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