Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sustainable Resolutions

It’s been just over a year since we had our first meeting about our Think It! Grant. Today is my last day in the office for 2010 and I’ve spent it looking over the notes from those meetings as well as from our three sustainability summits.
At Childsplay, we will begin our 2011/2012 season planning in earnest next month. With that comes the opportunity to start laying the groundwork for some of the organizational changes we have been talking about throughout this past year.
So, in the spirit of the season, I present to you my Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions for 2011!
·         Encourage our artistic director to hire teams of designers that work on at least two shows within the season to see if each production can share resources.
o   Many theatres have been doing this already to address financial concerns. But a great side effect is that you may be reusing certain units between shows.
·         Challenge our designers to think about sustainability when designing.
o   As we noted in our post from this past May, designers thought differently about what they would design when challenged to “make it sustainable.” Of course, we are going to have to be more specific than that when we try to do this for real.
·         Include production staff in design meetings from the very beginning.
o   Not surprisingly, communication emerged as an essential component to creating more environmentally conscious scenery. I will venture to have our TD work along with the director and designer beginning at the very first meeting.
·         Ensure all metals used in scenery get recycled.
o   This really is a no-brainer. It will cost a bit more to make this happen, but certainly the price is nothing next to the cost of continuing to dump metal into the ground.
·         Be proactive in trying to find a taker for our used scenery before strike.
To be fair, I've tried this before without much luck. But I will keep trying!
Do you have any resolutions for your organization? Let us know in the comments!

- Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Two topics from Northlight: Attendance & Flip Cams

Attendance for non-audition-based after-school programs is tough to control. We did ask the students (and their parents) to sign a contract that laid out the policies for participation, and everyone signed and returned it, but…well, homework, and sickness, and holidays and suddenly we were averaging 16 out of 25 kids each week.  We came up with a bunch of ideas to address the issue, but the principal offered up what I think was the best approach.  Before the winter break, he talked individually to every student who had missed a day and asked in person for their commitment to NOC. Amazing!  Thanks to those one-on-one conversations, most students reinforced their committment pledging not to miss anymore, and we had only 2 students drop out of the program.  So, we are now 23 strong.  I hope that we can hold at that number.  Attendance is a problem we face over and over again with after-school programs.  I’m curious how other theatres combat the problem.  Ultimately, since we do not give out grades, what’s the worse that could happen by not attending? The student is asked to leave the program?  Then, they just have more unstructured free time, and we don’t want that.  Kids can call our bluff on this issue.  So, we will see how it goes when we return after the break.

Switching topics…
I discovered the Flip Cam granting program, and it rocks.  For non-profit organizations, you can apply to get a 2 for 1 deal on Flip Cams at
This is going to allow us to have twice as many cameras for documenting the program than we originally anticipated.  This is great news on so many levels.  We can document class work from different POVs, and keep cameras both at the theatre to record discussions and student matinees, and at the school.  It is exciting, and we doubled our money.  Check it out.

Integrating space, programs, and people

The Pillsbury House Neighborhood Center is a three-story cinderblock building on the edge of the Central and Powderhorn neighborhoods in Minneapolis. The main lobby is big and open to the public outside through the two-story high wall of windows that faces the street—except for the fact that there are three foot wide concrete pillars in front of the windows. The whole thing gives the impression of a party hidden inside a Soviet post office.

When you enter, you can see into the Day Care on your right where we serve anywhere from 12-20 kids five days a week. Then, through the atrium, there’s a lobby with couches and tables and even trees, and a front desk at which people sign in. If you didn’t know, you probably wouldn’t guess that through the door to the left of receptionist is a wide, 96 seat theatre with ample (for a small theatre) backstage area and a dressing room. Now that I’m trying to describe it for you, I realize, that the entire building, like the programs inside it, are secrets inside secrets. Cool secrets, but unfortunately, still secrets.

Upstairs on the second floor is a wide open banquet-area, an industrial strength kitchen, two reading rooms and libraries, an art studio, a teen lounge and even—though few people know it—a pottery studio. On the third floor is the integrated free health clinic (every Wednesday and Saturday you can get acupuncture and massage); the open computer lab, and lots of offices. Right now, I bemoan the fact that we don’t have any old theatre posters on the walls.

In years past, the theatre was housed in a special section on the third floor, isolated from the rest of the activity but now the theatre offices are right between the elevator and the computer lab, meaning that it is likely I will be interrupted while typing this by someone who needs help opening up a word processor program and printing their resume. I probably like it better this way—though I wasn’t around before.

I mention all of this because two weeks ago the entire staff of the building participated in the first two 4 hour sessions of our Cultural Community Hub Institute. It was fascinating and probably a shock to many people who have been around this building longer than I have, to sit in a circle with the 25-30 full-time staff members and suddenly realize that we’re all working on this together, we’re all in this neighborhood together and there’s a lot we can accomplish together. In the past, I think, the theatre staff at its largest was maybe 8 people; it was a small scrappy theatre and proud of the incredibly high-quality we could manage with what we had. But now we’re a theatre and a neighborhood center and a cultural community hub—and we’re still trying to figure out what that means. We’ve got another two Institute meetings scheduled for mid-January—and I think the size and scope of the enterprise, and the quality of the participants, was perhaps the most important lesson of the recent Institute.

Also, I should say, it was fascinating and important to share stories with people who have come from different backgrounds but wound up in this same place. Turns out that everyone—from Day Care workers to social service agents—value art in their life. It just hadn’t occurred to them before that art could also be an effective part of their work life and not just their hobby life. We’ll see how these revelations develop in January.

