Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 30: 10 Things I'm Thankful For

"Perspective" by Flickr user Justus Thane, licensed
under Creative Commons
It is the end.

Wait, that's not one of the things.

But it is the end of this blogging month. I remarked to a friend, "I was surprised to find out how much energy it took to write, being unaccustomed to it any more." Said friend, a writer by trade, chuckled and agreed.

I didn't hit my daily goal, but I did blog more than I have, well, ever. So I'm calling that a success.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, 10 Things I'm Thankful For:

1. Live theater 
2. A job in live theater 
3. My family who make possible my job in live theater 
4. My friends who encourage my job in live theater 
5. The interwebs, which make working in live theater something immeasurably different than it once was 
6. The best graduate program ever for those of us working in live theater who also have families 
7. Coming to terms with how I can best support live theater 
8. Learning how to advocate for live theater 
9. The donors and patrons with whom I've built relationships around supporting live theater 
10. All of the experiences and decisions I made (or didn't make) that led me on this particular path into live theater

I love what I do. I hope to be able to do it for more theaters, more patrons, and more artists.

Thanks for sticking with me for the month. I've still got six or seven (or more) writing prompts. So who knows where we'll go next?

Monday, November 24, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 24: The Most Important Lesson from Graduate School

I recently graduated with my Masters in Arts Administration from Goucher College's MAAA program. 

I'm not writing today to talk you into or out of applying for a graduate program in arts administration. I could espouse either side at length. 

I would like to tell you, though, my personal most important lesson learned from graduate school. 

Keep Asking Questions. 

As time- and people- and resource- strapped arts organization administrators, we get caught in the mundane tasks of answering daily business questions. Did the press release get written? Did last week's box office receipts get deposited? Did we ever look into that children's programming? 

Graduate school gives an arts administrator space to ask bigger questions. Questions like:
--What if?
--Why do it this way? 
--What came before that I can learn from?
--Who cares?
--Why isn't there [insert idea here]?
--Why now?
--What happens if we don't do [insert action here]?
--the 5 Whys (my personal anathema but so so helpful)

Mundane questions require a yes or a no; answers that don't necessarily lead anywhere (unless there happen to be severe negative consequences). 

Graduate school (the good ones, anyway) set up space for the provocative questions, whose answers could potentially shift not only a particular student's course of life, but the very foundation on which our arts world sits. We never know where the next Nancy Hanks or Hallie Flanagan may come from. 

I did not graduate with all the arts admin solutions. All I have are more questions, and a daily desire to live into the answers.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 22: What is failure?

This post was ostensibly about "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"

But I don't believe in failure. At least, not in the way this question means it.

Dictionary definitions of "Failure":

1. an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success:
His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure.
2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected:
a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear.
3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency:
the failure of crops.
4. deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc.:
The failure of her health made retirement necessary.
5. a condition of being bankrupt by reason of insolvency.
6. a becoming insolvent or bankrupt:
the failure of a bank.
7. a person or thing that proves unsuccessful:
He is a failure in his career. The cake is a failure.

So, what is "Success"?

1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors:
The play was an instant success. (I find this context example humorous.)
4. a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.:
She was a great success on the talk show.

Most of the time, when "failure" and "success" get bandied about in arts organizations, they are meant in the 2nd definition of each. That is, they are pegged to tangible, data-driven metrics.

Was the play a success? Yes, we sold out each house.
Was the marketing campaign a success? Yes, we sold 20% more season subscriptions over last year.
Was the donor meeting a success? Yes, they wrote us a check for $1000. 

Was the play a failure? Yes, we only sold 30% of the house. 
Was the marketing campaign a failure? Yes, we spent more than we earned.
Was the donor meeting a failure? Yes, they said no when we asked for a donation.

But what if, instead of thinking about these in the second definition, you think about "success" in the first definition and tweak your goals?

Was the play a failure? No, we learned that we putting a heavy drama on during this particular month of the year means not even our semi-regular audience will come. While we didn't recoup, we can make better scheduling decisions for next year. 

Was the marketing campaign a failure? No, multiple ticket buyers told us they didn't want to switch to subscription because they worried about being locked into a date. While this single campaign didn't earn much, if we run a campaign highlighting ease of switching, we can easily make up the margin.

