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TBA Online: News & Features: September 2017

Cultural Leadership Program Aims to Give Bay Area Theatre Makers New Tools

Wednesday, September 6, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: TBA Staff
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

Eight years ago, Rachel Fink grew “insanely jealous” when she learned about the variety of professional development programs available to arts professionals in other parts of the world. 

She was studying international cultural policy at the British Council and discovered how theatre artists and administrators in certain countries benefitted from having access to an array of programs designed to give them ongoing education in the skills and knowledge needed to successfully manage their careers and companies.

Fink returned to the United States with a strengthened commitment to providing similar opportunities for local arts professionals—opportunities that are often only afforded to upper management or those who attend prestigious graduate schools.

“I get very frustrated with the fact that it's only the people at the the top of the organizational chart who have access to ongoing training,” she says. “It is important for the training and resources to be available and accessible … across the organization, across the industry.”

Rachel Fink, Theatre Bay Area managing director.

Today, Fink is the managing director ofTheatre Bay Area, where she is about to unveil a new initiative to provide the kind of comprehensive, accessible training that she champions. This month, the organization launches the Cultural Leadership program, designed to give artists, administrators, and board members high quality, low cost training in the management skills needed to produce theatre.

The program was spurred by Fink’s drive and by conversations between TBA executive director, Brad Erickson, and local theatre practitioners who expressed a desire for more training on the complexities of running an organization. Last year, TBA applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and received the funding this summer for a one year pilot program, which Fink and Erickson will use to lay the groundwork for a series of workshops, forums, and community trainings that will continue for years to come.

“We designed this first year as a pilot and it has multiple different layers to it so we can test things out,” Fink says. “We’re really trying to be open and flexible but smart and strategic about this.”

Modeled in part on the organization’s popular ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Artists to Success) program, the Cultural Leadership program will recruit experts in the field to train participants in such areas as HR practice, building fundraising campaigns, and best practices for board members. The curriculum, which is still being drafted, will be influenced by the results of a survey sent out to TBA member organizations that asked them to identify the topics they were most interested in studying. Funds from the NEA grant will help ensure that the trainings are low cost with many of them being free and others costing in the $20 to $30 range per participant. Anyone will be able to sign up for sessions on the TBA website, with discounts available for TBA members.

The first session, a free community forum entitled “Cultural Equity, Diversity and Artistry in Casting,” will take place in Berkeley on September 19 and explore the legal, ethical, and aesthetic aspects of inclusive casting. Hypothetical case studies will be presented to a panel of such Bay Area theatre makers as director/playwright Jeffrey Lo, Berkeley Repertory Theatre director of casting Amy Potozkin, and actor Tracy Camp. Rounding out the panel will be an attorney with expertise in employment and entertainment law who will educate participants on the legal parameters of their casting practices. Erickson hopes that the discussion between members of the panel about how they would handle these cases will illuminate the evolving conversion about inclusion in casting.

“Certainly there is changing thinking about how to approach casting,” Erickson says. “What seemed to be sort of progressive and really envelope-pushing in terms of opening doors of inclusion ten, 20 years ago … doesn’t seem to really be hitting the mark.” 

Fink and Erickson hope that as participants in the Cultural Leadership program see the value of the training, they will spread the word and encourage a culture of ongoing education in the Bay Area theatre community.

“We should all be learning,” says Fink. “That’s really important both for the success of our field and our organizations and I think it’s also really important for each individual’s professional development.” 

Register for "Cultural Equity, Diversity and Artistry in Casting" here.

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at