Friday, October 01, 2010


[What follows is an email I sent out to the leadership team at that theatre company I'm affiliated with.  I edited it slightly so it would make more sense to more people.  There is a conversation that is NOT happening that NEEDS to happen.]

Mulling it all over, giving it some deep thought, I recalled the following quote from my write-up of two months ago*.  From Tim Errickson, Artistic Director of The Boomerang Theatre in New York:
Many people who start companies in NYC either come directly from school, or also working other non-profit orgs at first to cut their teeth (mine was working for Lincoln Center Theater), so often people see how professional orgs are run and try to mirror those models.
I believe to some degree we are mirroring theatre companies we used to belong to in the structure of our company because that's what we know.  There was a lot of talk about how other Artistic Directors at those companies managed to get people to work calls, company meetings, etc.  But we need to recall the environments we left and why we left.  There is no need to emulate a model that we were ultimately repulsed by.  Indeed, why not dissolve this company and return to those other companies?  We know why.

I don't know if these links ever get followed when I include them, so I included a brief summary.  Watch this:

"Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation"
Length: 18:40
Description:  "Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories -- and maybe, a way forward."
Takeaway:  The solution is not to do more of the wrong things, i.e. the "carrot and the stick."  We need to focus on intrinsic motivation:  Autonomy, mastery and purpose. 
Autonomy:  The urge to direct our own lives
Mastery:  The desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose:  The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

We were intrinsically motivated to start this company.  Autonomy was the big draw--no longer looking to an artistic director who had moved to New York for permission on the tiniest details.  A new company allowed us the chance to prove we could run a better company, which is mastery.  Finally, we were driven to create something larger than ourselves.  We sweated over a mission statement that is often maligned, but which contains a most potent charge:
"[T]o work to together as one, passionately and professionally, in creating truly remarkable theatre."
We talked a lot about recommitting last night, but we failed to agree on what we are recommitting to.  Rededicating to front of house and workcalls?  We will have the same success we've enjoyed so far this year.  Ultimately, the enthusiasm will die off and we'll be right back where we started.  A drudgery.

I like words.  I try to use the exact right word for the situation, and "drudgery" is it.  From Merriam-Webster:
drudg·ery noun: dull, irksome, and fatiguing work : uninspiring or menial labor
Look, we're all volunteers.  If we need to have our asses kicked to care about the company, ultimately no amount of ass-kicking is going to do any good.  It's only going to build up more and more resentment -- the very kind of resentment that propelled us away from those companies we left.

I believe we need to retreat, regroup and re-approach.  I believe we need to take a good, hard look at why we are making theatre, and what contribution we believe we can make to the art.  We need to get back to the intrinsic reasons people make theatre in the first place, and move forward from there.

From The Empty Space, by Peter Brook:

There is always a new season in hand and we are too busy to ask the only vital question which measures the whole structure.  Why theatre at all?  What for? Is it an anachronism, a superannuated oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have?  What could it serve?  What could it explore?  What are its special properties?
Can we do this?  Can we spend some time asking ourselves "Why?" between now and our next meeting?  That is the conversation we need to have.  What's it going to be?  Drudgery or passion?  And what are we passionate about?  Passion is attractive.  Drudgery is repulsive.  Consider it this way:  If you were to quit this company tomorrow and start a new theatre company, what would you do different?  Why?  There is no reason we can't wipe the slate clean and start anew.  We just have to want it, and we have to communicate it with each other.

Bonus link (a podcast, not a video):

Length:  29:28
Description:  Director Kiff Scholl, actor Kimberly Atkinson, writer/director Jaime Robledo, and managing director Padraic Duffy join Off-Ramp host for a romp through the current season of The Sacred Fools Theatre Company, which has done more than 100 productions in its 14 years in Hollywood.
Takeaway:  Passion = success, and passion does not equate with "carrot and stick."

* I will post this write-up here in the near future, in a slightly edited form.

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