Was the donor meeting a failure? No, because even though they said no to a donation, they said they would gather a large group to attend the next production. How can we engage all of those people and turn them into donors? 

Failing is easy. Don't sell tickets. Don't ask for donations. Don't tell anyone about your productions. Don't even start.

So let me instead ask this question: If you redefine your goal, what would you do if you knew you would succeed? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 21: Stop, Start, Continue

When it is organization reflection time, what criteria do you use to make sure you're doing what you want and need to do? (This is assuming you have reflection time. If you don't, I suggest you start that right away.)

One of my favorite guiding questions is a triplet: What should I stop doing? What should I start doing? And what should I continue (and/or increase) doing?

These can be macro or microcosmic.

Maybe your organization needs to stop.

Maybe you need to call one donor every day just to say thank you (2 minute call, tops).

Maybe you need to continue paying your artistic staff as much as you possibly can.

Here are some of my organizational things for the next quarter:

-doing the technical design work myself.
-talking about payrates in a negative way
-leaving strategic work for after the mundane

-varied networking to grow our audience
-working the shiny new fundraising plan
-find a pro-bono pr agency

-providing excellent customer service/work on bringing box office in-house
-saying "yes and" to performance projects that push our artists and community
-working to pay myself consistently

What could your arts organization stop/start/continue? Or you personally? 
And check back with me in Feb to see how mine are going.

Join the conversation and you could be the lucky recipient of something really super awesome. 9 days left! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 20: Advocacy Emails

Since I'm covering the Orange County Arts Commission office today to accept Fall Grant Applications, I thought I'd write a little about advocacy.

A lot of people get nervous when they hear the word "advocacy." Maybe it has to do with a fear of public speaking or of being rejected. Maybe it's about being scared of a perceived power imbalance. I think people are scared of "fundraising" for the same reasons.

But no one should be scared of advocacy. The verb "advocate" means simply "to speak or write in favor of." Advocacy isn't rocket science. It's communication.

Here are 3 tips on starting advocacy emails:

1. Know who you're emailing.
The best connection is with your local representative, be that a municipal or county commissioner, or state district legislator. Start your research with where they stand on your particular interest area (the arts, obviously). Then expand to their other special areas. There may be unexpected ways to discussing the arts through education, agriculture, business development, or tourism.

2. Start simple and upbeat.
A handwritten letter to begin is always a good idea, but start with an email if necessary just to get going. Introduce yourself and that you're in their elecorate, state simply that you're an arts supporter, mention one cool recent arts thing that they may be interested in, and that you're looking forward to working with them on this topic.

3. Repeat often.
Schedule an email to them every so often, every couple of months at least. These can riff on "this arts thing happened and thanks for your support" to "this arts thing is going to happen and will draw x number of your constituents." The keys here are brevity, consistency, and connecting the dots on how the arts help the community.

Eventually, the topic will be "we want this arts thing to happen and need your support." When the need for that email arises, it won't feel odd for you to write and it won't be out of the blue for your representative to receive, because they know who you are.

Do you have email tips? If you already advocate for the arts, how often do you write your representative?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 19: Rituals

A local theater acquaintance posted about her daily rituals and Forbes magazine recently published a list of 20 top-of-their-game-women's morning routines. At home, I am all about these things. At work, not as good.

In order to be successful, arts organizations should build routines and rituals into the work day/week/quarter/year. Especially for smaller organizations, where employee(s) must juggle multiple work task hats: deliberate, consistent routines can help ensure that the work actually gets done.

There are so many places to start or things to consider about setting up routines. Arts leaders need to have:

-clear short and long term goals
-strategies and tasks for achieving them
-strategic thinking and professional development time
-networking get-togethers
-donor touches

And other things to consider include:

-which 8 hours out of the day are you really/do you need to be working?
-familial commitments that require a flex schedule
-personal "best" working times
-when vendors/clients/customers need you to be available
-what tasks are "must do" and "now" vs "want to do" and "later" (hint: not everything is high priority/urgent)

As a solo leader, it's been helpful for me to designate weekly routines. That is, rather than trying to hit marketing AND development AND planning AND etc etc every day, I designate each item to a day in the week and try to go deep into that area on that day. And those tasks that I've earmarked as ritual--the things that need to be done every day in order to keep the ship moving steadily forward--get plugged into my daily schedule before and as breaks in between the other work.

