Theater For The Future

The Art in the Business of Theater – Collaboration Tools and Technology and the Storefront Theater Movement

Fuel needs Oxygen, and Oxygen needs Fuel

December 07, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

Rebecca Zellar of @GreyZeldahas thrown up the Summit on Twitter
Bob Fisher aka the @devilvethas offered to host a small roundtable on how to produce in non-traditional spaces on 1/17 (details coming soon on his blog).
A number of other roundtables are in the works on the topics mentioned in the topics listed below (Jenn Adams [@halcyonjenn] and @MargoGrayare putting together a discussion of women in storefront theatre), and we’re looking for volunteers, facilitators and participants via Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere to help us put together more.
Tony Adams (@Halcyontony) has set up a public Google calendar (ICAL / XML) which you can use to stay on top of ALL the storefront summit breakout meetings. We’ll of course also be setting up Facebook events so that you can bring folks who will thank you for bringing them.

I think my favorite part of the Storefront Theatre Summit this evening was when Don Hall came up to me at the end and suggested that the way to make the conversation really heat up for next time would be: (drum roll)

… to form sub-committees.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing him a bit. But the nice thing was: these small project-based follow up meetings that he, our resident uncle devil’s advocate, suggested … were part of our plan from the beginning.

Generating meaningful conversation in the storefront community is a tall order. In the room tonight we had 25-year-old companies, 10-year-old companies, and 1-year-old companies. We had folks who were looking for help with board development, folks who were looking for collaborators, companies looking for better relationships with venues, companies looking for ways of being a better venue, organizations who were looking to get their services into the use of companies that need them, and folks who didn’t belong to companies at all yet.

So tonight was about discovering more detail of the lay of the land. We started with a simple round of introductions – Who we are, what we’re working on, what we need help on. Then we took a second pass to really focus in on the core of what community collaboration was about – what skills are we missing in our organizations, and what knowledge could we offer each other to make up the difference. This set off a dozen or so mini-conversations about a wide range of subjects, and after New Colony Board member Matt Hoff (our designated note taker for the evening) is done posting the conversation to the facebook page, I think a lot more connections and partnerships are in the works.

I’m believing more and more in this simple recipe for fueling productive collaborative conversation about complex subjects: 1 part comfortable and frank face-to-face meeting, 1 part online follow-up. Too much of either and you don’t get the right kind of explosive force.

The face-to-face isn’t – and can’t be – about accomplishing something in the room & banging it out, but it is about forming real connections, identifying common challenges efficiently, and establishing as much trust, context, and basis for comparison between parties as possible. We’re humans: we need the faces, voices, beer, music, and sense of being in the same boat before we dump that boat in the river that we all need to cross.

Once you have that trust, too much face time will wear the conversation out and create too much pressure for immediate progress. You need convenience, energy, research, and time to develop the ideas. We do that on our own schedules, in our own pockets of opportunity. But as we all have found, starting online doesn’t get things done even faster. You can’t generate alignment, trust, and real group clarity from a conversation in a blog’s comments.

The face to face meeting generates the partnership and the alignment. The online follow-up generates the progress.

I’m looking forward to seeing these companies found themselves, develop strong boards, put on crazy large festivals (I counted four at the table, including the up-and-coming national and international Chicago Fringe Festival), develop unique and richer ways to engage their audience through a blog, learn to raise $5k in a single event, display collective legal force to gain more productive rights agreements with licensing companies, and put up shows with great production values in non-tradtional spaces with zero, nada, zilch budget. These are things we asked for help on from each other – and these are things that folks on this room could help with – if not by a direct hookup, than by tried-and-true plan of action developed from years of experience.

It was an inspiring group of people to speak with.

There was something I needed to hear tonight, and it came from BackStage Artistic Director Matthew Reeder, whose main stated concern was finding methods of preventing burnout. And I realized: that’s what I’m doing this month. I’m not working on shows for the most part, I’m not really running around trying to catch meetings. I feel like a lazy ass. But as a person with adult onset workaholism, finding ways to stay lazy means giving myself an action to play, or I get self-destructive.

Matt, ever the great director, gave me in his plea for help the action I need to play, which is: I am spending this month preventing my own burnout. And self-imposed vacation has suddenly never felt so fun.

I think a lot of the attendees had these little moments of clarity tonight. And so I hope you join us to discuss your goals, skills, and needs online (and format refinements for future summit meetings) and participate in our next regular meeting or one of our subject-oriented smaller meetings, which we’ll be announcing via the Facebook page.