But, worth noting, if you’re ever in Minneapolis and need a bicycle to get around (it is officially the most bicycling city in the U.S. after all), make sure you visit our bike shop Full Cycle, which restores used bikes and sells them all while providing job skills and life training to homeless teens. When I took this job, I didn’t even know that we did that.

Every day here is really a trip.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Are You Ready?

Discussion with Project Advisor Terry Wolverton, Faculty Supervisor for Claremont Arts Management Graduate Program

One of our project advisors on this journey is Claremont Graduate School here in California. Claremont has a Masters of Arts in Arts Management, which “blends the best of the renowned Drucker School of Management and the School of Arts and Humanities to balance business courses with advanced cultural studies. Cultural institutions in the profit and nonprofit sector are seeking capable managers with an understanding of the arts and business to head museums, theatre and dance companies, cultural centers, music and arts education organizations, and to advocate for the future of the arts.”

During the last year in the program, students must complete a capstone project—An Arts Management Consulting Practicum and Final Report. It is approximately a 100 hours semester-long project culminating in a formal consulting report. The required deliverables are status reports during the semester, a final written report plus a final presentation to the organization attended by the faculty supervisor of the student’s consulting project.

The Arts Management department will assist in partnering students with a local art or cultural nonprofit organization. Students are partnered according to their professional backgrounds and interests if possible.

Sample consulting projects can be found here.

When I was listening to Terry speak about the culminating experience for Claremont arts management graduate students I could not help but hearken back to my theatre management graduate days which were not so long ago. I had to ask the question: would I have been ready for this experience at the end of my program? It was a real eye opening question because I would have, honestly, had to say no. I still needed a critical internship experience bridging school to real world theatre work in order to apply all of my school lessons to everyday occurrences. What do you all think? Are you ready? In what ways are graduate level students ready for a consultant project in various arts organizations? What do they still have to learn? Or considering the caliber and experience of the Claremont Arts Management students does it really depend on the student?

Next Steps: More insights from our other project advisors!

Patricia Garza
Center Theatre Group
Department Manager
Education and Community Partnerships

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Importance of Prototyping

While building strategy for our online video push something glaring has occurred to me: it's way easier to attract partners for a project when you've already got something to show off.

Me: Hey man, we're launching a really exciting project that'll see us produce and upload dozens of videos over the next 18 months. Wanna talk about how you can be a part of this?

Random suit: (no response)

Me: Hey man, we're launching a really exciting project online and we'd love to have you involved. Wanna see some examples of what we've done so far?

Random suit: Let's take a look.

In the end I guess what I'm saying is that prototyping is an important phase in the development of any new project, not just because it's a time to work out the kinks before the actual launch, but because it can provide materials necessary for attracting the right kind of partners. I mean, to be perfectly honest, I don't know that I'd want to work with someone who would jump onboard without seeing the goods.

It'd be like jumping in the sack with someone who you've only ever talked on the phone with. Not a good idea if you take your love life seriously at all. Which is why I'm posting a naked picture of myself below. Have sexy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A new gear in the new year

So, while I missed the once-a-month deadline for posting on this blog on behalf of Pillsbury House Theatre by one day, my excuse is simply that there are so many things happening in this building right now that I’m having trouble keeping track of them all. I started as Communications Director here on July 11, but it feels like it might as well have been yesterday.

Right now, the hallway where I work is finally quiet because all our artists and artistic directors are in a rehearsal room working on a new play workshop in partnership the Guthrie Theatre. Over the course of the next three weeks, we’ll be having three more new play development workshops and readings. Tonight, we open our NAKED STAGES performance series, the culmination of a 7 month development fellowship for emerging performance artists. Last month, we produced the second 2010 CHICAGO AVENUE PROJECT where star local artists (including Minnesota local boy made good Josh Hartnett) team up with neighborhood kids to make plays, and we flew in performance poets and singers from New York to share the stage with underground hip-hop artists and dancers from Minnesota for our LATE NITE SERIES. Then, there’s our “regular” mainstage performances (anything but regular) and preparing our 2011 season—we’ll be producing the area of premiere of Tarell McCraney’s IN THE RED AND BROWN WATER, and our first show of the season, BROKE-OLOGY, will be entirely “Pay What You Can,” meaning that all our audience members will be picking their own ticket prices for the entire run of the show.

Regardless, I resolve to make up for my blogging omissions in December. Consider it an early New Year’s resolution.

The thing is that all the projects I listed above don’t even include the main reason I took on this job as well as the reason for the “Think It, Do It” grant: The integration of the theatre with the Settlement House/Neighborhood Center in which the theatre is housed. Every week I’m involved in conversations with Day Care workers and After School program staff and resident artists and others about how precisely we can integrate the arts into everything we do with and for the neighborhood.

Needless to say that we haven’t figured it all out yet, but we’re getting ready to shift into another gear. After months of planning we’ll be starting our Cultural Community Hub Institute, led by community arts consultants Bill Cleveland and Eric Takeshita and Macalester Professor Harry Waters, Jr., in mid-December. Every employee in the building, from the HIV outreach workers to the professional puppeteer, will be in the same room, asking the same questions, and working toward the most creative, innovative answers possible.

I’ll let you know what happens. Promise.

Don't Look At Me

Curious is Think-Itting on a new model for resident artistic company.

Part of our research includes visits to 5 different theatres.

While there's still one company we hope to visit that we've not yet managed to make a good connection with, travel is already underway.

