James Bernhard

Duration: 48mins 5secs
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Interview with: James Bernhard
Interviewed by:
Archive Number: OH 010

I: How is it you switched from acting to become manager of the SPA?

JB: Heavens, I didn’t know you were getting into personal questions like this. Well, I never was a professional actor. I had that as an avocation for a number of years, and once I came to SPA, it became very difficult to continue to pursue any kind of acting activity because I worked so many nights here. And that’s essentially it. I really haven’t abandoned acting. I just haven’t had the opportunity for 10 years.

I: You’re basically a businessman now?

JB: I suppose that would be a fair estimate. We are members in our professional organizational called the International Society of Performing Arts Administrators, which is a fairly bureaucratic-sounding name. We used to be called the International Association of Concert Managers, and I suppose Arts Manager best describes what I do. Quite interestingly, one of my colleagues had a book published recently by the 20th Century Fund and described an Arts Manager as a professional which combined the talents of a businessman, a diplomat, an artist, and a gangster. We’ll stay on that, shall we?

I: Before discussing the SPA per se, we thought we would have your theatrical expertise and talk about—

JB: (1:27) Well, that won’t take long!

I: —theater in Houston. Specifically what is the effect of having one dominant professional theatre in Houston, the Alley?

JB: That’s something I might have to think about a while before answering. Of course, one very real effect is that having a fully professional resident theatre, I think, has a very healthy effect on any community because he has the potential, at least, of exposing us to a higher caliber of acting on a regular basis than a city without a resident professional theatre would have, and it also has the potential for bringing to us current and classical plays that might beyond the scope of amateur groups. It’s regrettable, I suppose, in a way that we don’t have 10 such theatres here, and you asked about the effect of one dominant theatre. It is true then most of these with a resident repertory theatre—It does, in fact, dominate the theatrical life of that city. In a sense, you might think it restrictive, but I think if we didn’t have the Alley Theatre here, we’d be much the poorer for it. I wish we had 2 or 3 other theatres here too.

I: Is theatre is other crannies of Houston adequate, such as the Autry House?

JB: You really ought to talk to the drama critic, fine arts editor of the Houston Chronicle about this, who has some very pronounced opinions and has done a great deal of research. She feels—Ann Holmes feels very strongly and has written so that the theatrical scene in Houston is not entirely commensurate with what a city of this size and this importance should have. There is, of course, a tendency among the dinner theatres that we have, which constitute a very large part of theatrical activity in Houston, plus the amateur groups to rely upon the tried and true Broadway fare. There is not, I think, as much adventurousness and as much serious attention to theatre in the city as we really out to have.

I: We’ll will keep her in mind and move on.

JB: I would strongly suggest talking to her about this particular topic because she knows a great deal about it.

I: (3:40) Attendance has risen steadily from 45% in 1967 to 79% in 1974. To what do you attribute this improvement?

JB: You’ve done your research, haven’t you? Let me see. Those figures are correct. I think it was actually 77% in 1973, 1974. I think it was 79.

I: Still, a sizable gain.

JB: I’m just trying to make sure the figures are correct. To 2 things, I think. The fact that SPA has been here doing what it has done for nearly 10 years now has obviously developed an audience. When we started doing what we are doing, there had not been for the previous several years that much exposure by Houston populace to great ballet, great solo artists, orchestras, and that sort of thing. Naturally it took a little while to develop a taste. I think we are in an era of expanding audience sophistication, cultural awareness in this city. Secondly I think that we have learned ourselves that the Houston audiences, and I suppose this is true of audiences anywhere, will respond in greater numbers to something of really top quality and something with really big names. We just had Rudolf Nureyev here, and he has been a very large measure of the success we have had in Houston. He’s been with us 3 times now, once with the Royal Ballet, once with the National Ballet of Canada, and most recently with American Ballet Theatre, and his engagements are always successful. The same holds true for other top names in the fields, Marcel Marceau, Leontyne Price, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Andrés Segovia, who delivered sufficient quality and, I suppose we must say also, sufficient celebrity to the audiences. They will respond in greater numbers. In our earlier years, for one reason or another, we were not fortunate enough to be so star-studded each season. Of course, we had some big names, but we have found, and this is sad in a way, that a very fine musician, say an instrumentalist or a vocalist whose name is not a household word, is not really going to draw an audience of sufficient size even to pay that artist’s fee usually. This means that we have had to be much more selective in our choice of artists and try always to bring an artist who we think is going to draw sufficient audience to at least break even. We have been disappointed sometimes, and indeed, sometimes we bring artists who we do not expect will do that because this is a part of our responsibility, we think, to introduce new artists or artists of the middle stature, let us say, whose names are not like soap products that you see on television, known to everybody. What we hope to do is balance the losses we may sustain on these presentations with profits on others so we can at least break even. The last 2 to 3 years, we’ve been relatively successful in doing that.