Chicago Storefront Summit III
Sunday January 31st – Evening
Location TBA

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27 Comments to “Fuel needs Oxygen, and Oxygen needs Fuel”

  1. Interesting.

    First, I didn’t realize that there was a plan for these things in motion. That there was a plan, put together ahead of time, that those of us in the room were not privy to. I find it a bit condescending but I suppose I can live with that. I feel a little bit like a lab rat in your experiment rather than a ground level participant, but what the hell.

    Second, to be clear, I did not suggest sub-committees. I suggested that, instead of spending 90 minutes having everyone A) introduce themselves and B) take that opportunity to give short five minute infomercials on their specific companies that a more pragmatic approach would be to present the group a set of specific problems faced in the “community” and talk solutions. And to use the Facebook page to get the intros out of the way so the meeting can actually bear fruit rather than simply be a long series of “meet and greets.”

    So – a few things to add to “the plan” –

    • How about a few more groups that aren’t just a bunch of white people from the North Side? The collective color balance in the room was a bit sad – lotsa white people. If the point is that we get to know each other, some active recruitment of some more diversity in the room would be a positive step. That includes more companies NOT interested in Board Development and ways to operate in the NFP commercial business model as well as geographical diversity.

    • How about a presentation (online, on paper but not in person) of “the plan.” I think it might be a step forward to be a bit more transparent rather than treat the room like a bunch of children being subtly manipulated into following a predetermined but unknown agenda.

    If the point of these meetings is to simply meet each other, it isn’t a summit – it’s a speed dating night. Some of us aren’t looking to speed date.

  2. I wasn’t able to attend the meeting because my girl was under the weather, so my thoughts on this interchange might not hold water, but … I agree with Don.

    I really feel there needs to be more inclusion of the attendees at these meetings, other than just mining our brains for possibilities. That’s all very well and good, but when you don’t hear anything between the meetings and realize that the same people are in charge that have been in charge all along, than you kind of wonder what your purpose to even coming is …

    I wrote to Andrew Hobgood after all the brouhaha on the blogs happened after the first meeting to offer my assistance in writing up the notes so that we could share them publicly and so those who didn’t attend could join in the discussions. I heard nothing back. I kind of hate hearing nothing back, you see. It makes one feel like they’re not a part of the club and I hate volunteering and not having that at least acknowledged. It’s hard enough for me to get people to volunteer for my own company so when I actually offer that energy and assistance, it bugs me to be denied. Yeah, that’s probably my own problem, but … I think it speaks to the feeling that the other meeting attendees might be experiencing. We come, we want to help, we want to take on some responsibility, but … we just sort of feel played in the end.

    I think, after the second meeting, if a plan doesn’t come forward and it’s just all about the networking and socialization than I don’t think I’m gonna be interested. I want to be a ground level participant. I’ve never done well in the “lab rat” or, as I call it “prancing circus pony” circuit.

    So, if you please, show me what was accomplished and tell me how I can help. I’m offering it here. I’ve offered help to Andrew Hobgood. Don’t make me wait until the next meeting to give me a glimpse of what’s happening. Don’t leave the movers and shakers out. Even if you think we’re contrary and curmudgeons. We can help make things happen.

  3. That whole “movers and shakers” thing sounded lame, so … I dunno. You can strike that from the record. =)

  4. Alright, a chance to be curmudgeony and actually have attended! I kid, but I do especially agree with Don’s first point. There needs to be a huge increase in two things in January: people and specificity. The people thing was my big issue the first time around and I stand by it now having attended. Perhaps if this seemed like a test group I might feel differently, but it doesn’t — it feels like the active Twitterers and bloggers plus a couple of scattered outliers. I didn’t feel as if we were speaking as a representative council for Chicago theatre, just that a few of the many, many companies happened to be in the same room at the same time. The Summit need more people. The Summit need more companies to be represented and in order to do that the Summit need to be convincing that it has something to offer. And that means specificity.

    I understand that maybe the “round table, then break out” thing was part of a master plan and you’re already moving forward, but that can’t happen any more. Because Don’s wrong, it wasn’t like speed dating. Speed dating at least forces conversation with multiple people. This became huddled conversation about projects and what’s up next and the usual networking talk.

    Tons of people have board questions/problems and someone in the group has had success with board development? Why are we not hosting that conversation as opposed to telling people to have it? ‘Cause I heard the success story on board development last night and, as good as the information was, it would be much better suited for someone in need of board development advice.

