A Week in the Life of Our Executive Director
Hello, Shakespeare Fans, and welcome to another edition of “Executive Director Questions.” Occasionally I like to use our company blog to answer questions that I get frequently, either from audience or from our actors. Today I am looking at a big question, which is what exactly do I do as the company’s executive director? I am betting that even a lot of our actors don’t know the kinds of tasks I work on when I am not directly in contact with them.
The simple answer to “What does the executive director do?” is a little bit (or actually a lot) of everything. Especially in a small company like ours, the executive director has a hand in almost every aspect of the company’s operation. Our company has six major departments: Artistic, Production, Budget and Finance, Education, PR and Marketing, and Research and Development. Depending on where in our season calendar and production schedule we are, my work can fall more heavily in one of those than the others. I typically work 25-30 hours a week on administrative tasks for Pigeon Creek, which is in addition to any artistic role I am fulfilling, as well as the other freelance theatre work that I do.
So, to give you a taste of my work, here is a recent week-in-the-life of this company’s executive director.
Our Twelfth Night cast is preparing to do their script read-through the following night, which means that I have to get their actor packets ready. These packets include actor guidelines (which outline company policies as they affect actors), actor contracts, emergency contact forms, production information (such as performance dates, character doubling, production duties for actors, etc.), and bound, hard-copy scripts. I update all of those documents for the current cast and order copies. Besides this preparation, my day also includes programming social media posts for the week. Some of these are promotion of our events, and some are curated content like Shakespeare news items. These week we have three different events to promote.
I start my day by participating in a community of practice, in which I and other theatre professionals are working our way through Speaking the Speech, a Shakespearean text and voice manual for actors written by Giles Block. It is important for me to keep track of actor techniques and approaches to Shakespeare to aid in ongoing actor training for our casts. I then attend a meeting of the organizing committee for the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival, a university based festival where I frequently work as a freelance director and dramaturge. Pigeon Creek’s connection to this festival is very valuable, because many of the student actors go on to perform with us when they have graduated. I pick up the actor packet materials for our Twelfth Night cast and then go to their read-through to conduct their company orientation, an introduction to what they can expect while working with us. I leave them to read through their script and then set up their online rehearsal calendar. Usually a director would do this last task, but Twelfth Night is an ensemble directed production.
Today starts with a meeting at a potential new performance venue. I drive to Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan, to take a tour of the gardens and event space, and then meet with their program director about scheduling and logistics. Then I prepare for the Twelfth Night cast’s production opening workshop. Our casts typically participate in a text and movement workshop near the start of rehearsals, and I am teaching the text part of tonight’s session. I also am discussing ensemble direction with them. At least one of our productions each season is directed by the ensemble of actors, rather than an outside director, which harkens back to the rehearsal processes of Shakespeare’s own time. Our artistic committee has been discussing some guidelines that we can give to actors to help them find their way in this process, and I create a new document for actors outlining best practices, as well as standard text work that they can all do to create consistent quality in their use of Shakespearean text. Then I make a lesson plan for teaching audience contact and rhetoric as part of the cast workshop. I attend their rehearsal to take them through all of this material.
Now my focus is on this weekend’s performances. We are performing as part of ArtPrize Project 1 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a gorgeous pop-up courtyard theatre designed by SiTE:LAB. I go to the site to meet with SiTE:LAB personnel and prepare for our load-in. After the meeting, I create an itinerary for the actors performing this weekend and send it to them. I then write an outline of the pre-show talk I will give at Friday night’s performance, and review the research I have previously done for the talk.
Today I focus on writing the final version of my pre-show talk. Then in the evening, I go to the Tanglefoot building, our performance site, and meet the Romeo and Juliet actors to supervise their load-in. We unload costumes, props, and set pieces, including the pipe-and-drape that we use to hang curtains in all of our performing venues. After setting up onstage and backstage, we run fights for the show, run through all of their pre-show and intermission music, talk about adjustments to entrances and exits, and plan for their actor call for the following night. Returning home, I send out a reminder message to the cast so that the actors who were not able to be at load-in are ready to adjust to the new performance space.
This morning, I attend Bard to Go rehearsal for the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival. I am the dramaturge, meaning I created the script, and text coach for this cast of student actors. In the afternoon, I rehearse my pre-show talk, pick up programs from the printer, and head to the performance venue for the evening. I talk to the actors about any last minute blocking changes in the new venue and greet audience members as they come in. I deliver the pre-show talk, which discusses the history of courtyard theatres, as well as cross-gendered casting and the 19th century tradition of women playing large men’s roles in Shakespeare, including the actor Charlotte Cushman famously playing Romeo. I then stay at the performance to help the SiTE:LAB staff in the front of house and make sure our use of the space goes smoothly.
Today is maybe the least busy day for me this week! I go to the evening’s performance before curtain time to help in the front of house, and then towards the end of the performance to take some photos for social media use and then help with the strike, along with Scott Lange, who works on our board.
Romeo and Juliet is done performing, but we have another production happening at the Tanglefoot building today. Midsummer Madness is a 1-hour long cutting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That cast arrives at the site this morning to load-in their props and costumes, put the curtains back up on stage, and run through their program to put replacement actors into the show. I am actually replacing one of the show’s original actors today. I drive the van with their props and costumes to the site to meet the actors, and we load in, then run fights before running through the full program. After a brief lunch break, we do our pre-show preparation, running through lines with those actors who are new to the program, and then start the performance. After the performance, we strike everything from the venue. Scott Lange, who has been working in the front of house today, and I meet briefly with our SiTE:LAB contact to make plans for our next performances at the venue, Twelfth Night at the end of October. When I get home from the performance, I finish my day by finalizing the cuts to the scenes that our Michigan Renaissance Festival cast will start rehearsing this coming week.
So there it is: one full week of executive director life. This was a week where our focus was one cast starting rehearsals while we also had performances going on, so that schedule helped to determine my tasks for the week. Thanks for taking a look at all that goes on behind the scenes to make our productions happen!