I: Is this your policy of emphasizing the big names?

JB: (6:54) Well, it’s our society’s policy, I think. At the time SPA was founded, John Jones, who was the first president, specified the fact that he conceived on SPA as justifying itself in a nonprofit way because he could bring big names, big companies really, such as the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet, that an independent or commercial promoter might not be willing to take the risk on because there is always a risk, even though we were successful with the Bolshoi Ballet. We sold out every performance. You don’t 1-1/2 years ahead of time that you’re going to do that. All sorts of exigencies may get in the way. There can be a depression. There can be a storm. There can be all sorts of unpredictable occurrences which would prevent you from selling. It’s unlikely, I think, that many commercial promoters would risk $250,000 to $260,000 in a week’s engagement on the strength of selling out every performance and maybe clearing $10,000 after all expenses. It’s not a great return on your investment. So it’s our board’s policy, to answer your question, that we do emphasize the big things, the important things, and I think we have found it is a practical matter that in solo artists especially it is economically essential to us to bring as many of the top names in their field as we can. I think is valid on artistic grounds, and certainly it is necessary on economic grounds as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that there are many, many very distinguished artists in this country who can’t really draw an audience, in Houston, TX, anyway, to pay their fees, and if we balance these artists as best we can—Next season, for example, we have a couple of pianists in our series, a young man named Tedd Joselson, whose name is not yet well known. We hope maybe some day it will be. Gary Olson, who’s a little bit better known but none the less, not an Arthur Rubinstein or Vladimir Horowitz. Naturally their fees are a little bit lower than the superstars are, but the other expenses of the presentation are just about the same. We pay the same rent on the hall, the same advertising. In fact, usually more advertising for a less well known artist in order to publicize it more so that we try to balance as many of the lesser known but still very distinguished artists as we can with the superstars who help pay the rent.

I Did you predecessor, Mr William Martin, deviate from this policy of adhering to—?

JB: No. No. I wouldn’t say it was a deviation. In fact, it was Bill Martin who brought me into this business and from whom I learned almost everything I know about it now. Bill came to Houston from about 10 years at Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1967. I don’t think anybody then knew precisely what kind of attractions, what kind of artists, would best play in Houston. He came with some very well thought out conceptions based on the great success he’d had in Brooklyn, and I think somewhat to his surprise, Bill Martin was surprised Houston did not flock out in great number to hear Montserrat Caballé, who at that time was just making her Met debut and was a sensation among sopranos. They did not flock out to hear Gina Bachauer and Lili Kraus, two of the finest pianists, I think, of our century. And there was some great disappointments. So little by little, as we learned, we found out that there was not a market here in Houston, I think, for insufficient numbers at least, for really superb artists unless they had a little more general appeal, if their names were known outside the musical audience. I think what I’m really saying is there is not a Houston music audience, per se, which is knowledgeable about what’s going on in the field of music. There is, I believe, developing a dance audience who know what’s going on in the field of ballet, at least. I hope maybe in 5 to 10 years we will have developed a music audience in that same way who follow artists and who know what artist is coming up and which one will be big 5 years from now, as I think people do in this city, or at least are beginning to follow dance. I think they will follow music, but 10 years ago, when Bill Martin came, there just wasn’t sufficient knowledge. In part, my job of course, is education. That is a side effect of what we do. We hope, at least, that we are providing education in the field of the arts, of the performing arts, for the people of Houston so they will know more when we finish each season than they did when we started.

