Six Months In

In her sixth An Artistic Director Prepares column, WaterTower Theatre's Joanie Schultz writes about her experience so far, and her quest to figure things out. That'll happen, right?

published Friday, June 30, 2017



Addison —  The first six months of being an Artistic Director, in 21 moments/thoughts:


1. Sign the contract, accepting the position, and then receive your first email about finances. Tear your hair out and gnash your teeth but then realize that you just signed on to care about a theatre’s finances. You’ll figure it out, right?


2. Spend your January in a corporate apartment in Bloomington, Ind., on the phone with said theatre company every time you’re not in rehearsal. Try hard to learn everything you can to get up to speed. Read every file on the computer server to help you understand the theatre’s history. That will help you figure it out.


3. Things change for the current season, and suddenly you’re making your first programming decision far earlier than you thought you would. But you think you figured it out.


4. Drive 14 hours straight with anticipation and excitement to a new city where, finally, you will be there to do this job! Get a speeding ticket in Oklahoma at 10 p.m. Pull up to your month-long Airbnb at midnight. Now you’ll figure this out.


5. With excitement in your eyes, you unpack your boxes in your new office, and get to work programming next season. Everything is possible! Nothing can drag you down! You’ve figured it all out!


Photo: Joe Mazza
Joanie Schultz

6. You have not figured it out.


7. Spend long hours with your Managing Director, collaboratively developing a vision for the theatre. Hope! Excitement! Joy! You two are figuring it out!


8. Have a retreat with your staff where you develop mission/vision/values statements. Everyone is passionate and amazing! We will figure it out!


9. Start casting and designing your first show as a director at said theatre company. Totally in your element, doing what you do best. There’s no way you won’t figure this out.


10. Go back to Chicago to pack your things and direct a play. Announce new season. Accolades from people across the country, “you’ve figured it out!”


11. Nope, you still haven’t figured it out.


12. Finally you’re moving! The truck takes your things away, and brings them to meet you in your new home. Now for real you’re going to settle in and figure this out.


13. Spend time having inspiring conversations with board members! Have a Gala! Give lots of speeches! You’re figuring this out!


14. Have email exchanges with audience members. Some of them are angry! Some of them are excited! Change is scary! Try to figure it out with all of them!


15. Meet up for liquids or food with other Artistic Directors in your area. Have you figured this out?


16. Open first show at theatre where you finally had a hand in some aspects of the production. Feel pride in the work on opening night. Art is good! You can figure this out.


17. Have exciting meetings with artists, feel inspired by them. They are the engine, the voice, the reason you want to figure this out.


18. Attend national theatre conference and receive advice from established Artistic Directors from across the country. They have obviously figured it out. Maybe?


19. Has anyone figured this out?


20. Bash head against wall. Lose sleep trying to figure it out.


21. Settle into the knowing that you don’t have to have it all figured out.

That the mission/vision/values of your organization must lead you.

That you keep asking the big questions.

That you stay curious instead of fearful.

That you stay open and don’t shut down.

That you keep your eyes fixed on making innovative and exciting art.

That you think about your community and how to connect with it.

That you forge ahead bravely.

That you rise above the small problems to see the larger picture.

That you have a group of amazing people around you: staff, board, managing director, artists, friends, family, husband, who are on this journey with you.

That you have so much to be grateful for every day.

And that’s a lot to have figured out.



» Joanie Schultz was named Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre in December. In April, WaterTower announced the first season selected by herHear an extensive interview with her on the Little Big Scene Podcast, here.

» An Artistic Director Prepares runs on the last Friday of the month in TheaterJones.



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Six Months In
In her sixth An Artistic Director Prepares column, WaterTower Theatre's Joanie Schultz writes about her experience so far, and her quest to figure things out. That'll happen, right?
by Joanie Schultz

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