Last month we spoke with a number of major theater companies across the country about their challenges in planning an entire season. No one really seems to like the process. It’s stressful, unwieldy, and fraught with miscommunication. Everyone is trying to represent their specific departments and needs, which leads to an inevitable collision of interests. If everything is important, how do you prioritize?
In our discussions, the two biggest challenges we heard over and over were:
- Prioritizing resources (venue space, time, people, and money) based on the needs of the organization and all the departments therein.
- Effective documentation of the decisions being made.
In order to effectively prioritize who gets what resources, the team has to first understand the priorities of the company. But WHICH priorities? How do you rank financial, mission, reality and logistical priorities across artistic, education, programming, special events, and marketing? It’s the ultimate juggling championship.
In my imagination, we’re in one of those war-room movie scenes with everyone pushing miniature ships around a board with shuffle-board sticks while papers are tossed in the air in the background.
The reality is that it’s not an easy thing to qualify, especially if anyone is not on the same page about the organization’s goals.
This part of the process has a massive impact on the shape your season ultimately takes and therefore your organization as a whole. In a way, season-planning is a direct extension of business planning for your theater.
Documenting such a massive and complex plan has additional challenges.
First, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you won’t get it right on the first shot. In planning sessions, you’ll have to try many different ways to put the puzzle together before you get it right. Think working a one-color jigsaw puzzle, while blindfolded, being directed verbally by your colleagues, using chopsticks to put the pieces together. At times, it will devolve into a big game of trial and error. Does this feel right? Is everyone satisfied with their resources? Does this push our mission forward? Nope, try again.
The second challenge is that once the plan is in place, we need to actually see the fruits of our labor. It’s nearly impossible to visualize the season in all it’s complexity in one view. After all, if you can’t see it, how do you know it’s done? The end result of these planning sessions are some of the most elaborate and brightly colored spreadsheets I’ve ever beheld. We’ve even seen floor to ceiling wall calendars!
But these are unwieldy tools in their own right, and don’t allow for the easy translation of the information into more specific show, venue, and department schedules.
In the end everyone’s priorities are important. The mission is complex and requires the contributions of many different departments. It takes a lot of work to do what we do. But as we all know, the end result can be a thing of beauty.