Saturday, April 12, 2008

Manager Wanted

The Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake has announced it will begin a search for a new Managing Director to replace founder, Bob Pettee. Bob and his wife Susan Neal founded what would become Pendragon in 1980. In that time, it has grown very organically, and is an integral part of the town - having achieved the status of institution.

Pendragon uses a mix of community amateurs and professional theatre artists, as well as interns from nearby colleges to produce some quality theatre - and some pretty edgy stuff as well. Many of the board members, volunteers, and employees have been there a long time. The space(s) the theatre inhabits are as quirky and organic as its history.

From the outside looking in, the theatre has been flexible and responsive, opportunistic and visionary, and under careful and competent leadership.

Which all leads to the question: what kind of person can fill Bob Pettee's shoes?

In many ways, this is the same difficulty any business faces when it replaces a visionary founder with new blood - often a person younger than everyone she will manage. Challenges will always include resistance to change, people your parents' age subordinate to you who insist on calling you "kiddo," and so forth. In this situation, however, as in many arts organizations, there are some unique challanges:

1. Bizarre skill set. Arts managers are often expected to fundraise, advertise, design, motivate, hire, manage, and do light maintenance on outdated infrastructure - both technical and physical. In Bob's case, it would also be handy if his replacement could build and paint sets, act, direct, and teach. It leads to very overwhelming-looking job descriptions on ArtJob or ArtSearch. Don't be afraid to apply, even if the company seems to want a super-hero.

2. Inherited volunteers. These can also be board members. You can't fire them. You can't discourage them. However ridiculous and inefficient they may be, you're stuck with them and you have to learn how to live with them. Especially if you are in an isolated area with a small pool of willing volunteers and a very active grapevine - any perceived slight may send your bothersome volunteer packing - which may discourage other, more helpful folks.

3. Maintaining donor relations. Many of your organization's most ardent supporters might be friends of Bob at this point. Keeping them as involved as they have always been requires extra acrobatics, because they're not your friends, but you really need their $2000 or the board will think you're incompetent.

Still interested in Bob's job? I thought you were. Remember, Bob didn't have any idea what he was in for when he started either.

Thanks to Bob Pettee for being my unwitting example.

posted by Chris Casquilho

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