Do have a daily ritual or weekly routines? Share them here! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 17: Returning to Passion

I found my way into theater a little later than other colleagues, according to informal conversation. I had "theater" friends in middle and high school, but I was never intrigued enough to want to join them on stage.1

Until, that is, my local pro-am theater2 produced the Finn/Lapine musical Falsettos. Through a series of poor teenager life choices, I served community service time at the theater while the show was going on. Luckily. Fortunately. Serendipitous-ly. If you don't know the show, it's the story of a Jewish family and their friends, many of whom are gay. Themes include being true with yourself and loved ones, growing up and the pain of adulthood, loving someone through good times and bad, and the importance of family. 

I'm not Jewish. I didn't know any gay people (out, anyway). But I was moved to tears by every single performance I saw (including returning on my night off to actually purchase a ticket). I saw a story on that stage that not only connected to my personal life's quest at that time but also showed me how small my own world really was and how much larger it could be. 

Which is why we "do" theater, right? Why we participate or attend. For those with the "bug," it's a compulsion to understand ourselves and our world. It's not like escapist television or movies. It's about illumination. 
I got into theater because I want others to feel the same way I felt during Falsettos. I want to be a part of something that could so move another person that something in them would change and be better. Comedy or drama, contemporary or period, life writ large or small, theater that compels is what I'm passionate about. 

What's your theater passion? What is it about this field that keeps you being a part? What is your compulsion?

Join the conversation and you could be the lucky recipient of something really super awesome. 13 days left! 

1. Because I thought you had to be on stage to be a part of the theater. This is a gross injustice that should be corrected in lower schooling. 

2. Can I coin that term? It wasn't community theater but it wasn't a professional-day job theater. Boom, done. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 15: Ladies of Triangle Theatre

Ladies of Triangle Theatre (LoTT for short) is a loose network of women in Triangle area of North Carolina who work in any aspect of theater. The short goal of the network is to say "Yes, And" to each other whenever possible. 

All the statistics about national and regional productions by/led by women can be found elsewhere, as well as the ongoing dialogue/argument about why those numbers are low/aren't changing. 

Here in the Triangle, we are blessed with an incredible number of talented women on both sides of the stage. LoTT exists to support these women in their theatrical work, through various means. 

One is behind-the-scenes, much like a "support" group. Everyone needs that kind of safe space to work through problems and this is a difficult field to navigate by itself, let alone with family responsibilities and day jobs etc etc. 

Another is through informal gatherings. These have been brown-bag lunches, attending a member's show as a group, or drinks after a show. 

While it's not a producing entity per se, LoTT has branched out into doing shows "in conjunction with" a producing company. Our first was Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann at Common Ground Theatre. Since I'm a member of LoTT and the Executive Director of Common Ground, it made sense for LoTT to help out with the production. 

There is no application process to be a member: are you self-identified as a woman and do you work in theater in the Triangle? Are you interested in supporting other women and making the Triangle a great place for theater? Come join us!
We have nifty buttons! Logo design by the amazing Sylvia Mallory.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 12: Theater Parent Emotions

(This post is a little more personal than usual.)

I'm a mom.

I know that doesn't come as a surprise; it's listed elsewhere (and I've written about it) on my blog and one of the things in my elevator speech about myself.
I missed this because I was
at an AFTA conference.

I wish that I could list that on my resume under "experience." Because it is the main reason why there aren't more bullet points. Opportunities or jobs or positions or speaking engagements that I turned down or didn't seek out because I needed to provide hands-on support for my family at home.

Because it's hard to do both at the same time. I've had to take my child to rehearsal this week for a show I'm producing/designing, which means she's up past her bedtime and seeing material that probably isn't appropriate for a 2nd grader (it's not R-rated, but definitely PG-13). I chose an online graduate school program specifically so that I could be at home as much as possible. I've asked family and friends to babysit because I had a show or a rehearsal or an arts-related meeting/conference far more often than any other reason.