Curious Founders Chip Walton (our AD) and Dee Covington (Education Director) recently visited Steppenwolf, conducting video interviews with Martha Lavey and David Hawkanson.

In January, John Jurcheck will visit Portland's Artists' Rep; Christy Montour-Larson will hang with The Civilians; and I'll go to Trinity Rep.

We wanted a diverse representation of region, longevity and size of company and focus of work.

One theater we queried was in flux and not ready to have us poking about in their company.

Which I can understand. As we've poked about at our own company, shifting our conversations from art to an omphaloskeptical investigation of the Company itself, there's been a lot of emotional agitation.

As we've encouraged each other to be courageous and call out what's not working, we've brought to the surface these feelings of dissatisfaction. Positive, I think. But most of these issues can't be addressed this season. So we steep. And not all of us are feeling okay with that.

On a recent visit, Susie Medak (Managing Director of Berkeley Rep) told us she sees it as part of her job to push staff out of their comfort zone.


Now what?

What are your experiences of organizational change?

Mare Trevathan

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Launching Northlight On Campus with a Supportive Faculty

Our after-school portion of the Northlight On Campus (NOC) collaboration with Fairview South School in Skokie started on Monday, Nov. 15 with 25 students participating.  We are offering the program on Monday afternoons which is lovely because it’s the early release day for students.  This means that (1) there are no other after-school activities that day, and (2) teachers are required to stay on campus that afternoon. So, we are in a position to have the undivided attention of our students, and the ability to have teachers drop in and visit us.

A bit of background on the program: We wanted to give an underserved suburban school free theatre programming that would impact every student in grades 6-8 over the course of 2 years on campus.  The reality of Fairview’s situation – and it is a common reality for a number of junior high and middle schools in our area – is that the school has not had any theatre programming for students in over 15 years.  Also, their students filter into a high school with a very strong theatre program, so their 8th graders are arriving as freshmen unprepared.  We wanted to make sure that there was exposure to professional theatre and opportunities for students to get involved in theatre arts on campus.

Off the bat, what surprised me about Fairview was the interest of the teachers.  I met with five teachers and the principal before we started the program, and they were all encouraging of our collaboration.  They asked how they could get involved and if they could observe our teaching artists to learn from their work. The level of kindness and curiosity on the part of the faculty is humbling. We are forging important relationships not just with the students, but with the faculty, and that is incredibly rewarding.  We had three teachers and the principal observe the first day of NOC.  It was the best kind of observation.  They were there to encourage and support the students.  The teachers proudly pointed out students who needed this outlet for their creativity. I did not anticipate that the lack of theatre programming had not only been impacting the students but the teachers as well.

I look forward to seeing how this relationship develops with such engaged teachers.  It has become a new goal to create more opportunities for teachers to get involved in our programming.  I have not worked with a school where so many faculty members are eager to collaborate with us, so I want to make sure we seize this opportunity.  

Monday, November 29, 2010


More than once this holiday weekend I winced at the cynical attitude toward new work floating around online, theater critics and award panelists shrugging and declaring a dearth of good new writing. The promotion of adventurous new work has ever been an uphill battle, an achingly familiar topic of countless conference break-out sessions and drunken rants at the corner bar but this is a weekend of thanksgiving, and to contradict the crossed-arm nay-sayers I feel an itch to write that there's much to be thankful for, and tops on my list is working with Clubbed Thumb on SuperLab, which is now up and running and hitting its stride.

SuperLab got some attention in the press a few weeks back, which is nice, but what wasn't really acknowledged is what makes this lab series particular -- what makes it, ahem, super. I mean, theaters develop new plays all the time, and separately from one another Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons produce more developmental workshops than we do together. What makes this program new is the way it strengthens the relationship between two theaters who share artistic values and a devotion to advocating new American work, but who far from share a budget category or an infrastructure. Maria Striar has eloquently compared us to the "ibis and the hippopotamus," a symbiotic relationship found between two totally divergent animals. I feel like this collaboration highlights a functional pattern in our theater ecology: a theater dubbed "downtowny" and a theater dubbed "uptowny" sharing notes and working toward the same goal.

Perhaps the mindmeld that Maria and I have developed is reflected in the fact that we never once discussed that SuperLab is a writer-driven program; we both assumed it would be so. Each step of the way, we're taking our cue from writers, shaping each lab around the moment-by-moment needs of a writer's process. At the completion of our first SuperLab, Madeleine George's play SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND, I left with a stride in my step. Maria's blog entry describes the work we did in the room, to which I would only add that part of the success of this first go, in addition to seeing sharp, lovely play get even sharper, lovelier, we saw a great alchemy take shape between two theaters. This collaboration can only fly thanks to our staffs working side by side: Alec Strum and Kelly Hires from the PH literary department; Lisa Donadio and Alaine Alldaffer from the PH casting department; Diana Konopka, Maria's cohort and left brain at CT; and Sarah Krohn, who's helping with casting on CT's end. We're also blessed with Ann Thayer, SuperLab's Project, tirelessly acting as the liaison between both companies and each creative team.

In the last month, we programmed our next three labs. In December, we'll be spending time with Andrew Dolan's play THE MANY MISTRESSES OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, directed by Hal Brooks, and also Janine Nabers's play ANNIE BOSH IS MISSING, directed by Davis McCallum. In January, it's David Adjmi's 3C, directed by Jackson Gay. As I type this, we're in the middle of casting and designing these labs.