    I don’t know what the outreach effort has been like, and I don’t want to assume, but you and Granata are two of the best networked people in Chicago theatre. This fact and the small number of companies represented at the Summit seem very much at odds with each other. There needs to be more people. And there needs to be more diversity (in the sense of color/gender/etc., yes, but also very, very much in the sense Don mentioned — not just the usual NFP suspects).

    I still don’t know how much hope I have for the Summit solving Big Theatre Problems. But I always have hope that getting conversation going is a good thing. I’d like to see more conversation between more people who otherwise might not have it. If that means gathering the topics they want to talk about and then hosting that conversation, so be it. But I don’t think it can stop at giving our abstracted problems and then going about by our own devices.

  5. I was actually curious to know if you were there, P. Rekk, so I’m glad to see you did and to read your thoughts on it.

    To piggy back off of a couple of my tweets from last week … while the facebook communication is all good and fine, I don’t think its ability to be the “squeeky, reminding wheel” was used to its its best capacity. I also don’t know why the storefront summit doesn’t have its own twitter feed or, for that matter, it’s own blog. All of these things are free. I also don’t know why email announcements weren’t sent out to the previous participants since all of that info was collected when we first arrived. These things have been used and mastered by most of the meeting’s attendees, so … the word needs to be spread and just the single facebook invitation is not the only way to do it.

    And, I know I’m speaking to the major choirmaster on this one … =)

  6. I agree with you all – I want everyone there. We were represented on the south side by a very new company – the Tofu Chitlin Circuit – but you’re right. That’s not enough. I already know the problems and skills and interests of New Leaf, GreyZelda, WNEP, the Mammals, the Nine, and Halcyon. I didn’t know the deeper issues facing BackStage, Tofu Chitlin, Theatre Seven, Red Tape, Walkabout, and Prologue. This was the first time I’d ever heard about what they’re dealing with, and it expanded my world a bit. I did reach out to folks like Teatro Luna and Teatro Aguijon. We’ve invited folks like Congo Square and MPAACT, but I don’t know how to get them there. If you do, BRING THEM, or get them talking on facebook. WE WANT THEM THERE.

    Paul, I just am not able to control other people. I have a limit to my network. I have a big list of people, but that’s different from actually having met those people and having them trust me. What actually gets people in a room like that is hearing that they need to be there from 3, 4, 5 different people. Until the group starts feeling empowered to invite each other, it’s going to feel like the bloggers circuit. But we’re making headway.

    I think using the word “plan” in the above post is inaccurate, and I can understand why it leaves a bad taste. Sorry about that, I did write the post in a fit of energy at 3 in the morning, not that that’s an excuse. Because “the plan,” such as it was, is entirely transparent here. I have described it entirely: Show up, find out what people need to talk about and get solutions for, and help those people find the kinds of resources they want. Yes: that is entirely dependant on having MORE and MORE DIVERSE representation of the community in the room. I’m working on that, and I’m counting on everyone in that room working on that. I need help with that, and I think we’re still in that stage where most folks are like “Geeeeee, I don’t knooooooww if I want to inviiiiiiiite my frieeeeeeends.” I’m hoping that the two or three conversations we could all participate in last night convinced us that it is worth bringing the folks we know and barely know so that they can participate and represent themselves.

    I don’t know why you guys didn’t hear this in the above post – but there HAS to be small mini-meetings about all these topics before the next one. If people feel like they could use a blessing to have them, fine. I – and you – can help make suggestions of which meetings should happen and who were interested in them. Those topics can be announced via the facebook page so more folks who weren’t at the meeting can come to the one’s we’re describing. There’s other, similar meetings and resources held regularly by the League as well, but hey, maybe that doesn’t work for folks and we can have a different kind of approach. That, and online, is where progress is going to happen. The big meetings are about getting the lay of the land – and it’s clear that we need better attendance to those. Better attendance is necessarily going to make those meetings more confusing and more chaotic, so we will need to have an even better structure to make those general meetings productive. I am a fan of the round table format – two rounds was probably too much and unnecessary for next time. But we need a way for everyone in that room to have a voice – and then we need to use THAT information, not our experience or our preferences or our preconcieved notions, to determine what needs to be talked about by who and how to help each other efficiently.

    Rebecca, one thing I learned last night is that EVERYONE needs to be bringing their note pad to these meetings, to write contact information, and some of the notes and resources that are flying around that room. I don’t feel like this is a meeting where people need to get pre-authorized permission to do anything. Bring your notepad next time. I’m not happy that Andrew didn’t get back to you either, but next time: Just do it and feel empowered to do it. That goes for everyone here. I don’t want you guys to steer the meeting towards your agenda – I’m trying hard not to do that myself – but I’m not trying to shackle anyone here with rules. Matt was a designated note taker in case everyone neglected the need for notes, but you’re right – it’s not enough to have one notetaker. Jen Adams from Halcyon was also taking copious notes and I’m hoping she posts her perspective and her capture as well.

