Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Managing Director Salaries: The Point?

The point of my post below on managing director salaries is not whether or not the MD of the Goodman "earns" his money (whatever that might mean in this context) (although a 2-star overall rating, a 1-star efficiency rating by Charity Navigator and a decreasing primary revenue amount might suggest questions might be in order), but rather to indicate that the non-profit theatre seems to have succumbed to the corporate model of scaling salaries according to the closeness to the Board. When you have a Board that is likely drawn from the higher economic classes in Chicago, the amount that they feel is proper compensation for management, given their own experience, will reflect that orientation. Imagine, instead, that the Board was made up of people who worked a regular job for a living -- let's say, grocery store managers -- would they feel that $340,000 was justifiable?

The model of the theatre tribe makes sure that the money is being distributed fairly and equitably, and that those whose work the public overtly comes to see (actors, directors, designers) are paid as much as those whose work is invisible to the audience. While administrative and artistic leadership is important, it is no more important than the actual act of creation.

Context: Managing Director Salaries

A while back, there was a flurry of discussion about Artistic Director salaries. Playgoer did an excellent job examining NYC artistic director salaries, and I plucked a few anonymously. While I think this discussion was pretty dynamic and the direction it went was interesting, I thought we might throw these salaries into a more accessible context.

Here in Asheville, there is a grocery chain called Ingles, which operates 197 supermarkets in six southeastern states. This last quarter, they had net sales of $771M. If you multiply that number by four, you get an approximation of their net sales for the year. Divide it by 197 stores, and you get the average net sales per store: $15.65M.

The income for the Goodman Theatre was $15.89M, according to Charity Navigator.org. The managing director of that organization -- not the artistic director, the managing director -- was paid $340,021.

So here's my question: do you think, if I drove over to the Ingles a few blocks away, that the manager of the store is being paid $340,ooo a year?

Out of Town Thursday through Monday

Tomorrow morning, I am heading to Illinois to see my stepson, Jake, play the role of Danilo in The Merry Widow at Illinois State University, where he is working on his degree in acting. I am looking forward to it with great anticipation not only because it's Jake (although that's a big part of it), but because it is Jake performing in an operetta I know nothing at all about. It is a real pleasure to see a play I know nothing about and so will be surprised about. My wife and I leave Thursday morning and will arrive Friday. The opening night is Friday, and we'll see him again on Sunday (the leads are double cast, so he doesn't perform on Saturday). Then back to Asheville by Monday evening. So no blogging Thursday through Monday.

However, there will be a link to my post on Richard Florida on the "Regional Communities: Think Local Planet, Act Regionally" blog. This is a very interesting site for people interested in the idea of a theatre tribe.

I think on of the pleasures and challenges of thinking about a theatre tribe model is that it requires a great deal of interdisciplinary learning. You can't simply focus on theatre, because essentially you are re-imagining the role of theatre and the artist within society, the economy, the community, and the individual. That means getting acquainted with so many more areas.

And I just love that! I love learning new things, and I love making connections between an idea that was originally conceived within a specific context and a new context.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

John Taylor Gatto on Education

Have any of you read John Taylor Gatto's books on education? They are passionate, intelligent, and very, very disturbing. His descriptions of the problems with most public education is on the money, as far as I'm concerned. And while I at times take issue with his solutions, as the years pass I find myself more and more in his corner. If you'd like a sample, read his essay "The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher," which is summarized by Dave Pollard on his How to Save the World blog as follows:
(1) confusion, incoherence and disconnection (by teaching without context), (2) know and stay in your place, (3) don't care too much, (4) how to be emotionally dependent, (5) how to be intellectually dependent (wait to be told what to do and think), (6) your self-esteem is provisional on what others think of you, (7) you can't hide, even long enough to think for yourself. The system was designed to produce compliant industrial workers, but now operates on its own momentum. Unschooling is the only way out.
While Gatto is talking about K-12 education, I must confess that I don't see college being a whole lot different, and that goes double for theatre education.