For these people, for these plays, I'm thankful.
--Adam Greenfield

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Back from the road

Well I just got back from the first ever Dad's Garage Euro Tour. The show, Kill The Dog, was running simultaneously in Atlanta and on the road. It was a wonderfully successful tour (you always know it was a good outing when you can gather up a handful of invitations to more festivals for next year) and it got me thinking about our online project.

Kill the Dog

Whenever we tour it's like we get this brief window of opportunity to connect with other artists and companies and audiences, and then it's over. The room for deepening those relationships is narrow. Our online presence should be seen not only as a tool for cultivating our own audiences at home, or recognition of our company nationally, but also as a means of maintaining a connection with all of the wonderful folks we meet on the road.

I'm not sure exactly how we can make sure that our online content is getting seen by these people, that's something to keep musing on. But it struck me that we now have a way of exposing our international colleagues to a much larger slice of our work and that interaction should only lead to stronger relationships.

Musings from Project Coordinator Ming Lo...

Our endeavor is to determine whether it makes sense to set up an Asian talent agency in Los Angeles.  To that end, we are interviewing people in the industry, both one-on-one and in groups.  Truth be told, all projects want to morph and expand.  Human nature can’t resist diving into nooks or crannies, or jumping onto another path that might be a bright new idea.  And in fact, the brainstorming, the new ideas, are a critical part of the process – I mean, there might be a gem of an idea lurking in some dark corner.  Still, the challenge is to always ask, “Is this useful?  Does this take us in the right direction, toward answering our original question?”

For example, the original idea was to determine whether it made sense to set up an Asian agency.  Then there was the thought, “Perhaps we should really be setting up a management company,” which is a very valid question.  Then we had a focus group conference call, and another idea came up – “Why don’t we set up a national online database for Asian actors that acts as agent for such actors across the country?”  Both very good ideas.  But now the execution problem.  If you think about it, this is actually three different business plans, three different business models. There’s some overlap between the agency and the management company ideas, but that would mean running two different financial models.  And the national online database is an altogether different animal.  Don’t have time to run three financial models.  But, you still have to make some effort to answer the question.  Hmm… perhaps we run three very rough models, not as much detail in each.  But that would be very back-of-the-envelope, and would the back-of-the-envelope be accurate enough to be useful?  Okay, that falls into the TBD pile.  Also known as, Tune in Later To Find Out. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Austin Scenic Coop Forging Links

Austin Scenic Coop Forging Links:

New Works Community, Mellon Foundation, Sustainable Theater Project

The last month or so has brought some exciting news. A coalition of Austin theater groups and artists has formed to carry out a research and development project very similar to the one the ASC is engaged in with TCG support. Its aim is to determine the best means by which the Mellon Foundation can support the production of new work in Austin. The Scenic Coop is participating in this effort.

Some background: last year the Mellon Foundation contacted members of the Austin theater community with a suggestion. They had identified Austin as one of three cities known as an incubator of new work (not an exhaustive list by any means, just three smaller scenes with that reputation), and wanted to support that effort. But how do you throw something substantial behind such an ephemeral notion? The Foundation’s suggestion was “You tell us.”

So, a variety of theater folks with a focus on creating original works began to meet and discuss this. Areas of specific study were named, including Audience Engagement, Resource Sharing, Communication, ways of dealing with Austin’s geographical and cultural isolation, sustaining suitable living standards for arts workers, etc. After some many months, a proposal was drawn up, thanks in large part to the diligence of Katie Pearl and others, and the Foundation agreed to it. The result is an 18 month long process of compiling info on the needs, opinions, suggestions, warnings and potential of as many Austin artists as possible.

Clearly, in the area of Resource Sharing, the ASC dovetails perfectly with the New Works Community’s proposed goals. I have been attending meetings and am preparing for a retreat in January to coordinate the launch of the NWC proposal’s next phase. This process has brought the ASC to the more acute awareness of the community, and the feedback I have received has been eye opening. Among other things, I have begun to think of the possibilities for sharing non-material resources. There is such a lot of work involved in dealing with physical materials that it is possible to forget that resource sharing is as much a creative conversation as it is an organizational undertaking.

In the meantime, the Coop’s inventory-taking is complete and a database is being built. The website is inches away from being published, and we continue to provide materials for a variety of projects, though on that front things are oddly slow the last few weeks.

A meeting with Salvage Vanguard Theater’s Artistic Director Jenny Larson and the heads of the other organizations which headquarter at SVT’s space has yielded a plan to expand the storage capacity of the Coop, enabling us to begin taking donations again (we’ve been at capacity for a few months). The new area is directly behind the stage of the large theater at SVT, and will house foam, hardboard and marly for use by dance companies, as well as a general stock of elements and some of the taller pieces that have been wedged into the shed and existing storage bays. There’s a roll-up door too, which means that we can take things that won’t fit through a standard doorway. Wow. Cool.

Anyway, I guess that covers the latest action. Off for now,

Connor Hopkins

Friday, November 19, 2010

Superlab #1 recap

Here's my take on our first Superlab:

Madeleine was very ready to get to work on her script. She knew both what she wanted to work on, and what schedule she preferred. We worked for a few hours every morning, so she could use most of the day for revisions -- in fact one day we changed the schedule hours before, because she realized she wanted more time to write. She did not want/need a big, public presentation at the end, so it was just our literary staffs in attendance, more or less. She brought in many new pages every day, and did a good amount of on-the-spot editing, especially of a particularly symphonic scene. She added scenes that addressed filled in some gaps, prompted by actor's questions; the scenes were remarkably elegant and economical for brand new material. Adam and I attended the first and last readings, and popped in and out of the other two sessions, sharing thoughts. We were lucky to have such a strong cast, with faces familiar and new to both organizations. The final reading was a wonderful event and showed a script in great shape; it provoked a number of realizations that will lead to an even leaner next draft.

