Surviving and Thriving

Earlier today, I sat on a panel at the annual conference of ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) entitled “Will We Just Survive or Will We Thrive? The Challenge of Implementing Entrepreneurship in Theatre” at the invitation of the panel organizer, Carolyn Roark, editor of the journal Ecumenica. In her preparatory email, she said that her thoughts on the topic were informed by several concepts among them Pine and Gilmore’s “The Experience Economy: Business is Theatre and all the World’s a Stage.” In my opening remarks, largely in response to that book, that I’ve written on this blog before: we need to stop saying “hey, let’s use the skills and creativity of theatre to make business better” and start saying “lets use the skills and creativity of business to make theatre better.” This reversal was met with a polite smattering of chuckles, which I took to be a positive response.

Later in the session, in response to an audience comment about producing plays being a bad business model, Carolyn made a rather brilliant statement, which I can only paraphrase here so won’t capture her clarity or poeticism. She said basically that we have to stop thinking of what we do solely as producing plays. Rather, we should think about “putting on plays” as only part of the portfolio of what a theatre artist does. We then ran with that together to provide examples of how theatre’s ability to make meaning can reach new and different audiences that in turn can earn money that enables one to produce plays – because that’s still important too.

I was a bit skeptical going into the session, but left feeling energized and ready to tackle tomorrow’s plenary panel, “Elephants in the Curriculum: A Frank Discussion about Theatre in a Changing Academic Landscape.” But that room seems awfully big…..

Speaking of conferences, the schedule for the second bi-annual p.a.v.e. symposium on entrepreneurship and the arts is shaping up nicely. We’ve added John Cimino to the schedule of the April 1-2 event. He’ll be leading a workshop on “Self-knowledge and Directions of Growth: Building Your Personal and Creative Infrastructure.”

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