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Developing Leadership – Thoughts for Chicago Storefront Summit III

March 04, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

It’s been a longer than expected ramp up to the third Chicago Storefront Summit – which will be happening on March 22nd, and I hope you’ll join us again or for the first time. In the process, I had a couple “what the hell are we doing here?” conversations with Rebecca Zellar of the GreyZelda Theatre Group, who has really stepped up to help this ad-hoc group schedule, coordinate and dispatch the various breakout sessions and communications that crop up when you try to get 100 loosely-structured organizations to talk to each other.

We realized in this discussion: the summit is very much about giving the folks who run storefronts the tools, resources and opportunities to practice leadership – both leaders charting the course for their own company as well as leaders of the entire artistic community.

The clearest example of the way the storefront generates opportunity for an artist to develop their own leadership skills is in the way they’ve been organized thus far. Each summit thus far has been organized quickly, agilely, and with an absolute minimum of top-down leadership and maximum of bottom-up leadership. Each breakout meeting has begun with an artist who asks a question like “why aren’t women well represented in theatre leadership?” or “who else is doing theatre like me?” and the loose network comes together to compare notes, draw conclusions. All the coordinators – folks like Andy Hobgood, Matt Hoff, James Palmer, Dan Granata, Rebecca and I have been working on is how best to faciliate those discussions in a way that continuously promotes broad participation. And that is a tall order. But the framework has allowed people like Brian Golden, Margo Gray, Jenn Adams, Matthew Reeder and others to generate and perpetuate more and more conversation that, I think, has been very valuable to them and many others.

The summit is in many ways a less immediately effective but more mission-critical in-person companion to efforts at theatre management brainstorming like the collaborative idea nursery of 2amtheatre.com (or the twitter hashtag #2amt if you’re nasty). The #2amt conversation became a successful methodology almost accidentally for innovative brainstorming because it quickly synthesized a broad range of perspectives on a broad range of topics. It combined the brainpower of theatre producers (@dloehr, myself, @matthewreeder, @travisbedard, @trishamead), theatre funders & patrons (@ericzieg), theatre promoters (@scottyiseri, @davecharest) and theatre critics (@krisvire, @mreida) to solve common problems from all angles at once. It was, and continues to be, an agile way to have a conversation.

It’s harder to xerox that agility in an in-person meeting that needs to balance dozens of personal schedules and time limits: but the fact is that #2amt is not an accessible conversation for most theater makers to participate in, and conversations that come out of community groups like the Summit and the League of Chicago Theatres are still more potentially actionable than the high-level strategizing and future design brainstorms that #2amt is so good at.

So: I think we have to try.

There is a question – a point of resistance, in some ways, that manifests as a reasonable curiosity – that we’ve gotten a lot when being asked about what we’re trying to accomplish through the summit: What is its purpose?

A fair question. This is what I think.

The summit is a forum to discuss and share best practices at this level of producing theatre. It includes non-equity, independent, DIY, and newborn theatres that have a comparatively small amount of institutional memory and/or institutional overhead. Our discussion includes but is not limited to finding the simplest ways of getting storefronts the help and resources they need, and then – ideally – taking cooperative strategic action within the context of other established theater / arts advocacy orgs (such as the League) to more effectively articulate the solutions that will actually help us as a community of independent theatres.

Developing our own ability to lead, indeed.

The Third Chicago Storefront Summit
Monday, March 22
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Greenhouse Theater Center
(h/t to RZ for making it happen)

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