Oh, The Place You’ll Go in 2016: The Seuss Museum, in Springfield, MA

Thneeds factory in The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. (top, ™ and © 1971 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.); Springfield Gasworks, early 20th-century (bottom)

Thneeds factory in The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. (top, ™ and © 1971 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.); Springfield Gasworks, early 20th-century (bottom)

In an effort to ensure no other city will claim Dr. Seuss for its own, Springfield Museums has announced it will create “the first museum dedicated to the life and legacy of (Springfield) city native Theodore Seuss Geisel.”

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum is scheduled to open in 2016 at the Quadrangle, precisely two blocks away from the real-life Mulberry Street, the site of Dr. Seuss’s very first picture book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. The museum will also be only a few blocks from the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, where sculptor Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Geisel’s stepdaughter, created bronze sculptures of Dr. Seuss and some of his most beloved characters, including The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, the Lorax, and Yertle the Turtle.

The new museum will feature all those characters and many more, and include a mural of an illustration from that first book, “which launched Geisel’s career as the most recognizable in children’s literature.” The first floor of the museum will open in 2016, and a second floor, which will include a “recreation of Ted Geisel’s studio,” is scheduled for completion the following year. The Springfield Museums has raised more than three million dollars toward the project, which includes “funds from donors, foundations and $1 million grant from the state.”

As WAMC-Radio reported, “The Dr. Seuss Museum will include interactive exhibits featuring the classic characters from the children’s books,” which “include references to many local landmarks.”

Like the hugely successful Eric Carle Museum not far away in Amherst, Massachusetts, the new Dr. Seuss Museum will promote both its namesake and children’s literacy overall. Dr. Seuss’s books are sold in 17 languages in 95 countries, making this development important for tourism and as a place to promote and cultivate a love of children’s literature. Museums officials, citing the worldwide popularity of Dr. Seuss, expect the new museum will result in a 25 percent increase in visits to the Quadrangle. They also believe it will help advance the cause of literacy in their community and beyond. In Springfield, currently “only 40 percent of the city’s public school students are proficient readers.” City officials hope to double that percentage over the next year by the time the new museum opens.

Springfield Museums President Holly Smith-Bové said at a meeting of the editorial board of the Republican, “With input from the Davis Foundation, educators from the Springfield public schools and Square One early childhood agency, the museum will also be a place where children can practice the basic reading skills including letter recognition, vocabulary and rhyming.”

This is important for all visitors, because, to quote another Dr. Seuss book, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Marketing Authentically via Storytelling and Story-doing

14 Storytelling, Storydoing

Storytelling and storydoing are the new “it” words in marketing, advertising and pr. No longer are we focused on, catchy phrases and attention-grabbing headlines. From tech to tofu, we want more than just concepts, we want to bond over our products and the people who create and sell them. But think carefully about positioning, because with storytelling’s new marketing sibling, “storydoing,” we are being asked to live the brand we create.

 With storytelling, it would seem you couldn’t dream up a better scenario for writers and artists, and it’s true, we have great stories to tell and the skill to drive them home. But, as Colin Robinson, co-founder of OR Books, pointed out somewhat kiddingly, I think, in an article for The Guardian,if writers today are ubiquitous, readers seem an increasingly endangered species.” Robinson was alluding to book authors, but the point is the same. We have tons of content, what we need is to have an audience that cares to read it.

With marketing, that means cultivating the right audience and finding ways to get your story heard. To brand in a meaningful way, you must identify the connecting strands that run through your work, your own story, and how you want to be known in the marketplace and give your audience good reason to identify with you.

What works? Take a page from what corporations do for their brands. Look at your body of work as though you were the head of a company – what would your mission statement be?

Doing this brings your target audience into focus and informs the role you intend to play.  It also provides the underpinning of your marketing communications strategy and the tone of your messaging. A corporation would then go deeper and look at what content, information, and experiences it could provide that would be consistent with the brand and voice of the company and appealing to its audience in an ongoing way.

Content can be practical – giving tips on what you know, and what consumers want to know; personal – providing an opportunity for them to get to know you better – and for you to know them; experiential – offering ways for them to connect directly with you, which could be via events, contests, or other activities; educational – video works great for that, or humorous.

Humor’s worked perfectly for Amsterdam’s Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, which figured if they couldn’t be at the top of the city’s list of hotels, they’d stake a claim for being best at the bottom with the slogan, “It  Can’t Get Any Worse”. Their website proudly offers a list of amenities the hotel doesn’t offer: No Tennis, No Room Service, No Bellhop, etc. But that messaging’s proved perfect for attracting their audience of students, backpackers and others who, instead of seeing any of this as a negative, pride themselves on surviving a stay at the world’s worst hotel — and they brag about it to others.

Storydoing is about exemplifying what a company stands for and connecting over that with customers. The outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, does that by producing environmental content campaigns and materials that focus on issues of concern to the outdoor enthusiasts who buy from them. But they go beyond what other companies do by taking a long view of the commitment to the topic they and their consumers care about, and they believe this will be to long-term success.

