Posted: July 4, 2009 in Kennedy Center, Training
Tags: , , ,

Even though Friday was a Public Holiday here (4th of July falls on a Saturday this year) we still had a morning session with Michael.  Particularly cool about this session was the fact that we had all the Fellows together, both the first- and second-year groups.  As you may know, this is the second year of the International Summer Fellowship Programme and every year, a group of new participants is chosen.  So, we were the first group last year and are now in second year, with a new group of first years having been selected.  Next year, there will be three groups coming to the KC concurrently (first, second and third years), which is how it will continue for as long as the KC chooses to run the programme.

Is this making sense to you? (KC joke…sorry…)

So in this All-Fellow session, Michael explained that he wanted to call on a few of the second-year Fellows to talk about some of the things that they had implemented from the KC since their Fellowship last year, and what had worked/not worked.  First up, he calls on Zvonimir  who runs an awesome Festival (now two) in Croatia that (broadly explained) deals with the notion of “The Other” or “Queer” in a sense of everything outside the norm.  Zvonimir is one of those guys who is someone you learn from all the time because he’s good at what he does without being self-righteous about it.  So whenever you talk work, he oozes confidence and a clarity about how he does what we does without even realising it.  He spoke about getting rid of the many complimentary tickets that the Festival used to give out and that had become expected by everyone.  (Michael’s BIG on the abolition of comps, citing simply that your work is not worth no money at all, and if it is, you shouldn’t be doing it!) So Zvonimir explained that at first, people were a little peeved at being denied comps and some people pointedly did not buy tickets as a result.  However, after the Fest closed and they could crunch the figures, it appeared that while attendance was down, the Festivals still pulled in more revenue on ticket sales than ever before, meaning one of two things: 1) comping people significantly eats into your income; 2) that people were prepared to pay money to watch shows.  So, why comp someone who is prepared to pay to see your show anyway?  If they want to come, they will come.  And if you set up the understanding that you don’t ever offer comps, people will get used to it.  (Of course, your price point has to be appropriate.)  Michael also pointed out that Zvonimir’s fundraising had been made significantly easier by setting up a second Festival, so even though he is now needing to raise more money than before, the project and its impact is much greater so sponsors are more interested in getting involved.  Another teaching of Michael: don’t be scared of big projects; they are often easier to pull together if done cleverly.

Next in the hot seat was Noora who has a traditional dance troupe in Palestine (yes, it does exist) and does unbelievable work under pretty tough conditions.  Her group has been going for 30 years and has developed a solid support structure of people who would literally die for the organisation.  Michael visited her group earlier on in the year and was very complimentary about everything she is achieving there.  For this session, he asked her to speak specifically about her Board and the involvement of each individual on it.  She explained that every Board member does something specific for the organisation (on a voluntary basis) from performance, to technicals, to fundraising, to management, and you are only invited to sit on the Board after 7 years of service to the group.  The commitment of the Board Members is clear and is something many arts organisations would be envious of.  She also started a Membership Programme (paying an annual amount of money towards the sustainability of the organisation and receiving certain membership benefits) and reported that she is successfully getting it off the ground.  Noora is a do-er; one of those women that makes things happen no matter what the circumstance, and her passion, commitment and never-failing sense of humour is a pleasure to be around and learn from.

