In any discussion of benefit to an artistic process, I always start thinking in terms of industrial engineering. I mean, that makes sense, right? Seeing as I study industrial engineering by day and practice theatre by every other waking moment of the day/night.
Now, in theatre, we're always saying "well, what would be really cool is if the set was entirely blue and there was a floating unicorn. But also we have no money. So." And, as a production worry-er [manager?], my role faces this question:
"Do we buy 20 gallons of the blue paint? Or do we stop spending money because the budget is nearly spent?"
And my artistic colleagues whose first concern is with a perfect product usually say:
...which I TOTALLY get. I want to see the whole set look blue too. It would be incredible. But I also want to not lose my job/bankrupt the company because of buying too much paint.
I’m constantly reminded that theatre and other art forms have no vocabulary for what defines the end goal. Why are we expending energy and money? In every case study of engineering ever, the team is expending in order to reduce future cost or improve lead times. The argument is "we want to spend x amount of money to improve our process, which will reduce cost z in the long term and generate y more revenue." Great! That's a math problem. A long, complicated one with a good dose of heuristics to reach a final answer, but there's a goal that is defined numerically. Reduce z, generate y, and therefore define an optimal x. Got it.
In theatre, the argument is "well we have to do this because ART." We don’t have a good, solid, always-applicable word for ART. We sometimes say "because the play wants it" or "because it will make this moment work."
Pausing here to differentiate between theatre that has a goal of ART versus theatre that has a goal of monetary ROI. For some "theatre" companies, the equation is actually simple, because it's a game of gauging market demand for a really popular musical (or just doing Christmas Carol every year) and plugging that into an equation. Which cities should we tour Jersey Boys through that give it the most revenue while least cost? Kind of a cool operations research Transportation Network problem - but their goal is about ROI, not about ART. Which isn't a bad thing, but just isn't what I'm talking about right now.
ANYWAY, we're talking about theatre that's creating new art, or art that hasn't been seen by or known to the market before. No demand data to base estimates of demand for tickets. And, regardless, the ROI isn't monetary or ticket-based. It's ART. Or something. So "we want to spend x amount of money in order to create more ART z and then long term make people have good feelings...y..." It's obvious the problem lies in the definition of z and y. They are often not MoPs (measures of performance) like they are in a typical engineering problem.
So the math problem turns into something like...not a math problem:
And maybe sometimes it just devolves into:
....and by this point I'm over in the corner thinking:
Okay, I'm exaggerating. I actually think word clouds are a tool that can help lead us to this word that we need to be a quantifiable trait to replace ART. In fact, Counting New Beans, a study by Theatre Bay Area (thanks to C1 friends for pointing me towards said book), which starts to tackle this topic, uses word clouds as a research tool to find the vocabulary of defining what they call "intrinsic impact." The book is really unique, but doesn't end with any real answer. I am particularly interested in defining and quantifying the variable ART in the equation: minimize cost, maximize ART. So that people outside the weird circle of artists who totally get why the money needs to be spent ALSO understand that the money needs to be spent... and then give it to us.
I have no illusions whatsoever that I am the first person to define this problem. I am not even really a person who knows much about grants and funding of non-profits. These are just the things that occur to me as I study for a Manufacturing Systems exam and then go to look at how to justify purchases for a development workshop of a really cool theatrical event (I won't call it a play because it isn't just that) that creates no direct revenue generation, but creates incredibly cool impact.