I: (11:56) One of the criticisms made of the SPA in years past, 2, 3, 4 years ago, was that it was attracting too many pop artists. How do you feel about that now?

JB: This was done in the early years of SPA because it’s done elsewhere in series similar to ours as a means of making a profit on pop events, pop artists, pop theatre, popular music, whatever, to help offset losses on the chamber music or whatever that you know is not going to be able to pay its way. It’s a very sound idea in theory. It didn’t work for us because some of our biggest losses turned out to be on what we would regard as pop attractions. Trini Lopez was one of our artists in 1968; a tremendous loss. Did not draw all the kind of audiences we anticipated. Marlene Deitrich; another loss. The Broadway musical Cabaret. So we began losing money on things that were primarily programmed in order to help make money to support other kinds of events. Another of my colleagues says that the cardinal sin in this business is to lose money on crap. Now I don’t mean to imply that popular artists are crap, but it is a sin, in a sense, to loss money on something that you are programming not necessarily for its artistic merit but as a moneymaker. And we were losing money on those things. So we made a conscious decision in 1970, and this was very deliberately thought out and carefully studied by our executive committee as well as our management. I wouldn’t say to completely abandon the pop field but certainly to de-emphasis it down to a very minimal level so that the Houston audiences knew was SPA was doing, what we stood for, and would know what to expect for us. I think it has been successful. I think we have 5 years of an image of standing for quality in our own division of performing arts, which is not the popular field. Now occasionally we might do something pop. Last summer, for example, we did a Scott Joplin Ragtime Evening in the Park as our free series. Maybe that’s pop; maybe it isn’t. It’s a gray area there. Many people consider Joplin a great classical composer as well. Next week we have a John Philip Sousa program which is our free Miller Theatre summertime offering. At least a little lighter fare than normally would be our program. So while we are not abandoning popular music, popular artists, we certainly have de-emphasized them, and I think to our own interest.

I: (14:51) Why the loss in public appeal for pop entertainment when before it used to be a moneygetter?

JB: Obviously, I don’t think there is a general lack of public appeal to the right pop artists. I think the problem is that knowing what is good in popular music is a skill which requires a different kind of expertise than my predecessor or certainly I could bring to it. The charts, as they call them, change every week. Somebody with a #1 record this week may be, as they say, on the downside the following week. So the bookings are done much closer to the date of performance, and it’s not unusual to have about a 3- to 4-week period booking a pop group or a rock group in, and you have follow that. You have to really be an expert to know who’s going up, who’s going down, who’s record is going to be #1 in 3 weeks, and we simply don’t have the background or the knowledge to follow rock and pop groups and artists with enough skill. That’s why I think. For somebody else who knows what he’s doing, certainly I think there’s money to be make in popular music.

I: How do you go about booking someone of the caliber of Cliburn and Crowling?

JB: Almost all of our bookings are done through one of several hundred national artist managements. I’m having to retract that a little bit and say most of our bookings are done through about 5 or 6 of them. Because while there are hundreds of artist managements, there are perhaps half a dozen who among them represent 98% of most of the well-known artists in classical music, dance, chamber music, contemporary dance field. Thurrock Concerts (16:39) is one of them; Columbia Artists Management, Shaw Concerts, and thereafter there are several smaller agencies. We generally, each year, review the artists under management by each of the agencies. We have a regular conference in New York. They used to send field representatives out to visit, but they don’t much do that anymore for economic reasons. Most of our business is done either by a trip or two or New York or over the telephone. We do most of our booking probably just by telephone because we know what we’re looking for, we know who represents them. Very occasionally, an artist or a company will come along that is not represented by a national management, and we follow what’s going on in the field, and we will approach them and negotiate our contract. Most of it’s done on a very, I suppose your could say, routine basis in a sense through one of several different management agencies.

I: (17:36) Is balancing a season a little bit like balancing a political thicket? Do you have to pacify certain patrons who would be disappointed if you didn’t have certain acts?