I've asked both Adam Madeleine to share their thoughts. Those will be coming up...


I will continue with stupid punny subject headings for some time, I think. Helps me ease into the discomfort of the blogging.

The preceding blog material was highly collaborative -- press release was shuttlecocked back and forth over the course of a few weeks, and the Times piece was born from a rapid fire email Q and A we had with Patrick Healy (Adam and I were literally hunched over a shared computer, taking turns, editing out loud). CT's associate director Diana Konopka having observed Adam, Madeleine George and I huddled together at times, pointed out that it's unusual for a process to have two literary/dramaturgical respondents involved. Adam and I have each separately worked with Madeleine in some depth and brought the ease of that history to our conversations with her, both together and individually. The relationships will configure a little differently in each of the following projects. Will this double attention be an asset? Or will we make our playwrights' heads pop off? I guess that remains to be seen, but good to be aware of it.

Southern Rep announces YO NOLA

Southern Rep, in our 24th year of bringing New Plays to New Orleans, is thrilled to announce the pilot program of an innovative arts and life-skills educational opportunity for a diverse population of traditionally under-served youth.

YO NOLA (Youth Onstage New Orleans, LA), will be a youth theatre company that is run via a free after school program, aimed at kids ages 7 to 12.

Each YO NOLA member will serve the company in multiple, rotating rolls, responsible for the running, operating, and creative output of this junior theatre company. Along with daily mentor supervised operations (including meetings with staff, board, and topic specific committees), members take classes in acting, writing, directing, design, stage management, marketing, fundraising and theatre business management. The company will produce original works, created by the ensemble, which will draw on current events and peer issues, as well as classic literature, fairytales and myths.

This exciting program will be lead by our newly hired Arts Education Director, Gamal Chasten. Gamal is a founding member of the performance troupe UNIVERSES and is a singer, songwriter, poet, actor and educator. Gamal has been working in arts education with high risk and underserved youth for ten years, with students ranging from grade school to graduate school. He has worked closely with incarcerated youth and done workshops across the United States and abroad. The workshops have ranged from introductory creative writing/poetry workshops to performance, theater, ensemble work, and acting. As a Program Director in New York, Gamal worked with the Department of Juvenile Justice. While at the Bronx Council on the Arts, he acted as the primary liaison for arts programming.

Gamal will be blogging about our practice sessions, and keep you updated as we begin work with our first YO NOLA class in January. The kids are going through an application and interview process, in an effort to create the environment of a professional theatre company from the very beginning. We're so excited to be getting started!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Clubbed Thumb's SuperLab featured in New York Times Arts Beat

Clubbed Thumb recently announced the launch of SuperLab , an innovative new play development program. A series of collaboratively curated play laboratories, SuperLab will support the creation of bold, risk-taking new works by living American playwrights.

The announcement was picked up by the New York Times Arts Beat, read it here:

Theater Groups Team Up to Help Playwrights Develop Works

Read the full press release announcing SuperLab here:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who will play my part?: Supporting the next generation of arts managers

As part of Center Theatre Group’s (CTG) work with emerging artists and arts professionals, we administer the Richard E. Sherwood Awards Programs. The Programs include the Sherwood Internship, a six-month, paid position offered to emerging and early careers arts professionals. The Sherwood Intern works to ensure successful administration of the Sherwood Award application and selection process. Last year, as we searched for the 2010 Sherwood Intern, we struggled with finding the right fit. We came across lots of candidates who had the right academic know-how, and artistic interests; but most had no real arts management experience. Through much searching, we ultimately found a great Sherwood Intern (so great, in fact, that last week we added her to our Education team in a permanent, full-time position), but the dilemma really stuck in the craw of our Education and Community Partnerships Department Manager, Patricia Garza.

Patricia is a 20-something arts manager with MFA/MBA in Theatre Management from California State University, Long Beach. And, as her degree implies, Patricia possesses that ideal 21st century combination of a right and left brain that function at equally high levels and in tandem. Patricia lamented, “Why don’t more arts management programs include work away from academia and campus? How are people supposed to make the transition from school to work?” And, as is her style, she offered, “Wouldn’t it be cool if CTG could connect emerging theatre managers with job experience.”
I don’t know…would it be?

So to give credit where credit is due: the notion for this investigation started with Patricia. But she really got me thinking. So much of our work in education focuses on building the audiences of tomorrow, and to a lesser extent the artists of tomorrow.
But what are we as theatre professionals doing to support the arts administrators of tomorrow? And is that our job?

Through TCG and MetLife, we now have the time and opportunity to investigate this idea with our Think It! Grant. Over the course of this year, we will embark on a research project, working with colleagues from the Los Angeles theatre and arts administration community. We will gather the opinions of academic chairs and graduate students. And we hope to collect lots of perspectives and voices, including yours:

If you are an arts administrator/manager…
Where and when in your life did the critical school-to-work bridge happen?

If you are a graduate arts management student…
What kind of program would help you get where you want to be?

If you are an academic chair or professor in an arts management program…
What kinds of real world experiences would complement the training you are providing?

If you are a theatre professional…
What role do/could arts management graduate students play in your work?

We are just starting our journey and would love to hear from you.