    The only methodology at work here is one of trying to listen to the group and learn from the group. We decided via facebook after the last meeting to change the format of the discussion starters because the last time didn’t work quite right. I am trying to actively prevent myself and other folks who always decide what gets discussed from deciding what gets discussed. The hope here at this meeting was that the round table would help people identify other people that they need to put their brains together with, because NOT everyone needs to discuss board development. Four people do. And if I’m doing anything in these meetings it’s underlining that folks who themselves say that they want a better board should go off and discuss that. Bob Fisher, who wanted to find at the meeting more collaborators who wanted to just produce shows like the ones he’s interested in, will ideally find a couple of people who are interested in those kinds of collaborations (I was trying to help him talk with that new lighting designer in town, but I’m not sure if that took).

    If you guys want fireworks… I can’t help you. A lot of these conversations are going to be boring and unhelpful to you, and to me. But that’s what the group said they needed, and I’m trying to find a format that works for everyone’s needs.

    Can you suggest a better format (or two formats: one for large-group meetings and one for meetings on a specific subject) that fulfills these goals? We’ll do it next time.

    1) the large-group format should not negate subjects that some parties have an urgent need to discuss.

    2) everyone should have an opportunity to identify their needs and reason for being there to the group.

    3) the format should facilitate productive conversation and team-building for all parties.

  7. Certainly don’t want fireworks. Though, they are pretty … and sparkly. They can get a little boring, however.

    Here’s the thing … I thing that people do need to be “in charge” or it’ll be a lot of talking about the same ol’ same ol’ at each meeting. I think the bristling might start at the fact that the New Colony group decided to get this thing moving and arbitrarily voted on the people who would help run the meetings. I think that now that we’ve gotten two meetings together with most of the same group of characters attending, that it might not be a terrible idea to possibly vote or elect certain people to be “in charge” of this, that, and the other so that the sense of democracy comes into play and a sense of format starts to emerge in the whole thing. I think people have been getting together, creating awesome, inspiring buzz and then dispersing afterwards not knowing how to continue the buzz or what to work on next. If some sort of responsibility can be doled out at the end of the meeting or posted on facebook so that people can start to empower themeselves and get their shoulders behind a specific job, then we’ll start to really feel like we’re accomplishing something.

    I don’t know … I could be talking out of my arse here and others might not want that type of structure, but, what I do know about all this is … you can’t start creating without a “form” to build off from. I suppose, of course, you can, but, in my experience, you need a base to jump off from. I just would like to know what that base is and I also want to know what can be accomplished between now and January 31st.

    We gots to organize, y’all.

  8. “arbitrarily voted” should be changed to “picked”.

  9. Well … how about this … how about having a meeting to just talk about how people want to organize this whole summit business? We don’t talk about anything else except organization. First “subcommittee”: Summit Structure. Everyone attends. Talks about their vision for the thing. Discussions ensue. Things are voted on. Everything is posted clearly in many different places online for everyone to see. Then we see who wants to be in charge of what, if anyone, and we dole out the responsibility to those people to start leading the charge. People will then know who to contact “to ask permission”, if one needs to “ask permission” (we’re (mostly) very polite folks who don’t want to step on anyone’s toes) and, if that person doesn’t respond in a timely manner, then the group can vote to elect a new person to take that person’s place.

  10. Nick, sorry, the follow-up that I neglected to include with my “Nick and Granata are connected” sentence is that this is an area I would be willing to lend some of my abilities as well, but I wasn’t sure if they were needed/desired. It is good to hear that, because from my perspective the Summit has seemed to be an unspoken ‘invite-only’ affair. Good to know that wasn’t the case, but there’s some feedback I suppose. I’ll work some assistance from the people I would like to see there, but I know the big question is going to be what we are trying to accomplish (I’ve heard these conversations from entirely third parties just last week even, it wasn’t just Don & Bob being contrary). And all I can say is ‘making things better for Chicago theatre.’ Which I think could also be done just as well by introducing people to each other over a couple of drinks.

    I guess what I’m saying is I’ll do my best to get some people to the next one; not because my worries have been assuaged, but because I think that my assuage some of my worries.