I could move farther faster in my career if I gave up time with my daughter.

I could support her more in many different ways if I gave up my career.

But instead, I cobble together the work experiences I can and hope that I don't screw her childhood up too badly.

Are you a parent in the performing arts? Need to vent? Go ahead.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 6: Please do not ask me if I act

The single most common response to the "What do you do?" "I'm the [Insert Arts Admin title here] of this theater" exchange is:
"Oh. Do you act, too?"
I loathe* this question. For three reasons.

1. It stems from a baseline assumption that there is nothing else of value worth doing in a theater except for being on stage. Whether this assumption is rational or is simply inherent from years of mass media infused celebrity and bad sitcoms, it doesn't really matter.

2. It also questions whether I have enough work tasks to fill my day. Like, I must not have enough to do running the business aspects of the organization. (NOTE: this does not negate the idea of 168 hours and that one couldn't theoretically have acting as a side gig or hobby.)

Me: College Freshman,
Assistant Stage Manager. 
3. It stops the conversation. ALWAYS. Yes, I have a pat, gracious response I give, but most people do not know what to say after that. I don't fall into the presumed role of "if I'm standing in a theater I'm one of two people: an actor or an audience member." If I'm lucky, the conversant may follow up with, "well how did you get into this job/field/position?" as one would with any small-talk conversation. But once it's clarified that 1) I'm not pining to move to NYC and 2) I don't know any Broadway/Hollywood/Local television stars, that's pretty much the end of it.

Maybe it's a front line thing. Nearly everyone I know in theater management that deals with audiences as some portion of their job (so, like 99%) get this, too. I think it goes back to our troubled dramatic (no pun intended) high school days when the drama kids on stage were all vaunted but the techie folks were left, quite literally, in the dark.

I imagine there are a lot of arts administrators who got into their work position directly because of a love of doing the art form (fine arts museum director who paints or sculpts, for example). But I'd lay even odds that for every one do-er manager, there is someone else like me, who got into it because we were passionate about supporting the art form.

Am I being sensitive? Or does this question hit a nerve with you, too?

*No, I do not use the word lightly.
Join the conversation and you could be the lucky recipient of something really super awesome. 24 days left! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 4: My Top 5 Personal/Inspiration/Business/Leadership/Creative Books

So, obviously, these kind of fall across categories. But if you're looking to start down the path of leadership in a creative sector OR expand on your knowledge from sources that cross all kinds of industries, I'd suggest these books/authors.

Jim Collins, John Maxwell, Seth Godin, Ken Blanchard, Laura Vanderkam

1. Good to Great and Good to Great in the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins.

This was one of the books Dave Ramsey said he gave new employees when they started work at his company, and is probably the single book responsible for kick-starting this section of my leadership journey. I know some people who put down Collins' work, that some of it doesn't hold up to longer scrutiny, that he contradicts himself between books, and other arguments. But there is rarely a day when I don't reference ideas of his like "The Hedgehog Concept," "Turning the Flywheel," "Getting the Right People on the Bus," and "Confront he Brutal Facts."
"Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline." --Jim Collins

2. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

Again, recommended by Dave Ramsey, so that's why this particular title is listed, but I've lost count of the number of Maxwell's books I've consumed. He writes about all aspects of leadership in an easy, anecdotal style, and I've filled more notebooks with the tidbits and exercises he includes in almost every book. His "you can always be better" personal motto drives his own development and spurs him to write to help others.

3. Raving Fans et al by Ken Blanchard (and others)

I don't recall how I stumbled across this title, although I know I'd read Blanchard's The One Minute Manager well before this one. And by now I've [again] lost count of the number of his works I've read or listened to. This one, though, holds a special place in my heart for its sheer simplicity of message on the best customer service. All of his works are told parable-style and the best thing to do is consume them with a pencil and paper beside you so you can write notes (maybe I should offer to do a Cliffs Notes style reading guide for him!) that you then just post up around your office so you can reference them every single day of your life.

4. everything by Seth Godin

Ok, I swore to myself that I wouldn't do this. "Self," I demanded, "You can't say every book. You have to choose one to recommend and then say there are others." But it's my blog post so I can break that demand.

