Leading from the Middle
Last evening we gathered at Backbone's new space, the bowls club in East Brisbane, Queensland, and shared exciting ideas. An initiative created by Penny Challen and Gabby Gregory..such a good story...they created this page after waiting in line for the Magic Mirrors part of Wonderland Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse a few weeks ago, talking about women and Brisbane arts... see Facebook page "Brisbane Women in Performing Arts Network". You will have to become a member, but that is easy enough...there is now 1,500 members or there about.
There was a wonderful array of women in the room (thanks Kath Quigley and Backbone for the space), some I knew and some I am yet to know.
There was a panel, expertly led by Shari Irwin (leader in the arts, producer Queensland Theatre) and we were asked to talk about our burning passion in this wonderful, yet hugely difficult industry.
I loved the ideas that were presented, and here are my interpretations, as opposed to what this delicious team may have actually said:
1. Leader in the Arts, Board Member (Chair of Backbone), theatre maker, Sue Rider: You need to be able to be fully yourself: how crucial to be fully yourself because you are the best at "doing yourself"
2. Theatre maker, university lecturer, leader in the arts, Caroline Dunphy: Independent work is a wonderfully rich way of creating theatre the way you want to create theatre. There are many independent companies in Brisbane who do succeed, with a little bit of help on the side, either through grants or through other work such as lecturing and writing.
3. Theatre director, leader in the arts Alethea Beetson: In Australia, for thousands of years we have had a matriarchy in many places. It is only now, since colonisation, that we have this patriarchal power system. This was the most empowering message for me because it contextualised where we are and the possibility of change. So empowering to build on what our indigenous peoples knew so well. And to be able to be yourself, regardless of where you are (no, you do not have to have a 'profile' that is marketable, rather you have to be the best version of yourself)...
4. Theatre maker, researcher, coach, therapist for artists, Margi Brown Ash. The thing that I offered the group was the idea of
Leading from the Middle
Actors, performers, designers, musicians, dancers, writers, musicians, dramaturgs, choreographers, producers, stage managers, whoever I have left out...not everyone can be at top of the tree...we are, often part of the creative product that is led by a director.
It is important that we learn, particularly as women, that we have the capacity and the power to promote change from the middle of the creative team, not just from the top, in fact it is our duty to do so.
I try to only work with collaborative directors, because it is then clear in the rehearsal room that the actors/creatives are full contributors to the final product. We are not there to 'obey'...it is a bit like marriage vows. Obedience went out years ago. What replaces it is collaborative practice, where artists listen to different offers and then work out a way where everyone feels heard and consequently the production grows. I have- too often- observed directors not accepting actors/creatives offers (which in my opinion is at the expense of the production) because of their own need to get it right. We can so often forget that this industry has to be a collaborative one.
Leading from the middle, my deliberate choice of leadership in our profession (from my perspective leading from the middle is not lesser than, rather it is a different role from the top of the tree) provides the creative opportunities to offer suggestions with grace and intelligence. If you have a top-of-the-tree leader who is skilled, they will listen and accept all offers: if the offer does not work, the creative usually knows it and does not have to be told.
And when women do take the top job, I hope their role is to listen, to collaborate and to care for their creative teams, using respectful and empowering language...that way we build our community into a rich and powerful force that is generative and consequently transformative.
Look up "Leading from the Middle". Learn how it is done, and if, one day you want to take on artistic leadership-at-the-top, you will be very skilled in collaborative practice, the only generative way forward. I will stay-in-the-middle, where I believe the opportunities lie. We can create change collaboratively, steadily and consequently forcefully.
Here is a link to get you started: remember these ideas are just offers. You will create your own particular brand of leadership. Believe in your own capacity:
Thank you everyone for a terrific first gathering for the network. Thanks Gabby and thanks Penny and thank you panel members for your contribution to a rich variety of hints to survive this industry.