Holding The Community Together: Theatre Bay Area Searches For a New Executive Director
by Rotimi Agbabiaka
When Brad Erickson announced this June that he would be departing his role as Theatre Bay Area executive director after 18 years of service, the organization was faced with the challenge of finding someone to take over the helm and steer the company on a post-pandemic course.
Over the past month, TBA staff and board members have worked with ALJP Consulting, an arts-focused search firm, to generate discussion and solicit community feedback to guide this momentous search. As the company prepares to unveil and distribute the job posting, Current TBA Board President Anne W. Smith shares some of the insights gained from recent conversations and the considerations that are shaping the ongoing search for a new executive director.
ADDITIONAL INFO FROM THEATRE BAY AREA:
You can watch ALJP Consulting’s update on the TBA Leadership search here.
If you have questions, feedback, or nominations for the community seats of the search committee, send an email to TBA-EDsearch[at]ALJPConsulting.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Anne W. Smith.
Theatre Bay Area: Thank you so much for taking this time to chat. As a member of Theatre Bay Area’s board, how involved have you been in this search for a new executive director?
Anne W. Smith: I used to be a consultant with a search firm so I’ve been through many searches. I have also been on the other side as an executive director. I’ve been on the board for a very long time, as long as Brad Erickson’s been the ED.
One of the issues with Theatre Bay Area is that it’s a service organization—people come and go and have different expectations. And that can explain the variety of input that we get about what kind of a job the executive director should be.
Theatre Bay Area: How has TBA solicited a “variety of input” from the theatre community regarding this search?
Anne W. Smith: There have been focus groups that have happened based on [budget] size and interests of [Bay Area theatre] organizations. There is a BIPOC focus group [for companies and individual theatremakers].. Within the board and staff [of TBA], we’ve had several focus groups and we’re having a kind of retreat this Friday where the board and staff are digging deep together.
I have to say, I’m very impressed with [search firm] ALJP. They are good at being transparent and making us dig in and not pushing their timeline on us.
Theatre Bay Area: Why did the organization choose ALJP to coordinate the search?
Anne W. Smith: The board liked the approach of ALJP to include BIPOC considerations as an essential part of their routine. We were also very interested by how they work with an organization to peel back its onion—the layers. Theirs is not a cut and dried approach but it’s very professional. They do examine. They do ask questions. They do respond to our thinking.
Theatre Bay Area: What layers have been uncovered so far in this process of working with ALJP?
Anne W. Smith:Some [TBA] members are [only] mildly interested in who and how the executive director functions unless they’re directly involved [with programming]. That is, unless maybe they’re applying for a CA$H grant. Maybe they’ve got some of the performing arts relief money during the pandemic.
Then there are people who are [very] tuned in [to TBA’s operations].. They like to ask questions. Nobody is too sure, except that the organization should be responsive to the community. Now their view of the “community” varies depending on if you are an actor or if you’re an administrator. If you’re a donor, if you’re an audience member.
All those are different stakeholder worlds. Somehow, Theatre Bay Area is supposed to address them all. That means that the executive director, by description, is supposed to pay attention to all their interests. So it’s a shifting—not at all monolithic or consistent—level of interest. So that means it’s a really hard job.
Theatre Bay Area: Are you finding, in this process, that the organization is moving towards narrowing its focus? Are there particular groups of stakeholders that are rising in prominence in terms of where the organization should be focusing its efforts?
Anne W. Smith: Not really. I think a lot of different people are speaking up and that’s important. There’s interest in all of these stakeholder areas and so everybody has something to say.
Theatre Bay Area: What is some of the more intense feedback you’ve received in this process?
Anne W. Smith: I think that there was a lot of intensity, still is, about White American Theatre listening and the point of view about who is being treated well and who’s not. Who’s getting work and who’s not getting work? What does race have to do with it? What does ethnicity have to do with it? There’s still continued discussion about that.
We have our equity, diversity, and inclusion committee that keeps things going—it’s a board and staff committee of Theatre Bay Area. There’s lots of ideas. And a lot of hard work required to get things done.
Theatre Bay Area: TBA held a virtual town hall on October 21, where members of the Bay Area theatre community could weigh in on the search. What kind of feedback did the organization receive from that event?
Anne W. Smith: The most productive comments came in assessing the importance of the role that TBA has played during the pandemic and that it kind of held community together in many instances. Helping to lead the way with advocacy and fundraising. Responding to the work to be done. Talking to everybody, large and small organizations. And responding to the great need of individuals who were the primary beneficiaries of the PAW [Performing Arts Worker] relief funds.
Theatre Bay Area: What are the next steps in the search?
Anne W. Smith: Theatre Bay Area: Putting out the job description is imminent. Then ALJP does all the initial screening. And then our local search committee, which is [comprised of] board, staff, and community members [will weigh in].
Theatre Bay Area: How will you decide who will be on that committee?
Anne W. Smith: We know something about the composition. There will be probably two to three staff, three to four board members, and three to four community members.
Theatre Bay Area: Giving the preparation so far, what considerations will be going into evaluating potential candidates?
Anne W. Smith: Thinking about theatre and the arts. About what service in the arts means—what the role of advocacy is. And then, of course, who can be financially responsible and maintain what’s called “good governance”—that is the relationship among the board, the staff, and the executive director. EDI is right up there. Also, some people are moving it around now to be called IDEA—including access.
The job description will be circulated locally, nationally, internationally, and we hope to have the search resolved by January.
Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. Rotimi is an actor, writer, director, and teaching artist. Learn more at RotimiOnline.com