Next Steps: Broadening Our Perspective: Meeting with Our Project Advisors:
Terrance McFarland, Executive Director, LA Stage Alliance
; Angela Milanovic, Technical Assistance Programs Manager, Los Angeles County Arts Commission; and Terry Wolverton, Consultant.

Leslie K. Johnson
Director of Education and Community Partnerships
Center Theatre Group

Center Theatre Group’s education and community partnership programs are organized under three broad strategic initiatives:

AUDIENCES – helping audiences of all ages discover theatre and its connection to their lives

ARTISTS – investing in the training, support and development of emerging and early career artists and arts professionals who are the future of our field

ARTS EDUCATION LEADERSHIP – working to improve the quality and scope of arts education in Los Angeles County

Our exploration of how and whether CTG could/should develop a graduate level intern program supports the second strand of this work. To review our entire Strategic Design for Education and Engagement, please visit Center Theatre Group's website here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Anthony Runfola Reflects on Sustainabilty, Design, and Planning

How does sustainability affect design? Throughout the grant, I have always been of the mind that an artist should never have to compromise their design for sustainability's sake. You can only ask an artist to go so far with scenery made from tires or recycled plastic water bottles. And if reduce, reuse and recycle is the mantra of the green movement, I am finding it more and more difficult to work "reduce" into the artistry/sustainability equation. So where does that leave us?

The initial impetuous for this grant was to investigate alternative materials. We found lots of great options, but so far none have been cost effective for the average budget. Speaking to manufacturers about buying in bulk or creating a regional co-op in an attempt to lower the per-sheet price hasn't proven feasible either -- the reason we are told is that the process of harvesting and making wheatboard or bamboo plywood is so expensive at this point that there isn't much latitude in the pricing.

Scenic co-ops are great up to a certain point. But at Childsplay, I don't think we've ever needed a "standard" 4'X8' flat in the time I've worked here. Our touring productions are so specific in their requirements that even we can't reuse most of the sets, ourselves.

Many theatres have started to hire one or two designers to work for an entire season. This certainly seems like the beginning of reducing the amount of materials that go into a set. sustainable stagecraft all about the planning? How do we change our thinking enough to be creative and sustainable?

-- Anthony Runfola, Childsplay Production Manager

Current Musings from Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda

Hi A-ha! Followers,

It’s been an interesting process from inception to this point in time. Ming Lo our chief researcher for our talent agency project continues to interview people. Our referrals along the way have been great resources. We have another interview this coming Monday with a man named Jerry Velasco. Jerry Velasco’s resume reflects his persistence in achieving his goals and has been successful in different careers including: producer, publicist, arts advocate, union organizer and as a personal manager. I like his mantra, “If you believe in what you are doing, you will achieve your goal. Si se puede!” (Yes, we can! Hm sounds familiar) As an Advocate for the Arts, the labor unions and Latinos in the Entertainment Industry, his work has brought tremendous hope and encouragement, especially within the U. S. Latino community. The reason I’m excited to talk to Jerry is because at one point he wanted to open a Latino specific talent agency and I’m anxious to find out why this didn’t materialize. This was many years ago so times and attitudes have changed.

On September 27 we had a teleconference with various artists, entertainment execs and community people. Ming Lo moderated the conversation. This was an opportunity to hear from potential actor clients as well as those who might hire our talent. Some of the issues addressed? Who would the agency benefit the most? Newbies, mid-career, veteran actors? Would an online national talent directory be more beneficial? Would there be a conflict of interest with East West Players (EWP) with regard to casting our mainstage productions? Would casting directors look at EWP agency as marginalized talent population? What would be the incentive for agents to stay? What are the benefits of being an all APA agency? How do people feel about non-Asians being represented? And what are the possibilities of partnering with another agency? As expected questions opened doors to new questions, new challenges and new opportunities!

Overall some of the conversation I found predictable. I went in thinking that while the agency would be a great place to cultivate new emerging talent, it would be a challenge to have veteran artists cross over. Why would anyone want to leave someone who was doing a great job for them (although actors are notorious for changing careers many times during their lifetime)? As predicted a recurring response that continually emerged was that the agency would probably best serve younger artists embarking on their careers. No surprise to me. The great idea that sprung from this response? Why not consider partnering with a bigger, well known and established agency that you can feed your artists into once they outgrow our agency? That was truly an A-ha! moment for me! This could be a great symbiotic relationship provided we find the right match. If I knew an agency that had a relationship with a well known and established agency and there was potential that I could one day make the leap to that agency…would I become a client? You bet! I don’t know how common this is in the agency world but it does exist. (Of course, Ming brings up very practical concerns on the feasibility of exploring these new ideas, given our time constraints and resources; but I will let him speak to that in his blog.)

My stomach is grumbling so I’m going to grab some lunch. I do look forward to letting you know how our conversation with Jerry Velasco goes so until next time…bye for now!

Marilyn Tokuda, Arts Education Director, East West Players

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How about a little push?

In this Think It process, we're really trying to adopt the mantra "To discover new frontiers, you have to lose the shore."

I'm thinking we need help pushing the boat into the water.

We have the budget to bring in 3 big thinkers to visit Curious and talk with the Company (about our desire to reinvent the resident artistic company model).

The marvelous Susan Medak is coming out next week, during the opening weekend of ASTRONOMICAL SUNSET. In addition to being brilliant, Susan's a superb brain for us to consult as she has been out to Curious a few times over the years, and thus has unique insight to our organizational culture.

Might a NON-theatre thinker be a good part of the mix? I've been watching Ted Talks videos all morning looking for what might be relevant but far enough from our field to shift our perspective. (Derek Sivers, maybe?)

