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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Standing In the Shadows of Love

I have now started and deleted three different entries about the latest news from Shadow Theatre Company as reported in the Denver Post.
I know that some people may question whether it's my place to comment at all, to which I must simply respond, if people insist upon airing out their dirty laundry publicly, I am entitled to notice the smell.
However, for this fourth attempt, I have distilled my original thoughts down a bit, almost to the point of omitting them altogether. (The "dirty laundry" comment stays, though.)
Instead, I will share something that I feel must not be overlooked at this time:

"Our mission is to develop cultural awareness through theatre and to provide an understanding, respect and appreciation of our history and culture as expressed from the heart of the human condition."

This is the mission statement of Shadow Theatre Company from their website. The mission statement is the lighthouse that can guide a vessel over treacherous waters. It is not necessarily unchangeable (though any changes should require considerable deliberation), but it is the constant reminder to all involved as to why the journey was undertaken in the first place.

I chose the title for this blog not simply because it is one of my favorite songs, and because it contains the word "shadow," but also because STC has always very obviously been a labor of love, not only for the beloved founder, Jeffrey Nickelson, but for all who worked beside him and for all of those who have endeavoured to follow in his footsteps.

There has been a good deal of rhetoric of late linking Nickelson's memory to the future of Shadow with words like "legacy" and "dream." Again, I would direct everyone to the mission statement above. Notice that Jeffrey Nickelson's name is not there. Nor are the words "dream" or "legacy." I don't point his out to in any way disparage Mr. Nickelson. There are no other names there, either. This is not an oversight. This is by design.

The mission statement is the legacy of Shadow, and its cultivation by the organization's members is - I expect - the greatest tribute for which Mr. Nickelson might have hoped.

The job of every member of a non-profit should be in the interest of serving the mission statement first, not doing whatever they want and justifying it until it fits into the mission statement. (If that seems troublesome, read it again and give it some time to digest.)

Second, running a theatre company isn't supposed to be easy. If it were, everyone in Denver would start up their own theatre company. . . wait, let me see if I can reframe that.
No one is born knowing how to serve on a board or negotiate the difficulties of running a non-profit. There is no shame in asking for help. There are resources available. One of my favorites is Managing a Non-Profit Organization in the 21st Century by Tom Wolfe.
The final two thoughts I have on the subject are these: by-laws and job descriptions. If you have them, use them. If you don't have them, write them. Now. When no one's sure of the rules or whose job is whose, there is a lot of trodding upon the toes of others, and from that can come no good.

Good luck to Shadow and good luck to all theatre companies that are struggling with their identities and other challenges right now. Don't lose sight of the lighthouse.

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