Although I cringed when Mitt Romney said “Corporations are people, my friend,” the phrase came to mind as I read about yet another theatre closing this week. Throughout the spring semester, students in my graduate arts management class had been following reports about San Diego Opera, looking for information about the board governance and artistic leadership issues raised by the on-again-off-again-on-again season. One student did an arms length case study of the Metropolitan Opera’s financial woes as a final project. A few days ago, a local theatre company announced it was cancelling its final production of the season because of a cash shortfall. Then, San Jose Rep announced it was filing for bankruptcy and shutting its doors.
A colleague who has designed at San Jose Rep for years posted something on his facebook page that re-framed these stories – these stories of theatres failing. Fingers will be pointed and lessons about organizational behavior and arts management will be learned, but ultimately, these case studies are the stories of real people, stories of a designer who’s daughter grew up in the back row during tech rehearsals, who sold his house to move closer to a theatre only to find he would need to find something elsewhere.
The next time I sit in a seminar room with my grad student and we dissect the cashflow statements of a failing theatre, I’ll be reminding my students – and myself — that behind every case study there are real people who are affected, for good or ill, by the decisions organizational leaders make, decisions they may not have had any part in making.