Artistic Mantra: No More Inbreeding!

TCG

Photo by Bill Reichblum

The American theatre is changing – for the better.

At this year’s biannual conference of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for American not-for-profit theatres, artists, producers, and theatre makers, international collaboration and next-gen engagement were the focus.

In the past, many of these gatherings have felt too self-congratulatory: oh, how special we all are; how enlightened we are; how politically correct we are; and, definitely how important we are. Maybe it’s the economic crisis, maybe it’s the evolution of leadership, maybe it’s the openness to younger generations through technology platforms, or maybe it’s a combination of all these factors: this conference succeeded in looking outward.

Meiyin Wang, of the great Under the Radar Festival, put it best when she was tasked to evaluate another theatre’s mission: “We cannot afford to be inbreeders: we’ll get really ugly, really quickly.”

One of the highlights was an intimate performance by Sudan’s National theatre, the Albugaa Theatre. What was most striking was the generosity of the TCG audience. It wasn’t about professional courtesy, or merely being a nice host for a group of artists willing to jump into performance right after long and complicated travels. It was about being a genuine audience: to see the world through new eyes. Self-centered cynicism disappeared, and an honest exchange took place.

Andrew Zolli, the guy who can make demographic presentations as funny as a stand-up act, as well as enlightening, provided the keys to what the most innovative leadership teams do:

  • Make the top personnel accountable
  • Constantly place lots of small bets
  • Invest in those employees who are closest to the customer
  • Leverage innovations outside company
  • Copy existing “best practices”, but do so sparingly
  • Embrace a “cognitive portfolio” approach: people inside thinking differently on same set of issues
  • Systematically scan the company for “weak signals”
  • Create highly differentiated partnerships

Andrew and his Z + Partners provide a pretty good road map for making arts institutions better. He also provided a post-it note slogan to hold onto in the midst of all the noise of our daily lives: “The fastest moving trends get all the attention; but the slowest moving trends have the most power.”

The final words of wisdom came during a gathering led by Michael Fields (Dell’Arte’s Mad River Festival is coming soon): even though we are all so global, our sustenance comes from our community.

Look outward, welcome new voices, connect to community, and always be generous: America appears to be building, and sustaining, a new theatrical profile.

- Bill Reichblum

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