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Mare Trevathan
Curious Theatre Co, Denver

Monday, October 25, 2010


Mmm, first time posting own blog. I could write anything.....

Have therefore put it off for a long time.

We're underway with the planning of the first of our SuperLab series. Putting the finishing touches on the cast and process for Madeleine George's SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND, which Alec Duffy is going to direct. Many discussions from far-flung places-- Arkansas-- Instanbul-- midtown--, via cell, skype and email.

Trying to root out the most efficient methods of getting things decided and done. Used to DIY downtown, so I'm on a learning curve. Way more steps when there is a partnering institution , let alone and much larger one, involved. Also more advance planning and support in place. Have not yet figured out how to prevent communicating and managing absorb as much time as it is supposed to save, but I think there's a cumulative efficiency we haven't yet attained , as we are on our first outing. Looking forward to actually working on a play! But more on that later.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Artists Within

Howdy from Denver.

We of Curious Theatre Company are very jazzed recipients of a THINK IT grant to explore reinventing the resident artistic company model for the 21st century American theatre, by re-centering artists within producing organizations.

As a 13 y.o. company, our teen years are bringing tremendous growth- with a greatly increased staff, audience and donor base, budget and network of artists.

With this professionalization, we sense the theatre has leaned a bit away from the spirit of artistic fellowship on which it was founded.

In the early years, the artistic company and staff were the same folks. Handsome leading man Chris Reid was the Box Office Manager. Our stage manager Lisa Boehm was our bookkeeper. I (gorgeous leading woman... no, I lie) was the Marketing Director.

But the organization has evolved and the artistic company is no longer steeped in the daily operations of the organization. And (with a few exceptions) the staff is no longer directly linked to the stage craft.

Don't get me wrong: If lighting designer Shannon McKinney never has to paint the bathroom again, I'm sure she won't pout.

But with a staff of 13, a board of over 20 and an artistic company of 18, how do we make sure that Curious doesn't start to lean a little- well- bureaucratic? How do we put artists back in the center of the organization while retaining our wonderful, competent staff?

Thus begins our journey.

We'll be visiting 6 or so theatres throughout the country, bringing in 3 of our theatre hero(in)es to talk about the conundrum and doing a heap more research. We're still discussing the who and where, but I'll keep you posted.

Please give us your thoughts! Post a comment here, or email me at

Mare Trevathan
Company Member, Curious Theatre Company

Painting by Jeanne Echternach:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Austin Scenic Coop October, STP, schools and books and dance and...

This month, the Austin Scenic Coop is being used by a media company for a live action shoot of online content, a grade school for the school play, the Texas Book Festival for a panel discussion, a dance company... and it's only the 18th. There could be quite a bit more before the month is over.

I have spent almost two weeks trying to set up a meeting with Derek Kolluri of The Sustainable Theater Project (for people who most people consider not to have a "real job" we seem to be strangely overworked). The STP started up last year and seeks to produce quality theater with environmentally sustainable methods, in order to increase the organizational stability of the group, decrease expense in order to increase pay to livable levels. Their ultimate goal is to open a zero-waste theatrical venue. So, clearly, The ASC has a lot in common with this group. We hope to support and promote each other, and increase the efficacy of both groups by partnering in the exploration of responsible, sustainable, and accessible methods of production. That is, as soon as either of us can catch a breath.

Derek has volunteered his help with the Coop website, for which advance work is being done by Jeanine Lisa, including an inventory of existing stock. This could take a while.

I have asked the various entities that are making use of the Coop to write up very short assessments regarding if/why the Coop is of value to them, the benefits and changes that it makes possible.. I will post those on the blog as they come in, in order to get some other voices and viewpoints represented here. I know I'm incredibly interesting, but variety is always nice.

-Connor Hopkins

Coordinator, Austin Scenic Coop

MetLife Foundation and TCG Announce Third Round Recipients of the A-ha! Program

MetLife Foundation and Theatre Communications Group announce the third round of recipients for the A-ha! Program: Think It, Do It, which encourages TCG member theatres to think and act creatively. Six theatres were awarded grants, totaling $225,000, to either research and develop new production ideas or experiment and implement innovative concepts in the theatre field. The total award amount is a 50 percent increase from last year’s total of $150,000.

The 2010 A-ha! Program recipients are:

Think It

Pillsbury House Theatre will develop its transformation into a Cultural Community Hub. The project will focus on assessment and metrics planning that will define and measure organizational success.

Curious Theatre Company will explore innovative opportunities for reinventing the resident artistic company model for the 21st century American theatre, by re-centering artists within producing organizations.

Center Theatre Group plans to conduct focus groups and interviews with students, academic administrators and theatres to explore an internship model that pairs graduate students in arts administration with Los Angeles theatres.

Do It

Southern Rep will establish Youth Onstage New Orleans, LA (YO NOLA) as a pilot program to bring the arts to the underserved population at a New Orleans elementary school, via a student-run theatre company. This program includes mentoring, workshops and building life skills.

Northlight Theatre
is building Northlight On Campus, a two-year, comprehensive residency program in one underserved suburban middle school featuring after-school drama programs, artist visits, student matinees and a commissioned play for students.

Dad's Garage Theatre Company
will create their first season of online content in tandem with their live work. This ongoing initiative will be self sustaining and will redefine them from a theatre company to a creative company.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Artistic-Literacy Transitions for the Future...

