding of them of that moment so that becomes a new habit … Again, when I was talking to Adam at the New York Phil, he said, “You know, after a year, people aren’t used to going to the symphony every Thursday anymore. And on the other side of this, they’re going to build new habits and either you’re going to be a part of that habit, or you’re not. Arts and culture needs to be part of that habit.” And I go back to the Maya Angelou quote. It’s about how you made them feel and I think when people come back for the first time, you have to embrace them in this hug. All of these articles about how people are missing hugs, and not just the, like, the huggy people. Like, I have friends who are really not huggy people who are finally saying, “Look, I’ve really missed hugs,” so that the feeling that they need to have when they experience culture again, is part of that whole thing. So, catch the wave, ride the wave, and that will help bring arts and culture into our communities in a more meaningful way on the other side of the pandemic.

Erik Gensler: Andrew, that was great. Thank you so much.

Andrew Recinos: Yeah, no, thank you. Thank you for having me. This has been great.

About Our Guests
Andrew Recinos
Andrew Recinos
President & CEO, Tessitura Network

Andrew Recinos is the President and CEO of Tessitura Network, a member-owned non-profit dedicated to advancing the business of arts and culture through technology, service, and community.

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