JB: I suppose there is some of that. We have, as I said earlier, a very big dance following in Houston. I think we would be very unsuccessful if we ever came out with a season devoted exclusively to musical events and had no dance on it whatever. Certainly we emphasize dance because we know there’s a market for it there. We also have some feeling of balance in that we are called a Society for the Performing Arts. As such we have determined that we represent ballet, ethnic dance, modern dance or contemporary dance, instrumental music, orchestral music, vocal music, chamber music. Those are the areas of the performing arts. And to some extent theatre. I omitted theatre. But the need for our presence in theatrical activity has been somewhat less because there are other very good promoters in Houston who have touring theatrical attractions. Nonetheless, we try to balance from our own standpoint. Obviously each year we can’t have representatives of every art form necessarily on our program, but we try to always keep open and receptive to everything within the scope of what we feel we represent and think we should do.

I: What sort of feedback do get from your patrons?

JB: Very little unless they’re unhappy about something! We have recently undergone a rather traumatic experience for us in the American Ballet Theatre engagement, which featured Rudolf Nureyev, but not at every performance. And Nureyev is one of those rare superstars who attract a sort of fanatical following even from people who don’t know anything about ballet. They know Rudolf Nureyev. It is also true that it is very common practice among big ballet companies with rotating start systems to change the schedule of cast, and this is true for many reasons. Somebody is not developing in a role as he was expected to, so he’s exchanged with somebody else. A dance pulled a muscle in a very small way and may not come out for 2 or 3 days, so he has to be pulled. For many, many reasons ballet casting cannot ever be determined until curtain time with any accuracy. The Bolshoi Ballet here 3 weeks ago had 2 to 3 changes of cast right at curtain time, which we had no advanced warning about at all. In the case of Mr Nureyev’s performance about 3 or 4 weeks before the performances took place, there was a change in the casting, and of course, many patrons who had bought tickets hoping to see Nureyev were very unhappy. We tried to exchange tickets as long as we could for those who wished an exchange, but then we reached a point where we sold out of both of the performances in which Mr Nureyev danced so we couldn’t exchange. And you just don’t give refunds once tickets are sold anywhere in the world. If the ticket is sold, unless the engagement is canceled, it is simply not refunded. Nor could we afford to start a policy of refunding ticket money if people change their minds about something. We’d be inundated, I’m sure, an hour before performances by people who wanted refund. The upshot was we had a few unhappy people, and we got some feedback from that. If something like that happens, we hear about it. Conversely I got a gift yesterday from somebody who enjoyed the ballet so much they sent a bottle of champagne to our staff. From time to time we send out, on a selective basis among subscribers, cards asking for their preferences, and its dangerous though, I think, to suggest to the public that you’re going to run a popularity poll in your booking policies and say, “You vote for this artist, and we’re going to book that artist” because for many, many reasons, it simply doesn’t work out that way.

(21:33) What other kind of feedback do we get? The greatest feedback that anybody gets in this business, and I suppose the reason that artists are in it and quite frankly the reason most managers are in it is the applause that you hear at the end of a performance. And sometimes that kind of feedback is really the most thrilling part of a performance for me. We had it during the Bolshoi. We had it during the recent American Ballet Theatre. We had it in spades for Alvin Ailey’s company. The audience just went wild after those performances because it is such a thrilling and exciting theatrical dance company. That feedback makes it all worth while. In a formal sense, and we don’t have any means set up, our feedback is whether people buy tickets or not. If we sell out a performance, we know we have made contact with them; if we don’t, we haven’t.

I: Earlier, you mentioned exposure for the SPA. Has there been any sole, conscious attempts to broaden the base of your audience?

