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TBA Online: News & Features: January 2018

Exit Interview: Rachel L. Fink Is Off to Chicago

Wednesday, January 17, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Sam Hurwitt

After two years as managing director of Theatre Bay Area, Rachel L. Fink heads off to Chicago in February to become the new executive director of Lookingglass Theatre Company. Fink got her M.F.A. in theatre management from the Yale School of Drama and served as managing director of the Yale Cabaret. In her 16 years at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, she built the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre from the ground up.  

Outgoing TBA managing director, Rachel Fink.

What are you looking forward to about this new job?

In many ways I feel like it’s the culmination of the work I’ve been doing since grad school. There’s a really lovely progression from running the Yale Cabaret with a group of artists (which is like running a theatre with really big training wheels) to working at the Rep and building up the school and figuring out what it’s like to build something, but still with some training wheels within the organization. And then coming here to TBA, certainly losing the training wheels, and moving a bit out of programming and connecting back with my original training in oversight and management. And then to work with a company that’s ensemble-based, that is deeply aspirational, has so much goodwill, and is excited about growth and what’s around the corner as well as sustaining a legacy at the same time, is really exciting. There are a lot of building blocks there, and they’re game. I’m certainly not going into something that is broken or needs fixing. It’s about joining everyone in the sandbox and seeing what we can build together.

What have been some of the highlights of your two years at TBA?

Some are those internal things that people on the outside don’t see and probably shouldn’t see. There’s been a lot of internal strategic work and sustainability work that has happened in the last two years. Certainly ending the year with a surplus after three years of a deficit was a result of a lot of hard work of the team that I was working to lead.

Another piece is beginning to launch the Cultural Leadership program. It’s an umbrella for resources and opportunities and trainings in areas of administration and management that people will need in producing work. You don’t need to go to grad school in order to gain these skills, but training is helpful, and professional development is helpful, and creating a culture where we’re embracing ongoing training and development is important.

What lessons have you learned in this job?

Building something from the bottom up over 16 years and walking away from that and into someone else’s world was a really deep learning experience. There had been a gap of about six months since the last managing director left, so there were band-aids holding things together, and there was a lot of stuff to address when I came on board at TBA. To learn how to jump in and prioritize, and make mistakes, and deal with those mistakes, and have small victories, and bring everyone on board, and chart the course forward were the best lessons. They’ll certainly be something that I carry with me when I walk into Lookingglass, which is of a much larger size and much higher expectations of the new ED coming in.

Moving to Chicago must be a big shift.

It was so funny, in my interviews they kept saying, “You’re a California person. How are you going to handle this?” I actually had a bit of an identity crisis, because I grew up in Ohio; I understand blizzards. I was thinking, “How are you calling me a California person? I’m from Cleveland!” Well, at this point I’ve lived in California almost as long as I lived in Cleveland. It’s been a long time since I actually had to drive in the snow. And there are no professional clothes in my closet that would be appropriate for 20 degrees and below. Just having that awareness is interesting to me as I go to Chicago and see what are the things from the Bay Area that I’m carrying with me in terms of assumptions and practices and culture. What do I want to keep, and what doesn’t make sense there?

What are your thoughts on leaving the Bay Area?

I’ll miss the community. I’ve seen it change a lot since I moved here in 2000, a lot of that having to do with resources and the cost of living and the impact on artists and those working in the arts. And the role of the service organization is paramount to addressing those things and looking at what can be done on a collective level to support our organizations. While I’m moving to a producing organization, I hope that I’ll still be involved with those broader conversations, because I do think that as a field that’s really, really important.

Sam Hurwitt is a freelance Bay Area arts journalist and playwright. You can follow him at twitter.com/shurwitt