The Inherent Path of Conflict

Managing the Artistic Process:

The Inherent Path of Conflict or The Art of War

My philosophy of management in theater requires embracing a basic principal- as long as we are in a business where the idea is greater than the resources to support it, we will always be in a state of conflict.

As long as we are in a business where the artist puts themselves out there to be judged, day in and day out, fairly or unfairly, we will always be in a state of conflict.

It is the manager’s job to manage that conflict, whether you are a producer, production manager, general manager or stage manager. You are the front line at any moment, and your decisions may have a huge impact on project and personnel. So what do you do? You engage- it is that simple. You reach out and connect as humanly and personally as possible. A person in the volatile fight or flight mode gets the idea of going their own way, and we need to find away to break the moment and redirect the focus to the goal we have all set. The touch on the arm, the exclamation acknowledging the situation- there unfortunately is no right method. It depends on you, the person, and the situation. The true wrong answer is to do nothing.

That being said, I really believe conflict in theater, art, the creation of an artistic ideal is a healthy part of the process. Conflict leads to revolution, to evolution, to realization of new artistic expression. We can’t be afraid to be challenged; it is part of what we are there for. Artists push the boundaries, we hold the line. When we both do our jobs to the best of our ability, we come out with the best possible product.

As in Art, in the management of Art we must constantly challenge the status quo. I don’t think this is particularly different from other aspects of management in a producing mode, including most of the manufacturing, construction, retail organizations in the world today.

We need to constantly assure ourselves the wheel is round. Perhaps in the world of live entertainment, theater in this specific, we need to define or re-define what round is, what a wheel is.

I think the last 2 statements put us in a situation where, with the constant influx of ideas, dreams and desires, we have little choice but to accept conflict as a basic tool in moving the art form forward. My premise is also based on the reality that as artists dream, design, create, they put a great deal of their soul in to the art, and that means they put a great deal of emotional energy into the art as well.

So if that is indeed true, or at least for the moment an accepted consideration, then we need to find the way to lead, manage and support the process. Commercial and non profit organizations fall back on pretty standardized modalities in managing a pretty standardized process. It is out of the mainstream on cutting edge artistic exploration where new art is created and new management is created to handle it. Here is where the B’way management of the future will be in 20 years. This doesn’t mean the process is unrecognizable in form, but rather the underlying principles that guide the engagement of the artist and artistic process have been recognized for what they really are.

When I started teaching I needed to find a way to define what I did as a manager. I came to a very simple realization of 3 basic principles,

  1. A willingness to engage
  2. A willingness to be responsible
  3. A willingness to be wrong…with the conviction to be right

There is one overriding guideline for me in arts management, whether you are  a production manager, project manager, stage manager, producer, creative manager- “we all function as managers but we all must engage as artists.” It is only in recognizing that what we do is an art form in it’s own right can we fully be engaged with and be successful in managing the artist and the process.

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