Monday, May 15, 2006

So, what's the vision?

Since many of you are coming to StageNEXT as relative newbies, it's probably worth exploring the StageNEXT vision. In fact, in the numerous discussions I've held over the past year on the subject, the first question people ask is typically a coin toss between the following (paraphrased of course):

  • "What's the artistic vision for StageNEXT?"
  • "How in the world are you going to make StageNEXT financially stable?"

Both of these are required elements of a successful organizational vision, and it's a real challenge to define a vision that encompasses and balances both sides of the coin: business and artistry. If it were easy, there wouldn't be so many arts organization failures--both in Charlotte and nationwide. To boil it down, you have to answer two (2) questions well:

  • "How do we foster and remain true to our artistic vision while achieving financial viability?"
  • "How do we develop and maintain a business model that enables effective pursuit of the artistic vision?"

Given our stated objective to serve as a conduit for exploring issues of community and diversity, there's a need for another essential question in the hopper:

  • "How do we sustain an artistic vision and business model that embraces Charlotte as a community and creates a sense of belonging across the ethnic and cultural spectrum?"

I'll say it again: these aren't easy questions, but they are questions that must be answered. The responses drive a company's essential mission and sense of purpose. Without them, we might as well be manufacturing widgets (although most widget manufacturers these days have also embraced the "vision thing").

Over the next few posts, I'll make an attempt to frame an initial response. While there is no one "right" answer, there are an inifinte number of "wrong" answers. I'm hoping your feedback will help to refine our thinking and clarify the StageNEXT vision.


Friday, May 12, 2006

April 2006 Update

The post below was taken directly from an update communication that was sent out in mid-April. It discusses our upcoming work with Executive Service Corps. I'm posting here for background.


We seem to be settling into a monthly schedule of these updates on our efforts to establish a new professional theatre here in Charlotte. While I hadn’t expected to be communicating so regularly so soon, I am excited that our progress warrants these regular communications. As always, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

The most important item to report is the commitment of the Arts and Science Council (ASC) to provide technical assistance funds in support of our planning and organizational development efforts. ASC will be covering the cost of our work with Executive Service Corps (ESC: to assist us in finalizing and validating the business plan and the “incubator” approach within the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Our work with ESC should provide a substantial case for approaching would-be donors, as it will further explore and assess the sustainability of the new company. As I have shared with many of you, the majority of people to whom I have talked have been “cautiously optimistic”: optimistic regarding the StageNEXT vision and opportunity, cautious about the pos sibility of success in our current cultural environment.

Regarding the focus groups previously discussed, we will be working with ESC to further define our approach to these important events. Look for more information in next month’s update.

While ASC’s overall investment through ESC is fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, it does confirm our prior impression that there is a high level of interest in our proposed approach and leadership. Thank you for sharing the StageNEXT vision and for putting in a “good word” for us with your fellow community leaders. Your efforts are paying off—so don’t stop now! Please keep spreading the word.

One thing that has become clear is that our desire to begin producing in Spring 2007 should be reassessed. While there was overall support for this approach, the level of risk in potentially missing the dates has caused us to re-evaluate. The last thing we want to do (especially in this environment) is to publicly announce dates that we aren’t 100% certain we can hit. Therefore, we are revising our plan to begin producing in Fall 2007. This gives us an additional 6 months to put everything in place for a successful launch. I know that you may be disappointed by this decision; however, I hope you’ll agree that a pragmatic approach to timing is appropriate.



March 2006 Update

The post below was taken directly from an update communication that was sent out in mid-March. It followed directly after our initial formal presentation to the Arts and Science Council. I'm posting here for background.


It’s been a little over a month since our previous communication, and I’ve had a number of you write or call to ask for an update. Apologies for the low profile on this end, but we’ve been in “heads down” mode preparing for our initial presentation to members of the ASC staff and board. Additionally, I wanted to get a sense of ASC’s interest in the initiative before issuing another major communication. Having completed this significant step, we’re in a position to give you a better sense of how StageNEXT is being received.

The news on this front is very positive. As I’ve mentioned to many of you, the feedback I’ve received through our numerous discussions is that StageNEXT provides the right vision and operating model to bring culturally diverse, mainstream theatre to Charlotte. The feedback from ASC was consistent with this, and there is a high level of interest in exploring the idea further over the coming months. There are several areas of concern that we will be working to address, but my sense that we are heading in the right direction was confirmed.

This does mean making some adjustments to our short-term plan, specifically the timing of the March-April focus group sessions. It is our intent to fund these sessions via the generous support of several community members. Because of this, I want to be reasonably certain of ASC backing for this initiative prior to “pulling the trigger” on the focus group events. We have identified a highly capable consultant to facilitate the focus groups and are ready to move forward when the timing is right.

Thanks for your willingness to participate in these important events, and for holding open the March / April dates for so long. I know that all of you have a lot going on, and your commitment to this effort is truly appreciated.

Finally, a favor to ask: while we’re not currently in a position to hold our focus groups, the timing could not be better to build awareness for this initiative. As many of you know, ASC recently wrapped its Annual Fund drive and is ramping up the 2006-2007 Basic Operating Grant process. I’d like to ask that you think about reaching out to key influencers within the community who haven’t yet heard about StageNEXT, and help to spread the vision. Further, if you come into contact with ASC board members, don’t hesitate to let them know what’s going on. If there are people that you’d like me to talk with, please let me know; I’m more than happy to be involved. Understand that this is not a request for funds; rather, this is an opportunity to build awareness and generate positive buzz around our efforts. Thanks for your help in spreading the word.




Recognizing the high risk of failure with such things, I won't try anything too pithy or cute about starting a new blog. This is, however, a powerful tool for establishing communities and facilitating discussion: which, after all, is the whole point of StageNEXT.

StageNEXT is a community initiative recently launched in Charlotte, NC. Its primary goal is to return high-quality, mainstream theatre to the interesting, dynamic, diverse community that Charlotte has become over the last quarter century. It's a city that is maturing and moving from striving to be "world-class", to one that is growing into its own and shedding (slowly) its overweening self-consciousness. At the same time, it is a city struggling to sustain the best of its old identity (e.g., a stong sense of team work and common good) in the face of major demographic changes. I believe that theatre is a powerful tool to facilitate these discussions, and I believe that there is now a unique opportunity to motivate the community to support theatre that strives for this goal.

So, please feel free to hang around and look things over with a critical eye. My intent with this blog is twofold: first, to share with you a sort of real-time history of our efforts to launch a new theatre company in Charlotte; second, to get your feedback and exchange ideas on how we might best accomplish our goals. Thanks in advance for your support and insight. I look forward to continuing the discussion...