Archive | August, 2011

The Swan Effect

2 Aug

I was sitting in a presentation the other day–one of those dog and pony shows where a couple of sales people throw around business speak and try to wow you with a flurry of words. Usually the phrases bang in my head like sour notes. But one of the phrases– “the swan effect”–stuck in my head.  It means that on the surface you see a swan moving gracefully through the water, but underneath there is a whole lot of paddling going on.

I thought, “what an apt analogy for community theatre.”

We strive with every show to put a swan on stage for our audience to see. We want it to move gracefully and beautifully across the stage. The actors are that swan.

Underneath the swan is a whole lot of paddling. All the work that goes into making a show–all the things I’ve written about in previous posts.

But holding the swan up and providing the medium that allows that swan to paddle is the water. The water in this case is the Board of Directors of ECT who donate hundreds of hours of time to this group. The board meets semi-regularly to discuss things like finances, determine and schedule shows, seek out directors for the productions, discuss weighty issues like scholarships and ticket prices. Then as ECT goes into production the Board magically morphs into the production team–the board meetings and production meetings overlap as they try to keep an eye on producing a great show. But while on one hand they are worrying about the show, on the other hand they’re worrying about the finances and the size of the audiences. Will we  break even or maybe make some money after the books are settled?

It’s been more than a week since strike but there are still a lot of things needing to be wrapped up. We still have costumes waiting to go back to Sun Prairie and Freeport, props to go back to Beloit and who knows where, a load or two to go back to our storage units. (Yes, the board worries about storage units and how much they cost!) We have to schedule a post production meeting to discuss what we can do better next time. And, of course, we need to settle the books. Oh, and then we need to have a Board meeting too.

I know of several former Board members who moved on.  It opens spots for new Board members who bring new ideas and renewed energy. I also know many have left burned out and unable to generate any enthusiasm to fathom going into another production.

I’m not saying that any one group is more important than any other, the whole thing is an ecosystem or a parasitic relationship–I’m not sure which.  Everybody, during the course of the production, makes a huge commitment to the play. Many actors not only commit themselves to being the swan, they also work hard at the paddling backstage, helping in any way they can. But for a small group of dedicated individuals, the production doesn’t end with strike and a picnic–there is still a lot of work to be done.

And in the case of ECT that supporting group is a small pond of very dedicated and committed (or committable) individuals who are looking at that next play, the next season of plays, the finances, and the role of ECT in the community. Nobody is forcing them to do it, they are there because they want to be and maybe because they have the same addiction to it as the actors. Nonetheless, they should be recognized.

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