On Boards

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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Goal of Theatre Tribe: More Work!


From one of my new favorite books, Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:
"The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous painting reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by overpainting the still-wet canvas. The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about – and lots of it!”
In many ways, this stands at the center of what I am trying to accomplish through the theatre tribe concept. When I read many of my fellow bloggers, I get a deep sense of how difficult it is to keep making work. Playwrights have the best deal, because at least they can keep writing plays even if they can't get them regularly produced. (That's cold comfort.) But actors, directors, designers are stuck.

The ultimate goal of the theatre tribe is to create a business model that allows theatre artists to create lot of work, so that the likelihood of the creation of "artwork that soars" increases.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Every once in a while, an issue arises on my blog that leads to discussion about my personal blogging "style," and words like "abrasive" and "combative" inevitably are trotted out. People tell me that I would be more "effective" if I were "nicer," if I didn't "lecture," even if I used fewer declarative sentences! Sometimes I get irritated with these discussions - in fact, I'm afraid I got a little testy with Freeman and Isaac late last week in a series if IM's and emails that were sent out of friendship, and I apologize to them publicly (end of a busy week).

Anyway, I was talking about this with my wife this weekend, and in the course of the discussion I was struck by a realization due to an observation she made: when I blog, I play a role. I'm not really like the guy who writes this blog. I'm not like this in classroom, or home with my wife, or out with friends. Like the Wizard of Oz, I have constructed a fiery, scary persona to mask my own more human side. While I have never quite understood why the Wizard benefited from this persona (doesn't it seem like the Munchkins would have worshipped him regardless?), I know why I play that role: because most of you can't.

Let me explain.

Most of you who participate in the theatre blogging community, either as bloggers or readers, are artists. In a highly competitive field in which everybody knows everybody else, your livelihood depends on people seeing you as someone they want to work with, and it might be dangerous for you to risk offending people through too-pointed criticism. It isn't that you don't address controversial issues (or else nobody would have talked about Rachel Corrie, for instance), but just that your comments, your blogging persona, operate within that context.

But as many of my readers regularly point out to me, I am not an artist but an academic -- and a tenured academic to boot, and with that comes certain freedoms. I have the passion for the art, and the commitment to its health and well-being, and a belief in its power and value, but I don't rely on it for sustenance. And that allows me to say things that others can't as easily.

And so I can serve a particular function in the theatrosphere. I can serve as the gadfly and the curmudgeon. I can email the editor of American Theatre or a representative of the NEA and take them to task over certain issues because I don't need anything from them. I can be blunt, and bring the issues to the fore without worrying whether I am ever going to be needing their support.

But the help I do need comes from the rest of you. After I stir the waters, you can follow behind and make suggestions for improvements that will calm them, and so the situation may be resolved. I can't do this easily myself -- when you're a disembodied head with fire that shoots up with every word, it is hard to be anything except scary and speak in declarative sentences! Once I raise an issue -- say, the increasingly more centralized coverage of theatre in American Theatre -- you can all talk about how the staff of American Theatre's heart is in the right place (true), they have a challenging job (very true), etc and make a few friendly, practical suggestions that might improve the situation -- for instance, make some suggestions for article topics or writers, or suggest a monthly feature by the Flyover people, or whatever. That way, you look like nice people, and things change for the better. Everybody wins.

The fact is -- and I suspect my students would concur, and I know my wife would, and maybe my colleagues would (at least most of the time) -- I am much closer in real life to the man behind the curtain than the fiery green head. Pointed, sure, a little ironical, of course, but kindly at heart. Is there a part of me that is like the fiery head -- absolutely, or I wouldn't be able to so easily assume that persona. But it is a partial self. And while a blog other than Theatre Ideas might allow that real person to come out, Theatre Ideas is about trying to create change, and right now I think change needs to be provoked rather than coaxed, and sometimes that means some fire and declarative sentences more than kindly one-liners. But we need to work together.

Keep Toto away from the control booth for a little while longer.