News and Updates
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.



 
Intangible Assets
Friday, August 12, 2016 12:00 AM

Photo Credit: Tracy Kaufman

 

 
Last week, Director of Programs Ann Marie Lonsdale spoke at the Foundation Center about A.R.T./New York's programs as a part of their half-day event: No Business Like Show Business: The Care and Funding of Your Theatre Company. Here she shares her thoughts on the experience:

I got a chance to speak about A.R.T./New York and fundraising for the theatre at the Foundation Center last week. It's always a joy for me to get to talk about my favorite thing ever, arts service organizations, A.R.T./New York, and the supports we offer for our amazing members. 


I told the audience, who were all theatre and performance makers, that if there was one thing they could take away from my talk, it was this: support comes in many forms. 


We focus so much on cash grants, and rightly so. We have bills and people to pay, spaces to rent, designs to build , and we need money to do this. This is the reality of our industry. But what if we took a more expansive view? This doesn't just mean in-kind grants and donated services. Support can also take the form of information and learning through professional development, relationships with colleagues and peers that develop over time, or an enthusiastic audience member who acts as an advocate for your work.


It's so easy to slip into a scarcity mentality when it comes to securing support for our organizations. But when we redefine support to include these intangible assets, maybe we have more than we thought possible. 

 

 


 

 
Remembering Jim Houghton
Wednesday, August 03, 2016 12:00 AM

Credit: Gregory Costanzo

 

From A.R.T./New York Executive Director, Ginny Louloudes:

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Jim Houghton, the Founding Artistic Director of the Signature Theatre, is “kind.” The second is “visionary,” and the third is “Edward Albee” because his Albee season assured that attention would be paid to this brilliant, if not always understood, playwright.

 

Kindness

 

In 1991, the Signature invited the staff of A.R.T./New York to what may have been the second production of the Romulus Linney season. It was right before Christmas. I was about to get married and several staff members were preparing to travel home for the holidays. I asked our new intern, Jeff Goldman, to represent us at the show.

The next day Jeff came in raving about the Signature. He loved the production, but what I most remember is how appreciated he felt by Jim. “I can’t believe he was so nice to an intern!”

That was Jim. He was kind to everyone; it was one of his qualities I most admired. At Signature gatherings Jim would thank his colleagues, his friends, his consultants, his actors, designers, directors, and playwrights--especially his playwrights--for coming to the Signature, for giving of their time or their talent. Then he would give an equally passionate thank you to his donors and his Board for their incredible support. Jim’s kindness brought out the best in all who knew him and it was instrumental in his personal and professional success.

I cannot write about Jim without mentioning the loves of his life, his wife Joyce, his daughter Lily, and his son Henry. When he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Obie, he thanked Joyce for her loving support. More recently, on the CaringBridge blog site, he wrote about the ways Joyce took care of him. Joyce wrote about finding simple pleasures, be it a massage or watching the sun set while listening to their nephew play his keyboard for Jim. Last week she wrote that Jim had sent her flowers to say thank you.

Love is love is love is love.

Visionary

In 1991, it was pretty bold and visionary to produce the work of one playwright for a season. On the Signature’s website it says that Jim’s experience with Mr. Linney in the rehearsal process convinced him that living playwrights should be more involved in the production of their plays than was common in the American theatre. Following the Romulus Linney season at Signature, Mr. Linney won an Obie for Sustained Achievement in Playwriting; other awards, prizes, and publications would follow.

The Signature’s mission was visionary. And so was Jim’s vision of what the Signature Theatre could be, not only for playwrights, but for all artists, members of the theatre community, and audience members. From their humble beginnings on Bond Street, the company moved to a permanent home at West 42nd Street and 11th Avenue (the current home of The Pearl Theatre Company) where they re-introduced audiences to the works of many living playwrights: Adrienne Kennedy, Horton Foote, John Guare, Maria Irene Fornés, Bill Irwin, Paula Vogel, Athol Fugard, and Arthur Miller to name just a few. Several years ago, the Signature initiated the $25 Signature Ticket Initiative, which has succeeded in growing and diversifying its audience.

While he continued to work with some of the finest playwrights of the 20th Century, Jim also began to develop a vision for the 21st Century: a Signature Theatre Center where several playwrights could be in residence at the same time and discuss their work over drinks at a café. In January 2012, The Pershing Square Signature Center opened on West 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue with three theatres of different sizes and configurations, rehearsal studios, a bookstore, and a café which has become a sort of Starbucks for artists.

Edward Albee

In 1993, Jim convinced Edward Albee to be the company’s playwright-in-residence for their third season. Albee hadn’t been produced in New York City for many years, and was flattered by Jim’s request. The Edward Albee season, which featured Marriage Play, Counting the Ways, Listening, The Sandbox, Finding the Sun, and Fragments, brought much more attention to this small but bold company. That same season the Vineyard Theatre produced Albee’s newest piece, Three Tall Women, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Albee was suddenly the talk of the town.

I remember when we invited Jim to come and speak to our Board about the Albee season and how kind he was when a few Board Members asked if he could join us for a drink, which he did. It wasn’t long after that he was asked to join the A.R.T./New York Board. During his tenure, he was all that one could hope a Board Member to be: wise, caring, generous, and thoughtful.

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Houghton started the Signature as many of our members do: with a tiny budget, no permanent home, and no office. Through his kindness, a clear vision, and his unwavering support of the playwright, he transformed the notion of what a theatre company could do. Jim introduced us to many playwrights and produced dozens of their plays. In doing so, he not only enriched our community, but the American theatre as well. And in these same 25 years, he remained a devoted husband and father.

All of us at A.R.T./New York extend our deepest condolences to Joyce, Lily, and Henry. In honor of Jim, I respectfully ask that all A.R.T./New York members who are producing a play on Thursday, August 4th dim their lights in his honor.

 

In lieu of flowers, James Houghton's family asks that donations be made to AfterWork Theater and Daniel’s Music, two organizations that helped his son Henry’s life.

 
Details of a public memorial will be made available in the coming weeks. Go to Signature Theatre's website for more information.

 

 


 

 
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