Dispatches From The Frontlines

While dealing with event production in the era of COVID is by no means easy, it’s still something most patrons and board members don’t see. And because the professionals making all of that happen are as good at it as they are, it risks comes across as simple. Thankfully, Mark Larson wrote an article for the 1/20/22 Chicago Reader that illuminates the challenges involved, the toll it takes on those doing the work, and how they are rising to meet the challenges.

Laron’s article focuses on theater production professionals but that doesn’t make it any less applicable. He converts his conversations with stage managers and house staff and bout life and work during the pandemic into a compelling narrative.

It simultaneously educates, illuminates, and personalizes this new normal. The conversations cover the full range of time from when COVID was just entering the news through last month. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from the article:

Christine D. Freeburg (stage manager, Steppenwolf Theatre): I don’t know if it was because we knew this company already, but [when we reopened Bug in November 2021] all of that BS small talk that you usually have, we skipped right over that. I don’t know if it’s because “time is too short,” but we were having really deep conversations that maybe we wouldn’t have had two years ago. You’re like, “How are you? No, really; how are you?” And someone would tell you how they really were: “I’m stressed out about this. And I’m thinking about that.” It felt like we had been through this trauma, all of us together but all in our different ways, so we delved right into the meat of any sort of conversation.

Maybe it’s because there’s not much to chitchat about because the world is such a shit show right now anyway, but I do feel like we have been through something with this group. We crawled our way, and we survived, and we made it through, and we’ll move on to do another show.

Regular readers might recognize Mark Larson’s name from when he was a guest on Shop Talk S01E07: Changing Your Narrative.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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