News and Updates
How Did I Get Here, and Where Are We Going?
Monday, September 19, 2016 12:00 AM

 

A.R.T./New York Staff on a tour of the theatres under construction 

 

By Kendra Ramthun, General Manager of the A.R.T./New York Theatres


I am super excited to be taking the "pen" this week to share a little about the A.R.T./New York Theatres -- the part of the journey I have been lucky to experience so far and the exciting things to come.

My connection to the A.R.T./New York Theatres began even before I began working here. Like many of our members, I attended a tour of the construction site in October 2015 and could already sense how amazing and absolutely necessary these theatres are to the nonprofit theatrical community in NYC.  

For the previous seven years, I had worked at several Off-Broadway theatre companies who were fortunate to have their own buildings. In my general management positions with these companies, I handled rental inquiries in addition to working on the company’s own productions. I quickly learned that one of the first things to determine with rental inquiries was whether the spaces we had fit within the budget parameters of the company inquiring. For many smaller companies, the spaces were simply beyond their budget.  Both of the buildings I worked at are new-ish, modern facilities with lots to offer, but the rental costs necessarily had to be high because the overhead costs and labor to support the rental’s needs were high.

On the A.R.T./New York Theatres tour last October, I learned that A.R.T./New York had initiated a campaign specifically to be able to subsidize the rental costs for its members with budgets under $1 million. This. Is. Amazing. Think about it -- a company deciding to raise millions of dollars to build two theatres for the benefit of its members, and then deciding to go further to raise even more money to directly reduce member costs to use the theatres so they can invest more in the art -- this is HUGE.

Shortly after the tour, I was invited to serve on the panel to select the very first Rental Subsidy grant recipients. Of course I said yes! What a great opportunity to understand firsthand what the A.R.T./New York theatres will enable its members to accomplish. The experience confirmed for me that YES, I want to be involved with opening these theatres and creating this program. And evidently, I was able to successfully demonstrate this desire in my job application and interview!

Fast forward to February 2016 - I became a full-time employee of A.R.T./New York and eagerly jumped in.

On the construction front, I have been learning everything from building code and required permits to how exactly every single door in the building was designed to keep the performance space quiet. Good thing I enjoy learning!  This involvement with the construction team has enabled me to make direct contributions to how the building will ultimately function.  It has also helped the construction team to understand how the building needs to function to support theatrical productions and the creativity and needs of our members.

On my frequent visits to the theatres, it is incredibly exciting to see the progress being made. One day I'll discover that the stairs to the Gural booth have been installed and get to be one of the first people to walk up them. And on another, that the pipe grid has been installed or a wall that didn't exist yesterday is now there today. It's like finding Waldo on every visit.

On the operations front, I have the amazing opportunity to fine-tune how the theatres will function on a day-to-day basis and guide organizational efforts towards the opening in November and the start of operations. This process first began as a major brainstorming session. How will companies be scheduled for dates? What needs to be decided and included in a rental contract? What staffing and resources are needed to support rentals onsite? What is the A.R.T./New York experience we want our members and their audiences to have when walking in the door? What do we need to purchase and how much (gasp) is it going to cost? And most importantly, how can we maximize the benefits of these theatres for our members while creating a sustainable structure for years to come?

These brainstorms (and many others) formed the basis of our Critical Path for these past six months. Working with my talented A.R.T./New York colleagues, we fleshed out all of the steps necessary for each area and determined when each step would happen. We review our progress in regular meetings and continually refine our timeline and priorities. Once operations begin, our focus will shift from creating into doing.  We will see how the policies and best assumptions we made work in actuality, and we'll continue to learn and revise as we go.

So where are we going?  Any day now, permanent power will be turned on in the building. In the next two weeks, the seating platforms and chairs will be delivered and the elevator work will be completed. Next month, the glass entrance will be installed, millwork and finishes will be put in and inspections will begin. In two short months, we will welcome the first company into the Gural.  By June of 2017 we will have hosted a dozen productions by our member theatres.  And then it will be time for a vacation!

  

 


 

 

 


 

 
The First Season at the A.R.T./New York Theatres
Wednesday, September 07, 2016 12:00 AM

 

A panoramic view of the Mezzanine Theatre under construction. Photo Credit: Kendra Ramthun 

 

A.R.T./New York is excited to announce that in late November 2016 we will open the A.R.T./New York Theatres, two affordable, state-of-the-art performance spaces located at 502 West 53rd Street – designed by award-winning architect Toshiko Mori. The Rental Subsidy grant program and peer review process aim to provide a transparent and equitable means to share this resource among our members. 21 companies have been selected to received subsidized rentals as a part of the inaugural season:

 
 

  

The A.R.T./New York Theatres will be modern and highly flexible spaces, with sophisticated technical equipment included in the weekly subsidized rental rates. Unlike 80 other small performance spaces that have been closed by their landlords over the past 15 years, the A.R.T./New York Theatres are protected by City covenants and will be reserved for nonprofit theatre use under the terms of its lease. 

Nicholas Viselli, Artistic Director of Theater Breaking Through Barriers, said, “TBTB is elated to be one of the first companies selected to perform at the A.R.T./New York Theatres in 2017. Finding affordable performance space in Manhattan has always been a challenge, but finding space that is both affordable and fully accessible to both artists and audiences with disabilities is far more difficult. A.R.T./New York has managed to solve both issues by creating a modern, state-of-the-art facility. This subsidized space is invaluable because it will allow us to channel funds normally spent on rent and utilities, directly back into the company itself, allowing us to hire more artists, grow our infrastructure and develop more work.”  