I have been in the throes of my final report for Book-It titled, "The Road to Literacy: Book-It Repertory Theatre, An Evaluation of Impact, Programs, and Partnerships." A years worth of work has been synthesized and the next steps will be for the company to decide how they want to move forward with the literacy center and if it's the right fit for the venue they plan to build. Book-It is well positioned to continue its work with regards to literacy – those in the literacy community have expressed a need and they want Book-It to continue on this path. It’s pretty exciting for the company and for Seattle.

For me, the relationship is interesting because I am also transitioning into the role of Director of Education for Book-It - going from an objective evaluator to staff. The current Education Director will become the Director of Touring, which is really an artistic associate role for the company and everyone is excited for this to transpire. I guess the reorganization of staff is part of what’s evolved from this project – we didn’t foresee this last September when we got the grant – again pretty exciting. Thanks so much TCG!

~ Gail

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What are the Values of Evaluation and Student Assessment for Book-It’s Literacy Programs?

We are in the process of wrapping-up, reporting out, and finalizing our evaluation work for the year. Creating summary reports for the focus groups, literacy speaker series, interviews with literacy non-profits, and interviews with potential partners for the literacy center, among other things. Most recently senior staff gathered to review the program evaluation and student learning assessment tools piloted for the education program during the 2009-2010 school year. Everyone was brought up to speed on the two areas of focus – student learning in literary analysis and theatre skills in the residency program and student engagement in the touring program. The outcomes from the data will inform programming – where to put resources, what to let go, where Book-It should get more specific about literacy, etc.

The idea of making decisions based on real numbers was exciting to everyone. The big question is funding. In order to engage in this kind of analysis requires: training teaching artists and educational staff to implement the tools, hours in the field, and hours in the office to analyze the data. At the end of the meeting each of us responded to the question, “What’s the value of program evaluation and student assessment for Book-It?” Below are some paraphrased responses to this question...
  • I can use it in deciding what shows Book-It should tour.
  • We may decide to drop certain program components like study guides if schools aren’t using them. Or we may revamp them so that people will use them.
  • We can all be communicating the same message about Book-It and the education program.
  • This can be used to leverage more funding for the program – this is the kind of information funders want–they are requesting these kinds of outcomes.
  • We can use this to inform what and how we teach. Where we’re effective and where we need to get better.
  • Making choices – it’s okay to let some things go.
  • Working efficiently with what we have.
Because of the TCG grant Book-It was able engage in rigorous program and student learning evaluation. The next step is to find a way to make it sustainable without a consultant. This is one of the issues that came up at the TEAM pre-conference in Chicago – finding ways to analyze work in-house. Here’s the deal – it still takes time and money, not as much as a consultant, but Book-It and other theatres like Book-It will need to make choices and be strategic in order to realize this kind of analysis – the difference between saying something is of value and making it real through action.

--Gail Sehlhorst, Book-It

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is It Time for the Austin Scenic Coop to Hire Designated Staff?

As the fall season gets underway, the Austin Scenic Coop is moving from a long summer of making improvements to the space into a less (physically) strenuous phase. However, we are still kept quite busy with the day to day business of scheduling pick-up and drop off of materials, helping folks load and unload trucks, and keeping our stock organized.

There are two storage areas, one at Salvage Vanguard Theater where I am the general TD and resident designer, and the other at The Off Center, home of the Rude Mechs of which Thomas is one of five Co-Producing Artistic Directors. That space is essentially a shack, with a tin roof and mostly paved floor, but the stock is very well sorted and stored so that it is easily accessible. The space at SVT, the one for which I am responsible, is quite a bit less orderly. It seems that I no sooner get everything squared away than something needs to be dug out of the back of a storage bay in a hurry, and things don't get put back, anything flat from the lids of the bins to the pile of plywood gets covered with other loose bits and pieces, and one can probably guess what it looks like after a week.

So, given that Thomas and I both have other duties, we are now talking about creating staff positions that will be paid, to ensure that there is regular attention being paid to office duties as well as materials. Whether there will be one position, or two part-time positions hasn't been decided. It seems likely that we will need one person whose primary responsibility will be pursuing funding, by grant research and writing as well as petitioning the City for support. As most of us who work in non-profits arts organizations know, seeking grants can be a full time job. So we may need to have a daily/weekly supervisor as well as a grant writer. Frankly, we don't know-- but we're figuring it out.

--Connor Hopkins, Austin Scenic Coop, Coordinator

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Advanced Season Planning May Facilitate Sustainable Stagecraft Goals

We are looking ahead to our season opening and to the new opportunities it will provide for realizing our sustainable stagecraft plans. Our first production, A Year With Frog and Toad, is being built to store, rather than to dump or recycle. Childsplay is moving towards a minimum three-year season planning cycle that will enable us to better predict the lifespan and possible repetition of productions. This, in turn, will help us save and reuse scenic elements (or even entire sets) that would previously have been sent to the dumpster.

We are also beginning to plan for a community-wide meeting this fall to discuss materials sourcing and recycling. Another theatre in town just received a grant to explore a co-op (similar to the Austin project discussed on this blog!) and we will look for opportunities to partner with them on bulk materials purchases and other projects.

We have heard from at least one theatre that is interested in replicating some of our work in their own community. We would be happy to share any of our information, as well as our fabulous GIOS consulting team, with any community or theatre that is interested in starting a sustainable stagecraft conversation. Just contact us at or for more information.

Finally, we are looking forward to the spring USITT meeting, where we will be sharing our sustainable stagecraft learning in a special session. We hope to see many of you there!

--Jenny Millinger & Anthony Runfola, Childsplay