I have been doing quite a bit of study on the founding and sustaining of America’s regional theatres. The reason for my study is the Masters degree I am undertaking. My focus for the Masters is “Approaches to Artistic Leadership”. There is a wealth of information about leadership, and currently, there is quite a lot about tech startups and entrepreneurism. There is considerably less written about artistic leadership, yet there are still quite a few excellent reads.
As I have started to dig further into my reading on regional theatre in particular, I have noticed certain patterns of writing. There is a lot of writing about the founding of regional theatres in the 60s. More writing around the 20 and 25 year anniversaries and again last year at the 50 year anniversary. In all the writing, there is celebration around the existence and continued survival of regional theatres, and also question about its further sustainability, especially when viewed against a drift from founding artistic ideals.
Michael Kaiser’s The Cycle focuses on how artistic organizations can pursue a positive and continuous growth cycle by implementing “great, exciting programming supported by strong institutional and programmatic marketing”. Too often organizations develop a pattern of what works, and continue year after year. When institutional survival is threatened, a defensive mode is adopted, often leading to cuts in programming and marketing.
The writing during the 25 and 50 year anniversaries of regional theatre circle around the issues of watered down programming and institutional defensiveness. It is clear that institutions are prone to drift from the time of founding. It is up to the leadership to determine whether it will be drift and defense, or focused movement to the next great place of success.