JB: Oh, indeed. Yes. At all times. Audience development is really what we do 12 months a year. We have recently formed an organization called The Associates, which is purposely restricted to about 100 members in the first year to see if we can put down roots among various parts of the community. We started with our own board of directors and with some of the subscribers who had been season ticket holders of longstanding. The Associates does, I think, in fact, represent a fairly wide cross-section of Houston’s population. There are certain ethnic and socioeconomic groups who are not, for many reasons, regularly attending our performances. We’d like to reach them. It’s a difficult problem, but I think our Associates, this new group, has the mechanics by which we can draw people who have not perhaps been exposed to what we were doing before. We have a very great advantage in a sense over some of the other cultural organizations here in being able to reach minority audiences or audiences from different backgrounds because of the variety of presentations we have. When we bring Ballet Folklórico de México, for example, we have a tremendous contact and patronage from the Mexican American audience. We’ve been less successful in bringing black audiences in, although the Alvin Ailey Company, which is predominantly a black company, was successful to some degree. Leontyne Price was also successful. Of course, it’s also our hope that once you reach a minority audience with something that may find a particular chord or response, you will also interest those audiences in coming to a more general program. I think, to a limited degree, we have been successful in doing that. I don’t think we can rely upon the traditional 1927, 1924 audiences forever, though. Quite frankly the upper-income, higher-educated audiences everywhere in this country provide the backbone of every performing arts audience. We live with that. Of course, we’re interested in broadening our reach, both in what we bring for different groups in the community and the promotional means we use to reach those groups.

I: (24:59) You mentioned before that attracting a big name artist is expensive. Not wanting to get involved in names of different artists, how much does it cost to bring—?

JB: It is necessary to hold artists’ specific fees confidential for many, many reasons, but an average fee, let us say, for a solo artist who is not a superstar would run $1500 to $3000 or $4000 per performance. When you get over the $4000 per performance range, you’re beginning to get into names that people would be familiar with. Until you get up to a fee of perhaps $10,000 to $11,000, which would be limited only to a handful of very big stars, and some of them will work with you on a percentage basis without any fixed fee or with a very minimal guarantee and take a percentage of the gross receipts which depending on your ticket price and the scale of the house, could yield maybe up to $15,000 in a theatre this size for a really top, top artist. I’m talking there about a mere handful. In the case of companies, it’s a little easier to tell you about the fee for the Bolshoi Ballet, for example, which is, after all, over 200 people who are traveling with several trucks of equipment and scenery. It ran about $85,000 for 7 performances in addition to which we have many, many local costs of the hall rental, the stagehands for this building, musicians which augmented the traveling orchestra, the tickets, the sale of tickets, the advertising, the promotion, the ushers, all of that, which ran the costs for the Bolshoi Ballet up to about $260,000 for 7 performances. The fee can be variable. We figure our costs per performance, an average of $3000 to $6000 and on up if it’s a big ballet company with a lot of stagehands in addition to the fee of the artists. In practical terms, that means that for a soloist, we are looking at a necessary gross sales of $7000 to $12,000 to break even, depending on the artist fee. Maybe even higher if it’s a very high fee. For a Leontyne Price, for example, you need $16,000; $17,000; $18,000 to break even because she is one of the very highest fee artists in the United States. For a ballet, again, it depends on the size of the ballet, how much stage scenery, how much equipment, how many stagehands, how big an orchestra. Our costs—There’s hardly anything such as an average ballet—But let’s say there’s an average ballet. We’d probably need a minimum of $13,000 or $14,000 a performance. Now we have a price scale which we have been paying most average ballet companies that run $10 to $12 top price ticket, which will yield around $20,000 to $23,000 at capacity. So we have a margin there between 60-80% to break even. If you sell out, you can usually make a little money.

I: (28:28) Do you sometimes lose artists because of the inability to provide the necessary fees? Does that happen at all?