  11. I DID take copious notes, and will work to get them up online by the end of the week, to supplement what Matt said. It was mostly a laundry list of who needs what and who can offer what.

    I went last night as a skeptic. I have been doing theatre in Chicago now for eleven years, and at least 3 times a year I hear someone say that there needs to be a North Loop Theatre Alliance, a Storefront Collaborative, something along the lines of what Nick and Dan and others are working on here… and it has never seemed to get beyond the first meeting… so I think there even WAS a meeting last night that was attended and had goals and wasn’t just a bitch session means there’s a chance for this thing to work…

    And, I think that there is a difference between being a lab rat and having coming into a meeting where someone has some sort of agenda in mind for how the night should go… otherwise it would be disorganized, and then we’d all complain about THAT, right?

    My question, I guess, still is: What’s the purpose of this? Are there yet clear things that The Summit hopes to accomplish? I know about Dan’s goals (even though he’s a liar and wasn’t there!) and Nick’s goals, and I know about each of our needs and what we can offer, but is there a larger Endgame? If I better understood that, or if I felt The Summit did, I think it would be easier to understand how to feel like more of a “Ground Floor Participant” and it may be easier to convey that to others.

    Lastly, I think it’s a great idea that needs time to let grow, and I think we all need to realize that it is still in IDEA phase, right? I mean, there are going to be lots of kinks to be worked out and each time the group gets together, it is going to be more and more clear how the goals are going to get accomplished and what exactly we all want to give and to get out of it… is it simply a way to network (in which case, I agree, I can do that at a bar) or is it going to be a way to meet new (and yes, please, hopefully diverse) artists? If we start squashing the ideas now, how is that going to help the idea grow?

    Last night I met a great artist who taught me a lot in the talk session about bringing a project to schools. That was very helpful, as our educational programming is what I am really passionate about right now and haven’t yet figured out any of the logistics that she was able to help me with.

    And Nick, I think you hit it right on the head, because she also talked to me about TRUST. I paraphrase when she (Sydney from Tofu Chitlin) said that people need to have time to trust that you are going to be there with them, and not just be a “Fly-by-Night.” I think that holds true here as well.

  12. Thanks for your thoughts, Jenn.

    Great question re: The Big Goal. I think if there’s a single goal – still unmet by any measure – that the participants in the Summit want to accomplish, it’s that we need to burst the isolated spheres of awareness that surround each of our companies and networks of collaborators until we have a forum that does include the whole picture. It’s totally blogger-heavy right now, including Sydney, which is one reason why I thought focusing our efforts on facebook would yield different results. I think if you build a blog as your mouthpiece, you attract bloggers. Any single medium of communication is going to necessarily limit the sphere that you connect with. That’s one reason why I think the next three or four general meetings may continue to look like the one we have – we’re still bursting open those spheres and reaching out to new groups and sectors of theaters that we are disconnected from.

    Yup. That’s what I call “still in the idea phase.” I’m glad, Jenn, that you mentioned some of the tangible results of meeting new people were for you. I think that a real evaluation of this meeting series has to include more of those granular, small moments of “I got this out of it. It’s not the world on the plate, but it’s what I needed this week.” And you know what I think? A Halcyon & Tofu Chitlin discussion on educational programs totally makes this kind of event dare I say, successful.

    Aside from that, Rebecca, please keep in mind the limits of my humanity here. The massive burst of communication you describe in all media formats from all points east and west takes work and time. Okay, I’m blowing what you’re saying out of proportion. I have 4 websites to launch this month, and I just don’t think it’s worth my time to create and maintain communications for a blog for this event. More blogs and web gizmos are not always the answer. I actually think what we need is a phone tree, so I think if you have time, you should get on that.

    I am pretty sure Andrew didn’t get back to you because he’s overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed. Not an excuse for rudeness or neglectful conversation, but I think we all need to understand that we’re not beholden to each other here – it’s not his or my responsibility to empower you to take action. It is your repsonsibility. So as Jenn has – you should to. Not trying to patronize you here, but you clearly have lots and lots of energy and enthusiasm, so I say, use it. I’m going to give you and Paul a goal: Bring 5 companies to the next summit who haven’t been there before. Do it. Contact information can be found on Also: Set your own goals. Do them.

    As fun as it is to think that there’s a kabal of organizers manipulating how this meeting happens, it’s just a fallacy. The truth is, the participants are leading the meeting. I led the meeting last night because no one else was going to. Yes, a couple of us – the admins on the facebook page – talked about how to facilitate better conversation, but I think that was about 15 minutes of discussion total plus a couple emails. That’s why Andrew and I had those shit-eating grins on before the meeting started. We were mouthing “Should I? Do you? Wanna? You got it.” This is improv, people. The structure matters so much less than the trust, and so at a certain point, you just dive in.

