The area of artistic leadership, though thoroughly mis0understood as a defined area, is something of particular interest to me; I am currently Co-Artistic Director for a regional theatre company and have directed many productions over the last few years. In the role of ‘director’ I am very aware of what my duties involve because it is a production-specific position. A director takes a play from the pages of the script, interprets it, and creates a visual representation of that script that communicates clear meaning to the target audience. When it comes to my role as an ‘Artistic Director’, however, there is less clarity.
The duties of the Artistic Director are, on the surface, quite simple: plan and implement the annual season for a theatre company. The role is the ultimate level of artistic leadership in a company and it is at this point that it become a grey area. To be a leader implies a sort of management and that then becomes associated with a range of ancillary responsibilities. Suddenly there is a large amount of administration, scheduling, evaluating and training that becomes an additional part of the job beyond the planning of a series of productions to produce in a year.
The limited research that is available (see previous posts) suggests that people in positions of artistic leadership acknowledge their responsibilities to:
- The company they work for;
- The community in which they work;
- Younger and less experienced artists; and,
- The promotion of theatre as an art form.
I agree that these key duties are essential to the successful leadership of a theatre company but I have realised in the last year or so how much effort that is involved in fulfilling them. I have become increasingly aware of the issues that were put forward in the international conferences of artistic leaders. In particular, the issue of administration overload is evident in modern artistic leadership.
A certain level of administrative duties are essential for effective artistic leadership, however, the key is to have the management board of a theatre company distinguish between what admin supports the work of the artistic leader and what hinders such work. Essential administration includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Scheduling of seasons;
- Theatre resource bookings;
- Creation and adjustments of role statements that align with the artistic goals of the company;
- Artistic strategic plans outlining the artistic goals of the company and methods to achieve them; and,
- Development of programs aimed at benefiting less experienced artists.
While not an exhaustive list, this does demonstrate the need for artistic leaders to have the capability to complete administrative tasks. Company management must also provide admin support in order to allow for effective artistic leadership to take place. Artistic leaders need to have time and energy to be present with directors, crews and cast members and to mentor less experienced personnel. For this reason, there are many admin processes for which the artistic leader will need efficient support to complete. Such tasks include:
- Copying and printing services;
- Applying for performance rights;
- General communications;
- General rostering processes;
- Budget tracking (though they must be aware of budget situations); and,
- Marketing and publicity processes.
I am not denying the absolute vitality of these tasks! Theatre companies must also acknowledge the importance of such duties by delegating them to specific personnel within their staffing. When staffing is sorted appropriately, and clear duty statements are in pace and communicated, then each role will complete admin tasks that are completely relevant to their work and that move the company toward to achieving artistic goals.
One final note that I would make here is that, when appropriate allocation of duties is in place, artistic leaders must cooperate with those tasked with other administrative responsibilities. No position should be secondary to the other; they each exist because of their essential contributions to the success of the company. Respect and gratitude become a necessity.