JB: We exercise our own judgment about the relationship between the fee and what we think the potential audience—Certainly we have, ourselves, turned down artists whose fees we felt were out of line with what we thought we could support in this city. We negotiate occasionally. I say occasionally; we negotiate all the time. Occasionally we are able to get a substantial concession in a fee or a reduction in a flat fee to go on a percentage basis. That way the artist shares some of the risk. We don’t take all the risk ourselves. We don’t lose artists, I suppose, except by our own volition. One of our greater problems here is losing big companies that we would like to have because of our geographic location. It’s getting better than it used to be, but Houston is still a little bit out of the way for a big company which is traveling by, say, bus and traveling 100 miles or so a day in the East and finds cities of rather large size to play: Cincinnati and Columbus and Toledo and Akron. You can go from city to city and still have an engagement. When you get to this part of the country, you’ve got to travel a couple of hundred, 300, maybe 600 miles in between engagements. So with a big, big company, a ballet company like the Bolshoi, we find that they fly to Houston. In the case of the Bolshoi and several other big companies, they will fly from here to the West Coast because they simply can’t find bookings in Texas to sustain. They need more than 1 day. Moving a big company like the Bolshoi has to be for several performances. Cities around Houston are not large enough to support that. Curiously Dallas has not developed in the last 8 to 10 years as a major center for touring attractions. I don’t know why. They do have the Metropolitan Opera, but other than that, I can’t think of one major touring dance company or other large attraction that has played Dallas in the last 5 or 6 years. It makes it difficult for us. New Orleans does have a kind of history as a center for large companies. Frequently we find that a route is established to bring the companies to New Orleans and then to Houston and then from here on to the West Coast. That makes it difficult and sometimes a little bit more expensive because we know we’re bearing travel costs that a city that has another date within a 50-mile radius wouldn’t have to assume.

I: (31:10) While we’re on the subject of money, how important are contributions to the SPA, outside of tickets?

JB: They are absolutely critical. But happily we are not so heavily dependant upon contributions as other arts organizations that have the overhead of a 100-man symphony orchestra on a 52-week payroll. A symphony orchestra in this company could not, at the best of all possible conditions, earn more than 50%, I would say, of it’s total budget. It’s just physically impossible to play as many concerts as would be necessary to sell tickets to sustain it. We, because we don’t have a big continuing overhead—Our expenses are big when they happen, but when we’re not doing a presentation, they go way down with a very small permanent staff. Maybe you can see very cramped office quarters here. Because of that, we are able, if we are successful—Theoretically we could earn 100% of our budget and maybe a little bit more. We’ve never quite done that. We have been fortunate in earning almost every year for the last 5 years between 75% and 95% of our operating expenses. Each year, the balance obviously has to come from somewhere else. Contributed income is critical. We are members now of the combined arts corporate campaign, which provides us with something like $9000 to $12,000 per year. We are also solicited from private individuals, from our board of directors, from foundations, other grants and contributions. And this year, we haven’t done our audit yet. The year ended 2 days ago on June 30. I think we’re going to be in the black, but probably wouldn’t be in this current without some contributed income, although it will represent maybe 5-10% of our total budget. In other years, if we’re a little less successful, we might need 15%, 20%, 25% of our total budget in contributions. So they are very important to us, but fortunately we are not absolutely dependent upon them.

I: Are private donors or corporations or foundations the most used sources?

JB: (33:30) In our case, it is probably individual contributors whom we rely upon. Our board has been very generous to us—many members of our board—with substantial contributions each year or when needed. We have never been as successful as perhaps some other organizations in getting large corporate grants. In part I think it’s because of the nature of what we do. It is less easy for a big corporation to see the civic value of a company or organization whose basic business is bringing in artists from outside as it is to see a local ballet company, local symphony orchestra whose performing members are residents of the city of Houston. We have a slight disadavantage, I think, in attracting the kind of civic image that corporate support most easily is attracted to. We are fortunate to have a number of individual supporters who do see the fact that we are, in fact, a civic enterprise; we are doing something for this community despite the fact that we are bringing in artists from the outside. We’re bringing them for Houston, and they have been balanced more generously than corporations and foundations have been. But we have certainly relied upon all of them as well as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission of the Arts and Humanities from time to time for very necessary grants and contributions.

I: Would you care to credit your angels? Any particular ones?

JB: Well, not by name because I would omit somebody. I have handed you a souvenir book today which has several different lists in there, and I hope—We haven’t yet been made aware of an omission, but if I started naming people now from memory, I would certainly omit most probably our most important benefactor.

I: There is a certain hard core of contributors, I see—

JB: Yes. I would say so.

I: —who contribute to all of the arts, more or less.

JB: There are many people who are very generous to all of the arts; both the performing and the visual arts are very much in their contribution thoughts. We also have a few contributors who I think are probably more or less exclusive with the Society for the Performing Arts as each of the organizations does because they just happen to like what that organization does.

