Hoots! Fine Storytelling is in the Details and Description.

On February 7, Peter Dobrin wrote a feature on the Opera Company of
Philadelphia, and its recent financial and artistic successes
. In this
feature, Dobrin (above left with Simon Rattle, via facebook), who is one of the few arts reporters in the Philadelphia region who writes about fiscal matters (see his work on the Philadelphia Orchestra), digs in to the reasons that the Opera Company has become a hit with subscribers and has gotten its financial house in order.

This kind of coverage – a look at how a Philadelphia arts organization became forward-thinking in a time of economic crisis – is all too rare in the region. The Opera Company did have to lay off staff, but Dobrin writes that it managed to juggle its budget so that it is $1 million ahead, and now will use income from next season’s ticket sales to help fund next season. Usually, arts organizations (including some of those with which I’ve personally worked) operate in a much more hand-to-mouth manner. This budget change sets up the Opera Company for greater fiscal stability than one would normally expect, and should serve as a model for how producing and performing arts organizations in Philadelphia can improve their situations.

As a classical music critic, Dobrin also attends to the artistic endeavors of the Opera Company. Of particular note is the organization’s willingness to take artistic risks, highlighted in Dobrin’s article with the detail that the Opera Company has a 200-person waiting list for season tickets to its “boutique series of edgier, more specialized works.” This demand undermines the presumption that subscriber bases want works they know and love. Philadelphia does in fact have a large class of culturally curious people who want to explore innovative, boundary-pushing works.

Dobrin also gives an overview of the recent and upcoming work from the Opera Company, to give some context for where the organization is headed artistically. Here is the one quibble that I have with the piece though: I know little about opera, and Dobrin assumes that readers will be somewhat familiar with the major works he cites. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, people who are familiar with the works won’t want a summary of Otello or Tosca, and treating readers as if they’re smart is refreshing – especially compared to some of the other so-called “cultural” pieces the Inquirer runs (I’m looking at you, Lisa Scottoline’s “Chick Wit”).

– Nick Gilewicz

My Hoot for this week is this column from Daily News columnist Rich Hoffman about the death of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters and how it may have led to the National Football League’s increased awareness regarding concussions among NFL players.

There were a few things that I liked about this piece. One was Hoffman’s use of imaging. He describes the place where Waters is buried in a way that really takes you there. You can see the farms. You can see the smoke rising. You can see the graveyard itself. The picture forms in your head thanks to the descriptive words that he uses.

I also liked Hoffman’s inclusion of the woman who ran the cemetery, a woman who as it turned out was a classmate of Waters, who committed suicide in 2006. Her recollections of him humanized the piece in a way that made this piece safe for people who are not the most  feral Eagles fans to pay attention. Since I’m a fan of the Oakland Raiders, I have to include myself in this group.

Another thing that made this piece a good read for me was that Hoffman kept it simple. He explained the concussion issue, who was talking about it, who was researching it, and how that all connected to Waters and his death in a way that made it easy to follow. I have read a lot of stories on the concussion issue in the NFL and not all of them, especially the columnists, have been able to do that.

– Denise Clay

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