Monday, July 27, 2009

part 2: what does an artistic director do?

cescarini: "if you run out of trust, good luck."

next act theatre's
david cescarini responds to the last "what the heck is it you do, anyway?" (which, for fun, can also be read "what the heck is it, you do anyway?")

david's vast 33-year theatrical career includes such highlights as casting me in my first brecht review. yes, my only brecht review. he is the producing artistic director of milwaukee's next act theatre, now in it's 20th season (whew!) and has directed over 27 shows for the company. his lovely wife was once on the lawrence welk show.
The AD and MD must work in tandem, bound by trust and driven by a strong faith in the vision. But as for earning and spending: the artistic director must be as concerned with earning as the managing director is about spending. Hence, the AD must propose a vision that is sellable and supportable overall, but also intermittently challenging. This insures forward progress, artistically, while hopefully providing a stable financial base to keep it happening. The one thing that the administrative leadership absolutely SHOULD NOT do, is go into hock to a bank to the tune of almost half a million bucks to support deficits. Some boards and administrators can be reluctant to comprehend the danger of this fiscal policy. This can lead to rather desperate action and disaster.

The artistic director job description is not monolithic: it is dependent upon individual strengths, personalities and relationships, company history, the internal creative pathway of an organization, budget size and many more factors. But trust is the currency that every AD relies upon, much more so than money. If you run out of money, you can find more or work with less. If you run out of trust, good luck.

Also, trust is a free-flowing commodity. It flows in all directions in a healthy environment. In a vibrant resident artistic community, trust is generated with each successful creative relationship or project, and in turn engenders work that is deeper, richer, of appreciably better quality -- which our audiences recognize. Milwaukee's a terrific theatre town because of trust.

The fiasco at an unrecognizable Skylight has trashed this most basic and essential element for artistic endeavor (or perhaps any human endeavor that's worth pursuing). Since the time that each of us fell backwards into the waiting arms of two fellow acting students, we have depended upon trust to make us better.

As an unsolicited answer, Tony, artistic directors trade in trust. And the great thing is, the more you invest and spend wisely, the better are your returns. It's kind of like accounting ... but different.


  1. Tony: This is so helpful for everyone to understand the significance of the Artistic Director's position in the Arts. AD and the artists provide the vision and work doggedly to create it on stage. In a theatre the last positions to be cut should be artistic.... Without AD , artists, designers, stage managers, etc. we just have a blank stage available in a beautiful space available for rent.

    I particularly appreciate DC's use of the word "Trust." No one can do ANY job well once Trust is lacking. These articles are very helpful and informative. As far as the suits worrying about social media....It is and can be constructive as you have so nicely demonstrated. Kudos to you all!

  2. What???? Who is his Welkian wife???

  3. Lili,
    Kudos to you and thank you for joining the conversation here. It is great to have your input!


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