I: How serious are the scheduling conflicts in Jones Hall?

JB: They are of almost overpowering seriousness in the years that lie ahead of us. Heretofore, we have been able to work fairly successfully with them. Starting in the 1976-1977 season, however, because of the expansion and growth of the Houston Opera, because of the great expansion of the Houston Ballet, because of the fact that this one theatre is expected to be the principal house for opera, ballet, symphony, which has maintained its already very strong level of concerts, and because of our growth, I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to maintain the level of presentations that we have had of touring attractions in the past. There are plans underfoot, and I do hope they yield something productive very shortly, for building another theatre in Houston, which by 1978, 1979, or 1980 is going to be absolutely necessary. Our disadvantage, of course, in sharing dates with our fellow arts organization is that we are not able to commit ourselves for dates as far in advance as they are. The symphony, for example, knows in 1980, assuming they’re still in existence of course, as we all assume we will be—But they know that they will have an orchestra and they can play on these dates of the year. We don’t know what touring attraction or artist may be in available in 1980 on which specific date. So our competitors, if you wish to use that word, here in the hall who vie for space with us are able to make commitments much further ahead of time than we are and, therefore, leave use with the last option of picking up dates. And I’ve just been doing some booking for 1976-1977, trying to hold dates. From January through the middle of May 1977, there is not one date available to us in this hall. The only chances we have are occasionally when the opera is in the house. They’re not performing at all times. Some nights are dark, and we sometimes squeeze a recital in in front of their set. But we couldn’t do a dance company because their huge set is in place, and it’s economically and almost physically impossible to strike that set and put up one of our own, strike it, and put up the opera’s back in time.

I: (38:35) Do you meet with the other 3 cultural organizations to try to iron these difficulties out?

JB: We meet and we meet and we meet. I see their point of view. They’re not willing to forego their own growth and development simply on the chance that maybe SPA will find a major attraction to fill the date. We do meet, but we’ve almost reached the immovable object in the irresistible force, I think.

I: So it’s just a question of too many people and too little space basically?

JB: I think too much—Let’s not say too much because cultural growth is great. But more cultural growth than the existing theatrical facilities can accommodate in the next few years, yes, which dictates the need for a third—I say a third because we also use the music hall, which is part of the civic center, occasionally, and these are the only 2 theatres of sufficient size and equipment that most of our events could play in. There’s a need a for a third such facility. Perhaps not of identical size, but one that could house the opera and the ballet.

I: In the downtown area.

JB: I think so, yes, because I think it is critical to continue the development of this kind of thing downtown rather than putting it out in the suburbs. Already I think Houston downtown is suffering with the closing of the some of the big stores like Grant’s, the closing of the Rice Hotel, if indeed it is going to stay closed, and the construction of the theatre away from here, I think, would just be one more wedge into the deterioration of the downtown area.

I: Are there any plans for a new theatre?

JB: There are a lot of discussions going on. I am not aware of any firm and specific plans. I am told that there are donors here and there who would be willing to put up X amount of money. The organizations which use Jones Hall, the symphony, the opera, the ballet, and ourselves, have formed a study committee, which is looking into various possibilities, but I don’t know, unfortunately, of any very firm proposals at the present moment.

I: (40:42) On the positive side, do you ever have any joint ventures with the other 3 organizations? For example, would you bring a performer in, and then the next night he would solo with the symphony?