I thought I was going to write about  Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? which was mind-blowing in its depth of questioning of how you look at the real work you do. But then I thought about Tribes and The Dip and Purple Cow and Permission Marketing and the fact that I've pre-ordered his new book coming out late '14/early '15 and I have literally NEVER done that before. So, just go grab every Godin book you can, follow his blog, and prepare for your life to change.

5. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Copyright 2010, so I'm fairly certain this was either a magazine or blog article I stumbled upon as I was all "what am I doing with my life and how do I move forward" spazzing. The core idea is that we all have 168 hours in one week, so rather than having a jumbled hope of getting things done and making progress towards "success," one can plan, prepare, and achieve goals. Time tracking, people. Try it for one week: spreadsheet your week by the half-hour and ruthlessly write down what you actually do with your time. Does it line up with what you want to be doing?

She also wrote "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast" and "... On The Weekends." Short books, imminently readable and doable.

Alright, those are my Top 5 Authors, I guess I should say, since I've read multiple books. I'd add Malcolm Gladwell in there if I had a Top 6 list.

Have you read any of these books/authors? Did you have a similar response or completely the opposite?

Reminder: You could win a copy of each of these books (well, only one where multiples are listed) simply by commenting on this post! At the end of NaBloPoMo (November) I'll be gifting 1 of 3 prizes to one lucky commenter! Good luck!

Monday, November 3, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 3: Giveaway!

Seriously! At the end of this month, one lucky commenter will receive one of the following:

1. A free stakeholder service checkup from yours truly! This will be my combo package: examining your theater's customer service points with both outside patrons and internal employees and members. (This combo will be priced at $400, fyi.)

2. A season pass to Common Ground Theatre. That's right: 2 tickets to any show every month for the entire year. ($300-400 value)

3. "My favorite books" package: a copy of each of my favorite leadership/arts books. More on these in tomorrow's post.

There you have it! Leave a cogent comment on as many of these posts as move you, and you could be the lucky winner of one of these amazing (if I do say so myself) packages!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My love affair with Facebook

Why am I starting off NaBloPoMo with a post about Facebook, you ask? Shouldn't I be writing about theaters or grad school or something less, well, trivial? I'll get to those things. This is about a core idea and I'm using my Facebook relationship as an example.
Yes, that is me with Miss Piggy.

I love almost everything about Facebook because of this one thing: it is a platform that engenders building relationships. (I'll get to the one thing I don't like in a bit.) Building relationships is what I do for a living; it is my special gift to this world.

Facebook is designed to connect you with people you have a lot in common with (sometimes IRL, sometimes just online) and then make that relationship deeper by having a conversation about those things/people/ideas. It can happen anytime (unlike Twitter) and across facets of your life (unlike LinkedIn) and with words AND images (unlike Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr).

I have my current job because of Facebook: both the hire-er and the connector knew me IRL but the relationship grew on Facebook. My husband has his current job because I forced him to post that he was looking for a new gig in his passion and a friend responded they had an opening in his company and it was kismet. Could both of those things have happened outside of Facebook? Probably. As quickly as they did? Unlikely.

People like to hate on Facebook, much like they hate on any organization that changes often and has become the biggest player in its niche. The look or privacy settings or the way posts show up all change. In fact, that is the one thing I Don't like about it: the algorithm underlying the way posts show up isn't helpful, for anyone, really. I wish there was a setting that could I could change to "see everything." As it is, I make judicious use of lists and news feed changes and visit folk's pages when I think I haven't heard anything from them in a while.

Just like we do in real life.

Building relationships--whether online or in the theater--takes time, curiosity, and a penchant for both listening and remembering. Do I have close relationships with the several hundreds of friends on Facebook? Do I have close relationships with the several hundred patrons who attend my theater in a given quarter? The point is that I want to and taking the time every day to connect in a small way helps make that want a reality.

Of course, Facebook doesn't really allow me to do this kind of writing, which is why I'm attempting to work over here more over the next month. I'll be cross-posting, so join the conversation wherever feels most natural. Which, right now for me, is on Facebook.