Joe's post at Butts in the Seats, "Skeptical Eye on Board Recruitment," raises an issue that has always bothered me on a personal level, but that I am willing to be schooled on: why is it that a theatre needs an outside board at all? Is this connected to this idea of a non-profit organization being an entity in service to the community, and so it should receive community oversight?
It has always annoyed me because it seems sort of like a requirement to have "grown-ups" oversee the Irresponsible Artists who simply can't be trusted to know what to do in the practical world of money management. Does it seem that way to you?
Because what seems to happen all too regularly is that boards get filled with people who are focused money issues, and their solutions to those issues almost inevitably involve encouraging the artists to do more traditionally popular plays, by which they mean plays that have a proven track record. This is an odd idea to me. If you were an entrepreneur, it would be like a board telling you that the best thing to do with the company would be do a knock-off of a successful product another company made money on in the past. This would seem absurd in the business world, but in the theatrical world it is almost conventional wisdom among laypeople.
A layer that has been added is the board as contributor and fundraiser, which to me seems like a way to reinforce the idea that the theatre is an art form for the wealthy elite.
This is why I am currently undecided on whether a theatre tribe should incorporate as a non-profit. The advantages, of course, are that a non-profit would be eligible for grants, which could be very important. However, if the goal is to disconnect as much as possible from that reliance on private and public grants, then not incorporating might be a good way to encourage that.
If I had to have a board, I think it might be worthwhile to approach it from a different direction. Instead of looking for wealthy donor-types, I might want to fill the board with experts in areas that connect to values and goals within the organization. So if you are committed to sustainability and eco-friendly approaches, have someone who knows about solar power or green theatre techniques (although I'd prefer to have that person on staff...Mike Lawler, I'm talking to you...), or local markets. If you are committed to extending the tribe's income through the creation of small business opportunities, you might want an expert in consulting or small business startup. If you want to market through relationships and word-of-mouth, you might want a person who is an expert in that area. Gonna raise food for the tribe? Have someone on the board who knows about subsistence or organic farming. In other words, create a board of advisers and consultants, rather than a fundraising board.
Also -- and this is going to seem contradictory, given my emphasis on maintaining a local orientation -- but I wouldn't be reluctant to populate that board with experts who live outside the area. Given that board meetings happen sporadically, it might be just as acceptable to have board meetings via video conferencing or some other alternative. Then create a community board that is drawn from all segments of the community, so that it isn't a board reflecting a financial and social elite.
Or follow the example of Shakespeare and Moliere and all the commedia troupes and don't have a board at all.