JB: We’ve never done that. We’ve talked about that, and I think both the symphony and we feel that in a city this size we would be mutually detrimental to try to play the same artist on the same occasion. We do have a sort of unspoken agreement with the symphony that certain soloists they have will play a recital with us in alternate years. André Watts is a good case in point. He played 2 recitals with us. In the intervening years, he’s played 2 subscription dates with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Certainly we have a number of cooperative ventures with them. I suppose you could call them cooperative. We recently engaged the Houston Symphony Orchestra for the ballet orchestra for American Ballet Theatre. In its first 3 seasons, we presented the Houston Ballet Company ourselves in our own series until it got so big and the season was so great that it just wasn’t practical any longer. Now, of course, they present themselves. We were the organization that first put the Houston Ballet with live music in the city of Houston by engaging the Houston Symphony Orchestra and the Houston Ballet together in 1971, I think it was; December 1971. We have had a number of joint promotions with the Houston Symphony and with the Houston Opera, which they have accorded us space in their season brochure to promote the appearance of, say, an opera star who is in vocal recital or an orchestra, in the case of the Houston Symphony. With the Houston Ballet, we’ve also traded promotional space in programs and that sort of thing. Sure, we work together as much as we can. We trade mailing lists. I think all of us use each other’s lists in our subscription campaigns. We need to work together more. I think there are all sorts of areas of further cooperation and maybe even consolidation of certain administrative services. We had been working for 5 years on something which is needed greatly in this building, which is a single ticket center so that audiences come to 1 place to buy tickets for anything that goes on in the hall. For reasons that are far too detailed to go into now, with everybody have the best of good will about it, it simply has not provide feasible from a basic economic standpoint. Believe it or not, our studies show that it would cost us more to sell tickets in 1 facility than it would cost us to sell them in 4 different facilities. I don’t know why, but that’s what the figures show. But I think someday we are going to have a joint ticket center. Certainly it is a public service that should be inaugurated, and we’re all for it if we can just figure out a way to do it.

I: (43:28) We’ve been asking you some fairly specific questions, but at this point in the interview, we’d just like to turn it over to you and ask you if there are any other areas concerning the SPA that you would like to comment on that we haven’t covered in the questions that you feel would be useful to anybody researching?

JB: Not really knowing the point of view that you were going to have when you came into the interview, I was not, in fact, able to develop any grand thoughts ahead of time, and to develop them right now in the spur of the moment is really very difficult. I’ve very impressed, actually, with the background of your questions. It seems to me that you have hit upon most of the important topics. One thing, I suppose, should be said is that an organization such as ours or a symphony or a ballet cannot and should not be expected to be self-supporting. There is just no way unless you’re going to price tickets totally beyond the reach of most of the people. Some of our prices, I think, have looked that way with a $25 top ticket price on our recent American Ballet Theatre engagement with Nureyev. At the same time, however, we had tickets for $2.50 and $3.50 also available, and we have always tried to develop a policy and maintain a policy that had a wide enough span of ticket prices so that no one was excluded by reason of not having the ticket price. I’m sure, for Nureyev, we could have upped the price and charged $25, $15, and $10 and probably still sold out this house and made a great deal more money on those performances. That would have been counter to our idea that within the limits we can live economically we ought not to squeeze every penny we can on a given attraction but make it available to the widest number of people. Therefore, we cannot, I think, be self-sustaining with this king of a policy. To an even greater extent, an opera company, a symphony orchestra cannot be self-sustaining because of their much higher continuing overhead, which leads to the point of where is the money going to come from. You’ve touched on contributions. The Ford Foundation has recently done a very comprehensive study of the finances of the performing arts in 2 volumes, which is right on the desk there, and their conclusions are that private contributions, both from individuals and foundations, are going to be nominally actually smaller but of course proportionally much smaller as arts budgets grow in the next decade. Their conclusion, as I read it anyway, is that corporations to a larger than they are now involved and more specifically government at all levels—federal, state, and local level—must come to see the arts as something essential to the wellbeing, to the quality of life of their given city, state, or nation. The US Conference of Mayors passed a resolution, which is only a resolution on paper, about a year ago which said that the arts must be viewed as essential city services, equivalent, let us say, to police protection or running water or sewers. And I think that the governments, especially locally governments because they are the only ones who can really see their own communities needs, have to be more responsive to the needs of the arts. Of course this is a fine time to say when New York City is going broke because it can’t even pick up the garbage and provide fire and police protection. Nonetheless, I think the arts still have to be regarded as equivalent to other basic physical services and supported accordingly.

I: (47:27) (inaudible)

JB: Thank you very much for your time and your questions, which I think have been very interesting and helped me crystallize my thoughts. Thank you.

I: On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, we want to thank you for your participation.

JB: I assure you—Let me ask you this question. What do you do with all this material once you have gathered it? That has been my—