There has been a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work going on with STAF* and Why Not Theatre’s Riser Project over the summer months: the work that is the subject of this Means of Production study included intensive planning meetings (curriculum development for the Artist Producer Training Program (APT) and “lateral mentorship” discussions with resident companies at STAF, for example), selection processes for Why Not Theatre’s Riser Project 2016 and the first round of APT sessions at STAF, as well as the creation and updating of significant project-related web information. The Means of Production research and evaluation study has also been humming along – as the consultant on this project, I have met with staff, observed planning and selection sessions, reviewed documentation, created drafts of logic models and Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) plans, developed outlines for before-and-after comparative impact evaluations for STAF’s APT and resident company programs, and started a literature review process: see the updated working bibliography of related research, tools and materials available on this site).
During the literature review process I came across this oldie-but-goodie quote that makes a simple but striking point:
In sports and in the performing arts, two settings where teams consistently enhance their capabilities, players move regularly between a practice field and the real game, between rehearsal and performance. It is impossible to imagine a basketball team learning without rehearsal and performance. Yet, that is exactly what we expect to occur in our organizations. We expect people to learn when the costs of failure are high, when personal threat is great, when there is no opportunity to replay an important decision, and when there is no way to simplify complexity and shorten time delays so as to better understand the consequences of actions. Is it any wonder that learning in organizations is rare?
– Peter Senge et al., The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, 1994
How fascinating that Senge and his colleagues hold up the performing arts as a model of positive learning behaviour. This raises some natural questions: Is the learning behaviour that is obvious on the stage practiced the same way off stage, in the offices and meeting rooms of those same performing arts organizations? Are theatre companies “learning organizations”?
STAF and Why Not Theatre, and the participants in their projects that are the subject of this evaluation, are looking to ensure that the answers to these questions are, or become, positive ones. These projects are designed to be inherently collaborative, and to facilitate the co-creation (rather than the simple handing down) of knowledge: if successful, these projects will help make learning in organizations – even when these organizations are loosely-aligned groups of independent artists – a priority rather than a rarity.
* Note: the name of one of the subjects of this study has not been changed retroactively from its previous name (STAF) to the new name (Generator) in blog posts on this site in order to maintain timeline consistency.