Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How can you think in new ways about old problems?

At Curious Theatre Company in Denver, Colorado we like to live up to our name. Now in our 14th season, we are Denver’s only mid-size theatre company and our mission is to engage the community in important contemporary issues through provocative modern theatre. And we have become increasingly curious about two big questions:

How can we re-center artists within our organization to release their potential as primary organizational members?

How can one create a more effective staffing structure for mid-sized organizations operating in the field today?

We’ve explored both of these challenges through separate but corollary innovation processes anchored in the work of EMC Arts, Inc. -- whose conceit is that traditional models of growth capacity may now be replaced with the need for highly adaptive organizational capacity; or in Evans’ own words: “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.” Yup – we are talking about that scary world called “Change.”

So first, EMC Arts “New Pathways Program” brought together board, staff members, “great thinkers” from across the community to participate in this program designed to provide Curious a framework to explore and accelerate the design and testing of innovative change strategies.

Second, with the generous assistance of the MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It program, a selected core team of 6 Curious artistic company members (including me!) spent last year exploring a reinvention of resident artistic company model for the 21st Century American Theatre through scrutinizing our own company, as well as exploring alternative practices and models across the field. We conducted interviews, traveled for site visits, brought in experts, created prototypes and conducted focus groups.

We entered the final phase of our process with three distinct options for new artistic company models, and as a result of the feedback received, created a new, hybrid model that we believe to be responsive and innovative, discontinuous from previous practice while inclusive of our past best practices and unique “organizational DNA,” providing an exciting new pathway to fulfilling our mission.

It was a challenging and exciting year of thinking – in fact my brain is still a little sore from it all. And now we get to do it!

With the generous assistance of the MetLife/TCG A-ha! Do It program, we are implementing artistic and staffing structural realignments at Curious, which move us from a primarily administrative model to a more integrated and holistic producing-based model. In overly simplistic terms, the “traditional” administrative model can be described as static, territorial, goal-focused and separated from the artistic work that is at the heart of our mission. Conversely, it is our belief that a producing-based model can be described as nimble, responsive, integrated, collaborative, and project-based. This new model would realign the traditional vertical organizational hierarchy with a more seamless, horizontal orientation, creating opportunities for shared leadership across both the artistic company and organizational staff.

How will it all work out? Keep checking back in!

Christy Montour-Larson, Producer in Residence

Curious Theatre Company

Denver, CO

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