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Creating Documentary Theater on Civil Rights: Mike Wiley

Mike Wiley, Actor and playwright

Brown Versus The Board of Education

 

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Blood Done Sign My Name – credit Steve Exum

1. Why did you choose to go out on your own?

I got started out of necessity, drive and hunger – the reasons everyone does! But also, I knew I didn’t want to have to wait for someone to give me a job, and I didn’t want to have to work in another field, just to be able to afford to work in my chosen field at night. So many people end up waiting tables or getting jobs sitting behind a desk, just so they can do theater.

I felt if I did that, it would be easy to start to fall in love with the ease of regular work, and it would take the edge off my desire to work in my chosen field. I’ve seen it happen with others where after a while the day job increases and other becomes hobby.

I knew I wanted to work in theater, act and be creative and steer my own ship all at the same time. I didn’t have a Masters in acting – I had a communication degree, which someone talked me into doing. So, it was good that I understood advertising, marketing, and the skills of design to be able to funnel that into my theater work and to build it about myself.

For several years, I was an actor in New York looking to play multiple characters because I realized, if I could do that, I could do solo plays. I knew I could write, and I just wanted to write pieces I could use full-length or for short, 45-minute performances. Plays that could be performed at a theater, school or college, in regional theater, or on tour.

I wrote, One Noble Journey about Henry Brown. I wrote it because it was a slave narrative that was incredibly moving with things that rang true and funny to me. I hadn’t come across slave narratives that were funny before, so my reaction to Henry Brown’s was sort of nice. It’ s the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who decided he was going to actually mail himself in a box to the North in the middle of summer to escape, which was crazy, but it was the only way he could find to free himself.

For me, writing my own pieces was a way for me to free myself – so Henry Brown was that for me. Before that, I was a sort of a slave to type – I was expected to play an African- American man of certain age and build, whereas now, I didn’t have to be a certain sex, height, type, or color. I could do a solo show and be a white or black male, even female, or child – I could play all of the characters! Doing a one-man show allows me to bridge the worlds of theater and storytelling with few props and no costumes changes. I found I don’t need much of a back drop, just me using mostly voice and posture, and a willing audience.

What I’ve learned, is that the audiences are interested in me and in watching the transformations I make from one character to the next – how two seconds ago I was a young African American male, then seconds later an elderly female pretending to be a white male. What the audience is attracted to is watching the act of becoming the other.

2. How would you suggest someone get started writing their own work?

You just need a pencil and a library card. There are so many true stories out there waiting to be told. The same is true with oral histories, they’re out there waiting to be picked up and be told. If an artist comes along and illustrates or adapts it, then the story lives again, but now it has dimensions it didn’t have before.

I’ve found it’s important to make the commitment to do the research, and then, to get meaningful feedback once you’ve written the 1st, 2nd or 3rd draft. At that point, you or another person should read the piece aloud – so skip the step of having someone read the text you written, you’ll get more across if it’s done aloud.

3. What are your feelings about what’s happening now with performing arts & the arts in education? How has that impacted your work?

I was just reading now in our area about some regional theaters having closed. I’ve found the business model I have has worked because it can go to where theater is wanted and needed. You don’t have to bring in bus loads to a place to see it – and you don’t have to go to a metro area. I bring theater to where people are. Sometimes it’s in a theater, sometimes a local cultural center, other times at schools and libraries – I’ve performed in galleries too. The objective is to give them a great cultural experience, presenting arts and history, and to make it enjoyable and even funny. It can be done affordably, so they don’t need to go to the school board for funding and approval to do it. That makes sense strategically, and I can do it because it’s just me and a stage manager to cover for us to make the trip and mount the performance.

Mike Wiley is an actor and playwright, who’s spent more than a decade fulfilling his mission to bring educational theatre to young audiences and communities across the country. In the early days of his career, Wiley found few theatrical resources to shine a light on key events and figures in African-American history. To bring these stories to life, he started his own production company.

Through his performances, Wiley has introduced countless students and communities to the legacies of Emmett Till, Henry “Box” Brown and more. His most recent works include a one-man play based on Tim Tyson’s memoir Blood Done Sign My Name and The Parchman Hour, an ensemble production celebrating the bravery and determination of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives to desegregate Southern interstate bus travel in 1961.

Mike Wiley has a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the 2010 Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to his numerous school and community performances, he has also appeared on Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and National Geographic Channel and has been featured in Our State magazine and on PBS’ North Carolina Now and WUNC’s The State of Things.

 

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Transmedia Storytelling – The Future is Now!

Latitude, an international research firm, just released The Future of Storytelling, a study on what audiences want in storytelling and, not surprisingly, they found people want an integrated, interactive and meaningful experience. Readers and viewers like when they can change the outcome of a story. They want to interact with others. And they want to experience it with all their senses.

Stories should also be integral to the real world, and provide opportunities to engage. Ideally, it will move them to action, to volunteer, to learn something, or to have a new experience. In fact, more than half said, if a story moved them in that way, they’d even be willing to help fund stories via Kickstarter and other platforms.

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