Just as I’m getting into this all, listening to my fellow Fellows talking about their successes, feeling proud on behalf of them, feeling lucky to know them and get to learn from them, Michael turns to me and says, “So Tanya, what have you been up to in South Africa?”  Now, I’m not expecting this because, with only a limited amount of time with Michael in this session, I am expecting him to call on one of the Czech Chicks, or the Egyptian contingency or Nada from Lebanon, all with so many successes and experiences to share.  But he calls on me.  What have I been doing in South Africa?  So, I start.  Now let me just say upfront that I exist in two perpetual states about the work I am doing for FTH:K: on one hand, I am really proud of what we are achieving. None of us are trained in management or administration.  I’m a trained dancer and theatre-maker now turned Arts Manager, after all, so I try to celebrate all our successes, big and small, always remembering where we started.  On the other hand, I am constantly impatient to see results, to be doing more, developing faster, getting securer; and too often I find myself fixated on that which we haven’t yet achieved rather than that which we have.  Pride vs. Self-Criticism.  And as I start speaking, it is this very conflict of pride and self-criticism that plays out.  My role in the scenario is that of Pride while Michael picks up the script for Self-Criticism.  I begin talking about our success in doing away with the expected Opening Night complimentary tickets, without much fallout from audience members.  FTH:K’s work is worth at least R20, it appears.  He lets me take a point here.  But on feeding back on our Membership Programme, Development Committee and staffing issues, Pride takes a series of knocks.  Membership is not growing fast enough; there are concerns around the Development Committee make-up; and all the Fellows get involved in a discussion around whether my take on employees (MUST potential management employees be avid theatre supporters in order to be successful at their jobs?) is correct.  Pride feels a little deflated.

The session ends and a number of Fellows, old and new, comment on how “harsh” Michael was on me.  And I’m left thinking: was he really?  Was I called to speak as a bad example?! (Akkk!!  Pride whimpers in a corner at the thought!) Or was Michael simply making use of my thick skin to direct difficult commentary through me, to the rest of the group?  It could be that, given he believes that SA and the USA have a lot in common in terms of arts environments, he had expected more growth in less time from me.  Maybe he wanted to be harsh with me to motivate me, eliciting the response of, “Well, I’ll show you…4000 members coming up!”  Maybe, quite simply, it’s just that my big mouth encourages people to want to put me in my place!  Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

And as I am mulling over this, with Fellows and a few shots of tequila, I remind myself of what this Fellowship is all about: learning, planning and networking.  Can I learn something from Michael’s criticism?  Yes.  Can what I have learnt from him help me do my work better in SA?  Yes.  Will my work in SA help achieve the vision and aims of FTH:K?  Absolutely.  So, what’s the problem?!  There is no place for ego and pride in this Fellowship.  It’s about developing and growing, and that may happen in challenging, sometimes de-motivating ways.  But hey, if you can’t take the heat, get out of Arts Management!  And I am reminded once again that the performing arts world is not for sissies…

  1. Sue Murray says:

    Dear Tanya, I’ve just returned from Grahamstown where, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of FTH:K’s shows as I was running around with the CPO and trying to see as much other music as possible, plus some mainstream theatre for a change. A wonderful few days. Now catching up on masses of email, but have really enjoyed following your blog at the KC and admire your honesty and candidacy about what is happening to you. And your trust in what is on offer. I have no doubt that you must be one of their most outstanding candidates and I look forward to seeing you when you’re back in Cape Town and have a moment to spare. Take care and enjoy! Sue

    • fthk says:

      Hey Sue

      Thanks so much for following my journey here and for your support! Sorry you didn’t get to see our shows but I know that Fest is always so hectic for the artists. How did the CPO go? Where they a great success, as always? Let’s definitely hook up for a coffee when I get back in CT and catch up. Until then, keep warm in CT!


  2. Rose says:

    Hey Tink, it’s such a privilege to share all of this vicariously from across the world. Your positive attitude to the ‘criticism’ will result in the right sort of action because, with all due respects, your Michael is not the one who has to deal with your particular set of social and creative circumstances. So STERKTE and love from your old fogies for each new challenge coming your way!

    • fthk says:

      Hey Rose!

      So good to find you on the blog and to feel support all the way from SA. Really, really cool. Indeed, what you say is true and it’s interesting that I am finding this year more challenging that last, but I guess the learning is the easy part; the APPLICATION of the learning is where it get tough. But I’m keeping my eyes on the prize all the while. Much love from DC.


  3. Noora Baker says:

    You are a survivor Tanya. Just remember that self doubt and honesty is what pushes you to work harder and be as creative and amazing as you are today.

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