Facts, Principles, Considerations: Important Reminders
- Challenges. Challenges will occur throughout a theatre administrator’s tenure – some will be simple, some complex; some of small proportion, some daunting; some local in nature, some global; some short-lived, some seemingly endless. Each challenge will produce disruption and therefore a level of concern – both of which may or may not be aligned in proportion with the other. The intensity of the concern may be dependent upon the (a) perceived and real impact the challenge may have on the theatre unit, the institution, and the health and well-being of those involved in the activities of the institution; (b) readiness of the institution and its theatre unit to meet the challenge; and (c) willingness of all involved to remain united in their efforts to address the challenge. Although the nature and intensity of what lies ahead is often unknown and can rarely be predicted, anticipating and accepting the constancy of problems and challenges may prove helpful in developing and nurturing a pervasive culture of proactive readiness, in part to keep at bay the sorts of unease that may result from reactive unpreparedness.
- Dealing with Realities at Multiple Levels. In every situation, it is advisable to consider future action in terms of what can change or has changed, what does not or cannot change, and also what can or cannot change back. As theatre administrators, we understand that (a) educating and preparing students for the profession is an abiding principle – something that must not change, and (b) all curricular and other efforts of the institution and its personnel must work in concert to support the realization of achievement in individual students in terms of content mastery and technical skill. Each institution develops specifics of curriculum, schedule, graduation requirements, and so forth to accomplish this purpose. However, even in normal times, specific means vary from institution to institution. The permanent presence of such differences demonstrates that there are many ways to accomplish commonly held purposes, many successful methods, many ways of teaching, many ways of selecting and organizing subject matter. These facts and realities taken together are a useful springboard for developing temporary solutions in disruptive times: for example, focusing on function first, and method or delivery systems second, which sustains attention to core or first order issues. It also sets the stage for developing creative solutions and responses – for recalibrating and adjusting the ways in which curriculum and other student development elements are structured, ordered, scheduled, delivered, and evaluated in order to remain as productive as possible for the duration of problematic conditions.
- Working Within Your Institution. If your theatre unit is part of a larger institution, you will probably be working with specific policies and mandates established by higher authorities and working to cooperate as best as possible under current circumstances. It is likely, however, that you and your colleagues will be responsible for specific decisions within the frameworks of those policies and mandates. In carrying out such responsibilities, it may be useful to consider the extent to which the decisions you are developing are consistent and align with the fundamentals of existing institutional policies which address emergencies and other problematic situations – not simply the letter, but also the spirit of these policies, particularly if you have to justify your decisions to institutional officers. At such times, returning to the clarity of purpose and direction a well-conceived and broadly shared and accepted vision provides can be instructive and informative for those with decision-making authority and responsibility.
- Trust. Difficult times naturally produce information and emotions that can erode trust. Often, active measures are employed to manipulate trust for various purposes. In dealing with what is natural and in trying to discern what is manipulated, administrators and faculties have a special responsibility to maintain and build trust among each other within their own contexts. First, because it is the right thing to do, and second, because it is the productive thing to do. Trust enables efficiency, careful and comprehensive consideration, economy, and speed. All studies, proposals, and decision-making should be considered in light of their impact on trust. It helps to remember that trust is essential when dealing with crisis situations, as well as the rigors of any given day.
- Knowledge, Experience, and Sharing. As you and your colleagues work through the situations you face, you will gain knowledge and experience that can be shared. Be willing to help other institutions seeking advice, but also with other kinds of assistance. NAST members have supported each other through various crises and challenges during its decades-long history. Most institutions have a group of institutions or theatre programs regarded as their peers. Seeking consultation and advice from peer institutions or programs first may produce ideas more likely to fit purposes, and be desirable, appropriate, and affordable. Of course, good ideas come from an infinite number of sources, and there should be no hesitation to contact those you think may be able to provide assistance which can inform your decision-making.
- Positive Attitudes. Courage, patience, and perseverance are hallmarks of work in theatre and in all the arts disciplines. They are major elements in sustaining positive attitudes. Leaders exhibit and cultivate positive attitudes, even as they help others work realistically within extant conditions. Positive attitudes are important elements in building the strength and cohesion necessary for success in any time, and especially in difficult times. Positive attitudes are also powered by gratitude, by reminding ourselves of the great progress we and our predecessors have made in a relatively short period of time. Setbacks and frustrations should not daunt us, but rather teach us, and inspire ever greater success.
- Coursework and Basic Functions. Each course in a curriculum has a set of core purposes that can be thought of and expressed as basic functions. Basic functions may be labeled as goals and objectives or carry some other designation. At the course level, it may be useful to concentrate on these several basic functions, especially when the customary delivery system is disrupted or no longer available. Courses and experiences that function to teach the performance and presentation aspects of theatre through actual performing and presentation provide a case in point. When performances and shows are cancelled, when performance, presentation, and creation lessons and classes are no longer taught, especially in groups, it may be useful to look at which basic functions addressed by these courses can and cannot be taught by other means. The principle just articulated suggests the utility of reprioritizing as necessary – finding means for fulfilling or concentrating on certain functions of specific courses during the period when all the usual basic functions of that course cannot be addressed.
- Creativity and Solutions. As artists, we are centered in creativity, in finding new ways to express and do. Difficult times call for creativity and for timely and carefully considered experimentation, especially with method, but also with function as necessary. Consider building solutions around appropriately selected features of artistic work such as theme and variation, idea development over time or in space, controlled balance and imbalance, proportion, metamorphosis, controlled scattering and gathering, juxtapositions of opposites, random or apparently random presentations of material that aggregate in time, recognition and use of natural orders, sequences, and reactions, and so forth. Remember that while fulfilling specific curricular content-based functions, it is acceptable to break from traditional conventions. Often such breaks become the bases for discoveries that become or influence new conventions.
- Resources and Allocations. Given the nature of the issues facing an institution, it may be necessary to make stopgap plans as though there will be no new resources, while also facing the possibility of fewer resources immediately or in the future. Allocations within the theatre unit may need adjusting, and the unit may experience reallocations from upper administration. To be ready for any external resource or allocation proposal or decision, it may be useful to develop a short and well-reasoned list of absolute make-or-break variables or issues for the unit that include but go beyond specific curricular considerations. Such a list with reasoned annotations may prevent decisions that inadvertently produce long-term damage. At any level, it is extremely important to avoid setting resource allocation precedents that cannot be sustained. Expectations management is essential. A few minutes of thought devoted to possible ramifications may assist to prevent years of misunderstanding and trouble.
- Health and Safety. The health, safety, and well-being of all individuals involved in the work of the institution is of paramount concern. On an ongoing basis, it is critical to review all proposals and operational plans against applicable external (i.e., federal and state) and internal (i.e., institutional) policies and requirements regarding health and safety. Personally, it is critical to take precautions seriously, and to exercise appropriate self-care.