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Offering some unsolicited advice

January 20, 2011 - Diane Speer
Since I've been doing play reviews and covering Thunder Bay Theatre for about two decades now, I've certainly seen my fair share of directors come and go. J.R. Rodriguez, on the job since around the first of the year, is the latest professional to take over the helm of TBT. We all wish him well - just like we've wished all of the others who have led the theatre much success in their endeavors because we know how important the theatre is to the community and to the cultural vibe of the region.

J.R. brings a fresh attitude, many years of experience in multiple aspects of theatre, a sense of cooperation and a good personality to the position. He should do well. For what it's worth though and from my bird's eye view of things, here are just a few words of advice for Rodriguez, who replaces Mark Butterfuss, the artistic director for the last three years, who replaced Tim Bennett, who replaced Hal probably get the drift. At any rate, here is my totally unsolicited advice:

* The position of artistic director in Alpena seems to burn people out in the end. Maybe it's because the job requires being good at so many things or maybe it's because it is seemingly all-consuming. All I know is that I have seen many directors start out enthusiastically at TBT with big plans for success. By the end of their stay here, that enthusiasm is in far shorter supply, so if at all possible, I think it is important to maintain some balance and try to have at least a portion of your life that is separate from the theatre. Don't eat, sleep and think theatre 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even though you do both live and work in the same general location.

* It's all in how you treat people. Again, I've seen many a director welcomed at the start with open arms by the cast, crew and board because most all have tired of the management style of the previous director. The new director experience starts out harmonious, but then it seems like that artistic temperament kicks in and before you know it, dissension in and around the theatre becomes the norm once again. I think this is my single most important piece of advice: treat those who you manage with respect because being nice really does pay dividends.

* And finally, know your audience. While it is always a treat to see new and different productions performed, in order for the theatre to stay viable, it needs to have patrons attending shows. To make that happen, shows have to be ones that people want to see, not shows that actors or directors want to do because they are edgy or push the boundries. What plays well in other areas of the country won't necessarily play well here, and a good artistic director recognizes that and plans their seasons accordingly.

That's about it from the advice department. As I stated from the get-go, I do wish Rodriguez every success in his new position as TBT's latest artistic director. I look forward to working with him in my capacity here at the newspaper and to seeing what good things he does for TBT.


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