One of the most amazing things about leading a community theatre organisation is that you have a place to let your own artistic passions run free. One of the biggest challenges with leading a community theatre organisation is that your artistic passions can become so loud that you cease to hear other voices and begin to believe that you are the only one with a heart for your company or indeed, the skills to take it into the future.
Sit down quietly on this couch next to me, take a glass of red in your hand and hear me as I gently ‘whisper’ into your ear – “THIS ATTITUDE WILL DRIVE YOUR ORGANISATION INTO THE GROUND!”
I know that you have a love of local theatre and you’re constantly inspired by it. You live for creativity and the idea an audience responding to your shows is a high the rest of the world will never understand. However, being passionate and creative does not necessarily make us good leaders of a community of other passionate and creative people. You see, I've leaned something about you. You have the tendency to carry a huge mental and physical load; one you were never meant to carry alone.
As a leader, I know you’re the one who picks up the bucks when they stop at your feet. You’re the one who loses sleep over ticket sales or a budget that isn’t stretching as far as you need it to. You’re the one who picks up the pieces when someone doesn’t do their job and I applaud you for all that, but, you’ve started to believe that no one else cares as much about the future of the organisation, that no one can do what you do as well as you do it.
Look, you might be right but ask yourself this – are you really enjoying yourself as much as you used to? Are your conversations about your theatre life full of inspiration and joy or are they just tirades of frustration about how no one else does anything?
Have you noticed that you’re being challenged more and more by new ideas and that you shut down discussions about the future of the company? Do you anchor every objection to the ideals of the past because it's familiar? Dear leader, this is a sure sign that you’re not leading – you’re protecting.
A community theatre organisation is full of creative inspiration. There are people with new ideas and vision for the future. Spending time listening to these people share their ideas is a cure for anything that ails you. These conversations are magical and hopeful. Nothing is impossible. But often I see these people shut down and frustrated because they frighten those in charge.
Why are community theatre leaders frightened by new ideas? Over a decade of serving on these organisations, and conversations with creatives and leaders has taught me these things:
Leaders are stressed and enormously busy, and they see any change as more work for themselves. Therefore they shut down these conversations before even exploring any ideas.
Leaders who have served for some time have their personal identity so wrapped up in their position in the organisation that new ideas are perceived as a challenge to their emotional wellbeing.
Stressed leaders can become blinkered to the world around them and not realise that they don’t know what they don’t know. They can become out of touch.
Leaders can become comfortable and 'settled' with the status quo. Change is going to mean discomfort.
Being a leader in a community theatre organisation is less about you and more about the people you serve. You started out thinking that way, I know you did. But lately it’s become apparent that your feet are stuck and you’re no longer moving forward. You’re not studying what it means to be a leader of people, you’re not seeking out new ideas and you’re certainly not looking for proactive ways to face all the challenges that come with running the organisation.
Let me share a secret with you – those people who are presenting new ideas for the organisation are just like you when you first began. Let them reignite the joy and passion within you. Imagine experiencing the excitement of taking a calculated risk and the exhilaration of witnessing new life breathing into your organisation's membership.
You have worked on your own long enough. We appreciate you and everything you have ever done for the organisation but perhaps it’s time -
Time to find new ways of doing things.
Time to release skills in the people around you.
Time to rediscover the joy of your theatre life.
Time to share the burden of leadership.
Time to listen to, encourage and explore new ideas.
If your company is going to survive you have to release it from your fears, knowing that others share your passion and drive as well and can offer the skills you need.
The best you can do is all you need to do!
Sherryl-Lee Secomb writes her blog, An Idiot On Stage, specifically to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary. Sher has been building brands for performing creatives in Australia since 2011 and now advises theatre organisations and performing artists in marketing their work and building awareness of their brand.
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