It's an exciting time at A.R.T./New York as we prepare to open the A.R.T./New York Theatres and embark on new ways of serving our members. You can learn more about the facilities on our website, and in the coming weeks we'll be updating the show calendar as our Rental Subsidy grantees announce their shows.

 


 

 

 


 

 
Questions Considered - When Will Things Return To Normal?
Tuesday, August 23, 2016 12:00 AM

 

QUESTIONS CONSIDERED

ARTS Action Research

 

When will things return to normal?

 

Of late we hear a lot of theatre professionals invoking the word normal – as noun, verb, adjective, desire, but mostly as missing. This invocation of normal suggests a longing for a time and conditions ruled by consistency, a degree of predictability and maybe a little less stress. Of course normal is relative to each theatre’s condition and situation even though all are referencing pretty much the same external social, economic, and political environment. But the reality today is that the dynamism of all external conditions grows more and more volatile and unpredictable. It appears now that the new normal is no normal.

Among other things the absence of normal means that the practice of referencing external conditions and best practices for internal organizational cues and direction falls flat. Looking backwards to go forward is not only counter-intuitive but increasingly counter-productive. We believe that the most effective response to this evolving situation is for theatre professionals to reframe thinking and begin referencing internal needs, capacities and possibilities to external conditions. We refer to this as adopting a Critical Consciousness, described in the following excerpt from AAR’s Special Report Emerging Narratives in the Arts

Critical Consciousness: Gaining Insight. It is said that hindsight is 20/20; it can be informative, ironic and sometimes painful.  Unfortunately, when used in linear planning and problem solving, hindsight rarely does more than project the immediate past onto the future.  Insight is a more complex, multi-dimensional view of one’s current and evolving realities. Insight comes from connecting the dots – values, ideas, relationships, opportunities and possibilities. Critical consciousness is how arts professionals gain the insight to drive effective change from within.  It is the result of three complementary and interacting components:

Whole systems thinking – instead of attempting to make sense of the whole by focusing on the discrete parts, whole systems thinking focuses on the relationships between parts that generate the dynamics of the whole.

Replacing Absolute with Relative – the capacity of professional leadership to define operating balance as a relative rather than absolute state, accessing the positive, proactive tension between stasis and action.

Proactive referencing – when leadership stops referencing external demands (expectations, directives, convention, regulations) to internal variables and instead references internal needs and capacities to external variables. 

 

Keen Company, one of the Tier 3 theatres with which we work in A.R.T./New York’s Harold and Mimi Steinberg Theatre Leadership Program, represents a good example of Critical Consciousness. Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein succeeded founding director Carl Forsman at the helm of Keen Company when Carl became Dean of the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Jonathan inherited a fairly traditional theatre structure that had worked well for more than a decade. But he stepped into this new role as the country was emerging from the Great Recession and the theatre landscape was evolving in confusing and unrecognizable ways. Everything from funding patterns and priorities to the competing demands for board member’s attention to finding qualified administrative staff had shifted. Nothing suggested that this new landscape would find its way back to a more traditional or normal place.

Like many other theatre leaders Jonathan looked for clues and cues about responding to this shifting landscape among peer theatres, from the funding community, and in how his predecessor had made it all work. All of this fueled his wondering what he was doing wrong. A watershed moment for Jonathan occurred when I asserted that perhaps he wasn’t doing things wrong, he just wasn’t doing things differently. In a dramatically changing environment Jonathan needed to adopt a different mindset, a critical consciousness.

A first important step in this process was understanding that, while he was focusing intently on what wasn’t working well, something with Keen Company was working very well – the work and his artistic process. The work of Keen Company and its operations are part of a whole system. So, rather than separating and focusing on a component that doesn’t work, he began to focus on what was working, understanding why it was working and allowing the whole system to benefit from that strength. Jonathan quickly observed that what works best and most consistently is his rehearsal process. He has tremendous confidence in casting an effective ensemble and creating a rehearsal environment, protocols, support systems, and problem-solving capacity that result in an excellent product on stage. Jonathan also noted that he always found surprising strengths and synergies in the collaborations he devises in rehearsal, often among actors and crew who had never worked together before. Clearly the way forward for Jonathan and Keen Company was not looking backward or outward but building on the insights provided by known, available, and proven processes.

The result of Jonathan’s critical consciousness is Team Keen.  Team Keen is Jonathan’s approach to sharing responsibilities among a ‘cast’ of team members. As opposed to a traditional top down management style, Jonathan casts administrative roles specifically designed for each team member.  All have distinct responsibilities while lending support in other areas as needed, much like his rehearsal process. As in the rehearsal process, Jonathan invests deeply in collaboration and consensus and leads by providing direction while simultaneously assisting with problem identification and finding solutions. Jonathan notes, “while looking outside to hire a white knight who could solve all our problems, I suddenly discovered these creative, resourceful and proactive collaborators in the office around me. It made me realize that the two worlds – office and rehearsal – were not as far apart as I thought.” According to Jonathan, the implementation of Team Keen has energized both his team and himself. Referencing his own artistic process across programming and operating disciplines has also helped his board better understand and respect the complexity, effectiveness and efficiencies of this dynamic theatre’s working processes. 


Do you have questions in your organization or work that you would like to work with ARTS Action Research to explore and understand?  AAR Associates are available to A.R.T./New York members throughout the year, conducting Nancy Quinn Program workshops and providing one on one consulting support through the Theatre Leadership Program. For more information about these programs, contact Ann Marie Lonsdale at A.R.T./New York.



 
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