    So now the five of us – Me, Don, Paul, Rebecca, and Jenn, and anyone else reading this – are doing that work publically for next time. I don’t need a meeting for that. I need a single suggestion that makes sense and we’ll do it. Done. Get it out of the way.

    I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more discussion between the last two meetings, but I think that’s a factor of the trust question and the fact that this group can’t really have a leader without alienating people. It doesn’t have to be a town meeting, either, but we’re not all looking for the same thing and that complicates things. So trust and awareness is the first and foremost thing we need. We need to know who we are. We’re spending a lot of energy on establishing that trust even within the blogger circuit – if I can’t earn the trust of the three of you, how the hell can I or anyone orchestrate a magically productive and satisfying meeting? To expect more results at this point is just unrealistic.

    So: There’s an important task that I think needs to be done next: Identifying topics for breakout discussion and getting the word out about those things. I’m gonna start a new comment for that, because it’s important and I don’t want to conflate that subject with this discussion of purpose and methodology conversation

  13. Let’s make a list, based on what we heard last night: Things some people need to be talking about – who those people are, too, so we can tell them to go have a meeting and we can invite everyone.

    1) Board Development & 501(c)(3) filing. I heard that a lot from the younger companies, and not all of us need to deal with that. I’m sure Granata as CAR researcher can help with that, but I also heard offers of advice from some of the folks at Theatre Seven and Red Tape.

    2) Producing creatively and affordably in non-traditional spaces – I think for this discussion, we’re talking both about . Chicago Fringe and some others need help with this, and Bob, Don and I as well as others

    3) Structuring Educational Programs. Jenn mentions this discussion above, and I missed this, which I love. I know Jess Hutchinson has been structuring these on a large scale as her day job for some time, and as we mentioned – Jenn, Liz Hoffman, and Sydney.

    4) Play Licensing and Artistic Property Advocacy. Brian Golden of Theatre Seven and Don both expressed some passionate needs to work on different approaches to this. Some actual legal counsel would be good to drum up for this meeting, and I think anyone who adapts work probably will want to have a hand in it.

    5) Margo Gray and Jenn and the Women’s Theatre Alliance have the possibility for collaboration and discussion about advocating for better representation of women in theatre and selection of plays by women.

    6) Burnout prevention best practices. A great convo happened in the breakouts between Don Hall and Matthew Reeder about this, with Don stressing that sometimes it’s good to just shut down the theater for a while and then come back at it. Brian Golden also discussed interest in finding ways of managing inter-company relationships that mix business and pleasure and romantic interest.

    That’s six. What are other breakout meetings that should be organized before Jan. 31st based on what you saw last night?

  14. Audience Development- both branching out and taking care of your current peeps- was a big one. Sydney does this with Tofu Chitlin, and Jessica and bryan both talked about wanting support.

  15. I’m glad to hear talk about follow-up conversations, because there seemed to be a lot of potential for not just using each others’ expertise to improve individual companies, but in banding together to make improvements as a community, which I find particularly exciting. As you say, Nick, the large group isn’t necessarily the place for nuts and bolts, but it’s possible the words “working group” came out of my mouth last night in conversation with Jess Hutchinson about gender equality. And working groups take… work. So I’m on the case for this particular slice of summit pie, and hopefully we’ll have something to show for this by January 31st.

  16. Absolutely, Margo. If the large group serves as a check-in time, if we make sure to have time set aside for people to get to know each other (that networking word gets a bad rap sometimes), and then have some real, strong work happening in small groups we’ll be in good shape.

    I might suggest that we don’t need to devote a sub-group to women’s issues – rather we should make sure that women are strongly represented in all the working groups. That may help keep us from ghetto-izing the issue and the artists it effects.

  17. Curious about one thing.
    Were all the attendees affiliated with at least one theatre company?

    These conversations interest me, but alas, I’m not a company member or artistic associate of a NFP Theatre. While I know I would never be considered a “party crasher” if I attended, I also wonder if my free-lance voice would add anything to a theatre-company specific discussion?
    Perhaps a roundtable at some point about hiring outside staff, etc?

  18. I think it would be wonderful to have freelance voices at these meetings. We need to think about how best to integrate them into the conversation, but I think that’s a challenge we should absolutely address.

  19. “Aside from that, Rebecca, please keep in mind the limits of my humanity here.”

