In August, I celebrated my five-year work-versary at OTC. Not a huge milestone by any means (certainly not compared to Director of Sales Weldon Brown who is approaching 25 years!), but an opportunity to reflect. When I took this job, I didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes I shudder at just how “green” I was in those early days. I remember re-reading arts management textbooks and consulting with mentors, searching for a list of “how to’s” and “what to do when…”. Eventually, I realized there isn’t a “how to book,” especially when things happen that have never happened before (like just this month when we had the unprecedented experience of being forced to cancel five performances due to circumstances outside of our control) The “how to” is often learned by doing.
Simply speaking, a managing director of a non-profit regional theatre is responsible for:
1. Building resources, structures, and strategies to carry out the mission and vision that drive the advancement and sustainability of the Theatre;
2. Making the Artistic Director look good (a bit cheeky, but I’ll explain…)
Number 1 is pretty obvious. I am entrusted by the Board of Directors to ensure we have the money and operational plans to do what we need to do to fulfill our mission. I have to keep the 40,000 foot view with an eye on the future—where we are headed and what we need to do to get there.
Number 2 may seem silly to say, but it is actually pretty important. Jason and I function as Co-CEO’s and while we are responsible for different departments, a big piece of what makes us effective partners is that we need each other to succeed and look good. If Jason has the resources to produce great plays, he is able to lead an artistic vision that matters to our community and elevates OTC’s reputation. And then people respond favorably by buying tickets and making philanthropic gifts and my job is so much easier.
What I love the most about my job—and I think this goes for almost any position in the Theatre—is that the days are never the same and I’m always learning something new. Some days are more challenging than others, and at times the responsibility can feel daunting. But, after five years in the role, I’ve learned to keep these things in mind:
1. What we do as theatre professionals is important. We aren’t a social service in the traditional sense, but we provide intrinsic value and service to the public. Theatre helps solve problems and resolve conflict, teach invaluable lessons, improve humanity, and build stronger, healthier and vibrant communities. OUR WORK IS IMPORTANT.
2. Problems are always darker and more ominous in the middle of the night. I’m at the age when a good night sleep can be hard to come by and I often awake in the middle of the night with thoughts about work. (What I have to do, what I didn’t do, what I should do, etc.) But I have learned that whatever the problem I’m trying to solve, it is best solved after the sun rises.
3. Routine. In order to counterbalance the variability and intensity of my work load, not to mention the busy schedules of my family, I need daily exercise. I need it for my mental health as much as for my physical well-being. Unfortunately, it is often the first thing I let go of when things get really crazy. I used to beat myself up about that, but now, I just I take a deep breath and return to the routine when I’m ready. Shout outs to @39minuteworkout, @bullseyerunning and @yogawithadrienne and many friends who keep me motivated.
4. Plan the work, then work the plan. Planning is key. Akin to the above, this often gets dropped when my schedule is overloaded. A return to planning and thinking through the goals helps calm the overwhelm.
5. Embrace flexibility. While planning is key, being flexible and adaptable to change is critical! This allows for new opportunities and important growth.
6. Gratitude for the OTC staff. Our theatre is active and complex— we produce, present, and tour, and lead a robust educational program as well as so many other things. Often all at the same time. Our staff works damn hard. Saying thank you to them as often as possible is a priority. I probably don’t do it enough. (Thank you!)
7. The moment the house lights go down and stage lights go up. It’s my favorite thing and it never gets old.