Spending any time at all at one of the nation's first, oldest and largest state theaters, a founding member of the League of Resident Theaters, brings to mind only one phrase above all others: "Off with their heads." The theatrical organization is run as if by the mad Queen in Alice in Wonderland. No real management is performed. Instead, edicts are issued by the CEO and founder and carried out without regard to the bottom line or any standards of acceptable organizational behavior. In short, there is the rule of fear, and nothing more.
When the theatre runs into problems, the solution is not to find remedies for those problems, but to replace personnel -- itself a highly expensive proposition -- and seek more government and corporate grants to cover the costs of operating the theater. The board of directors has been asked by more than several concerned senior staff to hire a company manager and allow the current Artistic Director to deal only with production matters, and not with finances, marketing, HR and so on. In the past seven years, they have failed to act.
Luckily, the Artistic Director is masterful at gaining grants, although the endowment of the theatre has also been raided. In prior years, the budget had been bailed out by local wealthy individuals with an interest in theatre. In effect, the theatre has never had to 'live on the economy' and pay attention to the bottom line. The effects of the complete lack of attention to personnel issues have not had the effect on the viability of the theater they would otherwise have had.
No are there checks and balances internally. Two years ago, the financial manager of the company pled to significant charges of embezzlement; it seems unlikely, in face of the fact that her predecessor had run the finances virtually unchecked for more than 40 years, that irregularities had never occurred before.
A grant to archive significant theatrical memorabilia and literature literally found rotting on the third floor of the administration/artists' residence building was obtained several years ago. In a falling out with the archivist hired to sort it all out, the CEO again exercised his considerable local political pull to not only fire her, but also allege that she had done irregular things with the funds and/or the archive material.
Yet another executive, the marketing director for a time, was forced to resign after a season in which the marketing department's advice about what not to present was ignored completely, and the season flopped.
Two development directors in a row were fired, one because he didn't bring in sufficient money to cover the operating deficits in the budget, the next because, as far as could be ascertained, hers was the next head in line to roll. A production manager was fired eventually, but only after her own ego and ill temper had caused a succession of four or five technical directors to quit. The concession manager was fired after ten years of truly selfless service for meager pay. A group sales manager was fired for incompetence; that was one of the only ones with substantive evidence to back it up. Her successor simply quit when she realized her head was next in line in the continuing round of firings.
The artistic director is provably brilliant in artistic and creative matters. He is a lot less than brilliant in financial management, and most particularly, in Human Resource Management. The culture of the organization is such that all employees pander to the Artistic Director, and none -- except consultants he brings in from time to time -- dare disagree. There is no integrity used in dealing with the staff, which numbers about 50-year round, and at least twice that in the peak summer, spring and early fall months when plays are presented at two locations in rotation. The only law is that of Actors Equity; actors are treated well. All others are at the mercy of the Artistic Director's whims or current need of scapegoats for artistic decisions the audiences found less than pleasing.
The well-treated Equity Actors actually constitute a minority of the personnel, with box office, administrating, marketing, scene and costume production and the other theater crafts, plus extensive maintenance on two theatres, four other aging buildings and about six acres of grounds making up the lion's share. If the theater is to move out of a mode of continually seeking 'bridge' financing to cover its management excesses and production income shortfalls, or raiding the endowment, then it will need to begin to operate on a business-like foundation, which would -- it is hoped -- have the added effect of making a decent workplace for the other professionals and staff members employed there, and would conceivably cut the turnover down. (In fact, that would also have the effect of causing the Artistic Director to listen to his marketing staff regarding choices of plays and to his finance staff regarding costs and so on, which would also help take the corporate culture out of the 'fear drama' in which it currently operates.)
The proposed change is to hire a Company Manager, who would be responsible for all things not creative, and would run the theater but in concert with the Artistic Director. This Company Manager would have more than complete parity with the Artistic Director and could, for compelling financial and marketing reasons, veto productions. He or she would report directly to the Board of Directors. The Artistic Director would report to the Company Manager.
A secondary intention would be to add integrity-based management to the theater's operations. In fact, this alone would go a long way toward rectifying the constant drain of turnover in what should be permanent staff positions, and would also help heal the wounds in the eyes of the public, which has been treated in local newspapers to the soap operas regarding the finance manager and archivist, among other things.
Justification for Proposed Change
Despotic organizational leadership methods might have been assumed to have disappeared with the rise of the work of Deming and Crosby and other business life gurus of enlightenment. But sadly, that is not the case. In the bad old days, "Authoritarian forms of control [relied] on financal rewards and threats, whereas normative forms of control attempt to shape work culture and workers' subjectivity in order to ensure compliance," wrote Douglas Ezzy in "A Simulacrum of Workplace Community: Individualism and Engineered Culture." As late as 1999, other researchers pointed out that normative forms of control were not as dominant in the modern corporation as believed by many, although it was growing trend; writers had unleashed a flood of studies announcing the demise of bureaucracy and hierarchy.' (Ezzy 2001)
In the case of the theatre, hierarchy would be an improvement, because it would imply a chain of command, people with authority to make decisions (and make them stick) up to a certain point. Bureaucracy might also be an improvement; it might mean too many levels of hierarchy, and sluggishness, but it, too, would mean there was some recourse and some protection for the employee from the whims of a single, authoritarian overseer.
Still, on a path toward organizational sanity in this organization, these might be considered reasonable steps. Some recent managerial studies describe the role of manager as no longer merely coordinating the work of others, but setting the state and writing the script for the value system and culture that is to be acted out by the workforce. (Ezzy 2001)
In this case, that, too, would be an improvement, as long as there was a value system and culture divorced form the Artistic Director's whim of the moment, or his determination to make the theater the pre-eminent resident theatre in the nation.
That goal is fine; it's the means to achieve it that are laying waste to personnel and, in fact, to the reputation of that theatre and by extension, theater in general.)
Except for the newspaper reports regarding the issues of the financial manager and the archivist -- both of which were public record by virtue of having been sorted out in court -- no one might know of the human and managerial drama at the theater. Journalist Donald F. Kettl wrote that "Where the government's 'waste, fraud and abuse' is fodder for investigations by reporters, watchdog groups, and congressional committees, similar mistakes and sins by private companies are far more likely to escape the public eye. Retailers bury shoplifting costs in higher prices and credit-card fraud in higher interest rates." Except for those two cases, the theater was also able to conceal the bad management at its core.
Kettl uses the Challenger disaster as an argument in favor of ensuring that corporate cultures are open and not bending to the whim of one personality/manager, or even a select few. "Front-line engineers at Thiokol had been worried for months that cold weather might prevent the solid rocket motors' gaskets from sealing…