    Now, Nick, you sell yourself short. =)

    “The massive burst of communication you describe in all media formats from all points east and west takes work and time … I actually think what we need is a phone tree, so I think if you have time, you should get on that.

    Or email tree. I will get on that. I will also start the twitter business up and will give you the password to distribute to those with more info. Send me info. I’ll do something with it. I do have time right now.

    “I am pretty sure Andrew didn’t get back to you because he’s overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed. Not an excuse for rudeness or neglectful conversation, but I think we all need to understand that we’re not beholden to each other here – it’s not his or my responsibility to empower you to take action. It is your repsonsibility.”

    I acknowledged his overwhelmedness in my email to him and told him I could pick up the notes anywhere or he could drop them off to me and I would take care of that. I also volunteered to be the one to do this at each meeting, so … I offered my responsibility because I’m an anal notetaker and am a little bit crazy about posting our GreyZelda meeting minutes to our members within 24-48 hours. There’s only so much help one can offer to a silent room and one loses interest if it’s not accepted. So … I will empower myself until the cows come home but I need my efforts met halfway. So, yes, next time I’ll be there and I’ll join Jenn in the copious note taking. But, I don’t think you guys should be afraid to delegate some of the ‘”planning of the meeting(s)” to those in attendance. You’re super busy. Some of us aren’t as busy. Please let me know what I can do to help with some of these time-consuming activities.

    Yes, I’ll get 5 more companies there. Trust me. 😉 I think that’s the whole thing right there … I offered my efforts. Andrew doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. So … he delagated that responsibility to those who he knows because he maybe didn’t trust my word or didn’t want to trust me with that information. And, I, in turn, because mistrustful because I gave a lot of information but felt the door of communication was closed off after a point. So … we have to just trust that we’re all in this for the same reasons. And we all want to help.

    GreyZelda needs to talk about Board Development, so put us on that list. Put me, RZ, on the Burnout committee, too. I think I get myself into these conversations just to get myself fired up again to feel a little bit of passion for this artform. In fact, dealing with the artistically disenchanted” is a part of GreyZelda’s mission. I need to have my 27 year old self who wrote that bit of it come talk to my almost 33 year old-with-child self.

    I trust you, Nick. That’s why I’m talking to you in the first place because I feel you can get things done. I would like to help you with those banal things that can take up too much time. =)

  20. @Dianna Indeed. We had a couple folks there just to connect with companies – freelancers new to town. Since some of the companies are looking for production and management support, I think it’d be awesome to come in to offer some of that support and knowledge and represent the needs of freelance artists. Part of the challenge when you’re talking about the needs of small theaters is that you’re also talking about the need of small theaters to be able to support the artists that they work with so that they stick around. Don’t ask me, ask Brian Golden, who said something to that effect yesterday.

  21. Having missed the Summit the first time around, last night was a very illuminative evening for me on a few very simple levels.

    Producing theatre on a non-budget with a staff of overcommitted volunteers often leads to the feeling of producing in a vacuum. As rich as the theatre scene in this town is -and it is very rich- doing what we do is often an oddly isolated business, and that isolation sometimes leads to martyr complexes. For me, it was terribly refreshing just to sit around the table and to be reminded that A) BSTC is not the only company in the city that is burning its collective candle at both ends to make good art and B) despite the constant and frustrating challenges that BSTC has faced over the last year, there have been a few successes that just might be worth sharing with others. That is exciting and reinforces the hard work and makes the frustrations seem less all-defining.

    What excites me most about the Summit is the chance to truly, meaningfully and regularly interact (not at a bar, not post show, not at the Jeffs) with my fellow producing artists on a level that I simply would not have had otherwise. From my perspective, that cannot be taken for granted. I believe that we as a storefront movement (or whatever the hell you want to call it) need to get a helluva lot better at talking about what we do to people who are not us. By attaining a deeper understanding of the personalities behind the art, the art becomes more real, more direct and more easily translatable. For instance, *reading* about The Nine was a very different experience than hearing Bries Vannon *talk* about the Nine. And as illuminative as it was for me to hear him speak about it, I’m sure it was even more useful for him to actually have to take the ideas out of his head and put it into words that a stranger could understand.

    You are not going to hear me demand much organization or “action” right out of the gates. You are certainly not going to hear me demand that someone allow me to participate. I will participate when I can, however I can. For me, I will continue to learn and gain inspiration from the other people in the room, to feel more connected to a community that is really good at alienating itself, and to draw on resources and help when I can. To paraphrase Don Hall “Yeah, we all may be unique snowflakes, but we are all made of snow.”

