On October 28-29, 2017 WAM Theatre hosted the Berkshire Leadership Summit in Lenox, Massachusetts, a weekend summit designed to help mid-career women in theatre acquire the skills and confidence they need to get the top leadership jobs in regional theatres.
The Berkshire Leadership Summit grew out of a report of the Wellesley Centers for Women that analyzed the barriers to women becoming artistic directors and managing directors in regional theatres. The report found that hiring committees often do not trust women as much as men, that discussing childcare issues is often taboo for women seeking leadership roles, and that women do not have as many mentors and apprenticeship opportunities as men.
American Conservatory Theatre had commissioned the Wellesley study and held a conference about it in August 2016. Towards the end of that conference, Kristen van Ginhoven, the Artistic Director of WAM Theatre, was so inspired that she stood up and offered to host a follow-up meeting and invited others to join her.
Three people stepped forward and worked with van Ginhoven to organize the Berkshire Leadership Summit – Akiba Abaka, Audience Development Manager at ArtsEmerson; Rachel Fink, Managing Director of Theatre Bay Area; and Shafer Mazow, who is currently the Senior Grants Manager at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and who had been a lead developer and organizer of American Conservatory Theatre’s work on this issue.
Practical Training and Community-Building
The Berkshire Leadership Summit was designed to offer 80 mid-career women training in the practical skills that are required for leadership positions, as well as a sense of community to help them stick to their goals. There were sessions on fundraising, budgeting, board development, and working with search firms, and there were many candid conversations during and between the sessions where the participants could discuss their career obstacles and the best ways to get past them. The organizers had taken care to select a diverse group of participants and panelists, and the intersectionality of gender, race, LGBTQ, and other issues was frequently highlighted in the discussions.
A Real Opportunity for Change
There was a special urgency to the summit because there is a real opportunity to change the face of American theatre over the next two years. Many leaders from the baby boomer generation are retiring from the jobs they have held for decades, and there are currently over 20 Artistic Director jobs and a dozen Managing Director jobs available, including the top jobs at some of our most prestigious theatre companies (see the list of vacancies in this Google Doc).
This feels like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get more women into these positions – especially more women of color since they are woefully under-represented. There is currently only one woman of color serving as the Artistic Director of a LORT Theatre (Diane Paulus at American Repertory Theatre), and there are no women of color serving as Managing Directors of LORT theatres. Hana Sharif, the Associate Artistic Director at Baltimore’s Center Stage, pointed out that there are several women of color who are currently second in command at major theatres. She predicted that they will start leaving the field if they do not see more opportunities for them to advance into the top slots. (Watch the video of the panel with Hana Sharif and Martha Richards here>>)
Ways to Help
Apply for the Jobs! If you feel qualified to be the Artistic Director or Managing Director of a regional theatre, please consider applying for some of the available jobs. If you know other women who might be qualified, encourage them to apply too! We need to cheer each other on!
Contact Board Members/Hiring Committees – If you know board members at any of the theatres that are hiring or if you are on the board yourself, please advocate for qualified women candidates to help them get the jobs. Personal recommendations are often very important to hiring committees, and your positive comments about a candidate can make a big difference.
For More Information
- Howlround live-streamed the plenary sessions of the conference and you can watch videos here>> (A video of the panel with WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards & Center Stage Associate Artistic Director Hana Sharif is here>>)
- American Theatre has published Women in Leadership: It’s About Time, featuring reflections on the summit by three participants – Abigail Pañares, Deanna Downes, and WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards.
- Theatre Bay Area published Lauren Spencer’s excellent article, Putting Women in Power: A Report from the Berkshire Leadership Summit.