A NEW DIRECTION FOR THE UPSTAGE THEATRE
The board of the Upstage Theatre Company had assembled to hear the Artistic Director’s proposals for the following year’s season. Mark Buck, the Artistic Director, had built a reputation on his staging of popular comic seasons, and most members of the board expected a similar proposal this year.
Buck entered the boardroom, and after a few general remarks, began to speak about his plans for the season. As he spoke, the board members began to look at each other with astonishment. Buck was proposing a radical departure with a Shakespearean tragedy and working up to a piece by Arthur Miller. At the end of this totally unexpected proposal he looked around at his audience. ‘Any questions’ he asked rather blandly, while privately enjoying the obvious bewilderment on the part of the board. He loved surprising people!
Jean Carlisle, the chair of the board, was the only one not surprised by the proposal, as Buck had approached her several weeks ago and dropped some hints about his idea. Buck, she had a shrewd suspicion, was out primarily to promote his own career. Known as a ‘comedy man’ first and foremost, he was in danger of being typecast within the industry. Only by rounding out his production experience could he hope to progress.
Carlisle, however, could see a lot of possibilities in the proposal for a ‘serious’ season, even though she knew it would be dismissed as foolhardy by a number of the established board members. Her involvement with the Upstage Theatre was based on a sincere commitment to the cultural development of the community. Lately, she had been coming under some fire from her family and friends for not urging that more ‘culturally significant’ work be performed by the Theatre. When she had first heard of Buck’s proposal, she had decided to support it and had accordingly begun to consider how best to get the board to support it as well.
Now she turned to Robert Ramsay, a board member who had been brought in for his connections with the business community. ‘Well, Robert, it’s an interesting proposal we have in front of us,’ she said. ‘What do you think?’
Ramsay, she happened to know, had been considerably embarrassed in front of the board recently, as a result of his inability to raise money for the Theatre. She also knew that much of the resistance to the corporate support of the Theatre had come from the fact that its plays were not considered serious enough. Thus, Ramsay, she reasoned, would support the departure proposed by Buck.
This was indeed the case. ‘I think it’s a marvellous idea. And I’m sure it’s the kind of season the financial community would support’ said Ramsay.
Several others on the board protested strongly against the proposed season. The most vociferous of these was Olaf Vickers, a local playwright of some repute. Vickers had had several of his comedy works performed by the Upstage Theatre Company over the years. The argument presented by Buck, Carlisle, and Ramsay managed to quiet these objections, however, at least to the point where the board voted to examine the marketing and financial implications of the proposal and meet again in two weeks’ time.
When the board met again, a month later, the battle lines were more clearly drawn. Olaf Vickers spoke first. ‘I move that we dismiss the proposal for a “tragedy’ season,” he said. ‘The Theatre has always had a reputation for comic works, and this reputation should not be thrown away lightly. I feel that our artistic director should go back and rethink his proposals.’
Jean Carlisle, however, was ready with an answer. ‘I know how you feel’, she said. ‘But I think we have to consider some other factors too. For a year now our theatre has been losing money, and how long the various arts councils will go on funding us is an open question. As I told you last year, some of the government people are very concerned that we develop more in the way of box office support and outside funding. Now, as I see it, this proposal may give us a chance to do just that. I’ve asked Mark Buck to do an unofficial survey among the town’s theatre community, and I think you’ll find the results interesting.’
The artistic director now stood up. ‘We’ve been able to put together a random sample of Theatre goers from the subscription lists of other theatres in town,’ he said. ‘I had a couple of people in the administrative office phone these people and do a straw poll survey of their preferences. The results indicate that a majority would patronise a new tragedy season. So I think we can expect some box office support for this proposal.’
He sat down and amid murmurs from the board members Carlisle then asked Ramsay to address the meeting. ‘I’ve canvassed the business community,’ he said. ‘A number of corporations have indicated their interest in supporting a “serious season” here. I think it’s safe to say that we could count on fairly generous corporate support should we decide to go ahead.’
A heated debate followed these announcements. While many of the previously uncommitted board members now leaned toward acceptance of the proposed season, a significant minority, lead by Olaf Vickers, opposed it. As the by-laws required a two- thirds majority to approve a policy change, the meeting adjourned without any decision being taken. It was decided to meet again the following week to resolve the crisis, if possible.
During that week, Jean Carlisle paid a visit to Olaf Vickers. After some polite discussion of theatre matters, she came to the point. ‘You know Olaf,’ she said sadly, ‘it’s rather a pity you don’t support the proposal for a ‘serious’ season.’
‘Why’s that?’ inquired the playwright suspiciously.
‘Well’, explained Carlisle, ‘it’s just that I was talking to Buck the other day, and he wanted to commission you to write a work to wrap up the season. He says he’s sure a serious piece by you would be just the thing to cap the year.’ ‘I’m glad that at least he remembers part of the Theatre’s original mandate,’ growled Vickers. ‘After all, the Upstage is supposed to be committed to the development of new local authors.’
‘And it’s a commitment he takes very seriously,’ replied Carlisle. ‘And, so do I, I can assure you. That’s why if we were to go ahead with the season he suggests, I would move that your new play be commissioned immediately. I hope we can come to some agreement when we next meet,’ she added, as she rose to go.
‘Maybe,’ Vickers replied thoughtfully.
At the next meeting, Vickers announced that after some thought, he had changed his Mind, and would now support the new season. Several weeks later, it was announced that as local playwright, he had been asked to write a serious work to be performed as season finale.
1. What do you perceive to be the primary problem in this case? 2. Do you believe that the board has made decisions according to the rational decision making model? Why?
3. Do you think that using a group such as this one was the most effective way to make the decision?
4. What might you have done differently, in order to facilitate more effective decision making