    Lastly, on a casual note, it was just a freakin’ blast and a real honor to actually meet folks like Dona Hall and Bob Fisher who, despite their tough reputations and devil sneers, really cool-ass cats whom I genuinely enjoyed acquainting myself with.

    I fully expect this thing to change and develop until becomes exactly the thing we need it to be. There are too many smart people in the room for anything else to happen.

  22. @RZ – I think the biggest thing we need to do is connect folks with these discussions. I think that starts with delegating each breakout conversation to an organizer / facilitator who will take care of things like organizing the discussion ( is a critical tool for that), making sure people who want to know about the discussion know about the meeting, and then making sure that group captures information and finds a way to share it effectively with the whole community.

    I’m curious what people think is required, if anything, in the administrative side of those small breakout discussions. I’d agree with Jess and expand her thoughts that one thing that is critical is that thought should be put into diversifying the makeup of the group having the discussion to include the entire picture of Chicago Storefront Theatre – each discussion shouldn’t be all women / all men, shouldn’t be all bloggers, shouldn’t be all north-side theaters run by whites in their 20s, shouldn’t be all producers, shouldn’t be all freelancers, etc… Because then you don’t really have the whole conversation. I think it’s helpful also to have a single person take the lead on a discussion to create momentum and clarity of purpose. On the other hand, if that person puts too much energy and planning and arbitrary structure into the administration of a discussion, the discussion itself becomes administration BS instead of a frank, honest discussion which I know most of us are committed to having.

    I’d love to know if there are any volunteers for such an activity.

  23. We just gotta see what happens and what comes next. I think we should definitely get these smaller groups together. Touch base with the attendees of both the first and second meetings. See what discussions they’d like to attend and then, based on that, see who would be interested in leading the discussions. I agree that it shouldn’t be structured to death, but just someone who can lead the group and facilitate discussion knowing when to move to the next subject and when to continue a current topic, etc. The basic stuff. I’m positive, because we have so many theatre leaders/directors involved in this, that we’ll have great discussions, regardless of who facilitates.

    I think that the names you mentioned in the six categories above would all make great “discussion leaders” just to get the ball rolling.

    And, to be clear, when I talk about “organization”, I’m not talking about “micromanaging.” There’s definitely a happy medium, zen-like way of dealing with administration. Whether it always works or not, is another story, but … I’m certainly not committed to following a set agenda if the discussion takes another path. It’s just nice to have one to come back to if need be.

  24. I would be interested in facilitating a Women in Theatre breakout group, although I still have a lot of questions…

    I also am wondering if Board Development and 501(c)3 should really be in the same group… While they are both Administrative business-type things (yes, that IS a technical term!), they really are 2 separate beasts that require 2 different skill sets and needs… Even though they both require thought about by-laws and mission and company growth, the intricacies of filling out the 501(c)3, where to send it, i’s and t’s to dot and cross, are not the same as talking to a potential Board Member about your Mission, deciding who is a good match, and figuring out how to teach your Board the skills THEY need to help you succeed… just my 2 cents…

  25. I agree that Board Development and 501(c)(3) filing are totally different skills… for that matter, I think lumping production skills and staging skills and venue relation skills under the umbrella of “producing theater in non-traditional spaces on the cheap” involves three – five departments in most companies.

    The reason to combine them at this time, I’d argue, is that we should be starting from the perspective of current needs of participants rather than the perspective “what other people think you need,” which I think is important for the long-term success of this group. The people that need to determine if/how to set up 501(c)(3) status ALSO are the people who are very concerned with healthy board development. When that no longer becomes true, I think a new or separate discussion should take place, or in all likelihood the 501(c)(3) questions can be fielded by a pro bono counsel hooked up by the group and the discussion can continue about board practices. But that is just speculation, I don’t know how it will play out. I think that need-based discussion that tends to include before it separates – rather than an approach of over-categorization – is critical for keeping that hard-won trust over the long term. Some folks – maybe all folks – coming to these meetings are looking for solutions and resources that are both too specific and too broad to be realistic. Through cross-pollenating those ideas, I think you get some interesting practical possibilities.

    So… one discussion leads to another, but I’d like to see any leadership that emerges in this group have as loose and relaxed grip on the steering wheel as possible.

  26. Good point. Cool.

  27. I will host a discussion about non-traditional spaces and approaches to producing on Jan 17th Sunday at 7pm at Zoo Studio. I’ll have something more specific about this up at my blog tonight or tomorrow morning.

    Bob aka devilvet


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