|Lessons Learned So Far...
by Adam Brazier
Reprinted with permission from the Theatre20 Blog
I consider myself good at very few things. I am often heard saying that I can only speak intelligently about three things: donuts, hockey and theatre. That being the case, I’ve always viewed theatre as a team sport. So allow me to indulge and abuse an analogy.
Theatre is about a full team effort and maintaining hope no matter what. Hope that the team can pull together the impossible, overcome adversity to tell a great story and win over a reluctant audience. I’ve always pictured the theatre director a coach, the producer a GM and the actors as players. The past two years I’ve been a part of an expansion franchise (don’t worry, I’ll drop the hockey analogy soon) – a new organization searching for a place within a community and culture – team with huge goals and massive obstacles. We call our team Theatre 20.
It’s a fun team to play on and although there are always challenges, it’s a team that supports and encourages each other when times are tough... and there are a lot of tough times. Sometimes, despite all the love and support, I feel like we’re on a losing team -- a team with great intentions that’s struggling to find an audience and make a difference in our community.
Now that we’re officially two years into production, I want to take a few minutes to share some of the bigger lessons I’ve learned. For many who will read this, these lessons were learned years ago and I’m only now catching up. But to those who, like myself, are new to this side of the stage, I hope it provides you with insight and gives you a larger understanding of the challenges most arts organizations have in our beloved City of Toronto.
1) Ya know that Stage Manager you ask to make coffee on your break? DON’T. They are the hardest working people in theatre and more often than not, they don’t even get breaks. They’re in the rehearsal hall an hour before you and an hour after you, they not only know your blocking (‘cause you’ve forgotten), they also know everyone else’s... and often they bring cake on your birthday.
2) You see that ticket stub? You see the price of that ticket stub? Its actual value is likely double what you paid. This means the company producing this show has had to raise the other half of your ticket price. I say this only to remind audiences how hard the not-for-profit sector works to contribute to our culture.
3) No matter how honest, ambitious, focused, well-intended or important your cause is, granting bodies have their own mandates and someone has been beating down their door longer then you. Never rely on grants. Raise the money you need; grants are gravy. Bloodless cost Theatre 20 approximately $700,000. We received $5,000 from government granting bodies...that’s it. Everything else was raised through hard work and from generous patrons of the arts.
4) Dream big!!! I was advised early on that if your mandate isn’t going to make a significant contribution to your’re culture and community, then you’re not dreaming big enough.
5) Your organization is only going to be as successful as your Board’s commitment to raising funds and supporting your cause. The Board is your best friend, ally and shoulder to lean on. Treat them well and with the respect they deserve and they will return the favour.
6) MORE PREVIEWS. MORE PREVIEWS. MORE PREVIEWS.
7) Remain optimistic. This advice was given to me by Director of Programming at Mirvish. He said, “You have no choice but to remain optimistic in this profession. It’s the only way to keep believing in your work and value”. He also advised me never to invest my own money... smart man.
8) Stop looking over other people’s shoulders for who you can talk to next. Invest in each dialogue. Make each person know they matter and that you’re listening... and here’s the hardest part of that, you actually have to do it. You can’t fake sincerity.
9) MORE PREVIEWS. MORE PREVIEWS. MORE PREVIEWS.
10) It’s only theatre. A rich life is a life lived fully. There is more to life than theatre. For me that meant learning to put down my phone, iPad, computer and actually turn work off. My wife has been very patient with me in this regard but I continue to struggle with this one.
11) See as much theatre as you can. Get out and support others. Good theatre anywhere is good for theatre everywhere! We are all in this together. The world needs more Derrick Chuas and Barbra Fingerotes!
12) Remember to eat on Opening Night. Otherwise the booze goes straight to your head at the party after the show.
13) Artists are insane people with irrational behaviour and impulsive emotions. They are also thoroughly entertaining, passionate and inspiring. Everything in moderation!
14) DON’T READ REVIEWS!!! They offer you no wisdom that will help in your current production. By the time a critic has seen your show, you’ve been through the rehearsal process and made choices with purpose and conviction. You’re not going to change your performance because some schmuck thinks otherwise, are you? That’s not your job. You are a valuable member of our culture. They are outsiders looking in. You know better than they do because you were present while it was being created. Stick to your guns and believe in yourself... even when it feels like no one else does.
15) It’s not supposed to be easy. If you find yourself sitting and waiting for something to do? You’ve forgotten to do something.
What I’m most proud of has been our ability to deliver on our mandate. We set out to create work, produce an original Canadian musical and begin fostering the next generation of musical artists. We put almost $300,000 in the pockets of local artists, we fostered Joseph Aragon’s Bloodless:The trial of Burke and Hare to production within the 2012 Mirvish season and our Outreach Programs continue to grow and develop new works and performers. At the end of the day this is what keeps me going. Knowing it’s all possible, despite the many obstacles and naysayers.
So these are a few of the lessons Ii’ve learned over the past few years. I’m sure most of you know these thoughts already, but they have been shown to me in a new light this past year and I continue to be grateful for these insights.m.
And I believe in the power of theatre – and Theatre 20 – more than ever.
P.S. MORE PREVIEWS. MORE PREVIEWS. MORE PREVIEWS!