Busting the Myth of the “Off-Season”

A little perspective from Box Office Manager Robin Dolan.
On those crazy days here at the Cal Shakes office when there are actors warming up with nonsense words in the hall or playing instruments and dancing in the parking lot, I’m reminded why I’m grateful to work in theater. Performers notwithstanding, I’m surrounded by wonderful, funny, creative people year-round; I don’t have to worry if I curse occasionally; and I frequently see hilarious things—donkey’s heads, giant swords, jewel-encrusted wigs—being carried in through the front door.

But working in the nonprofit sector is demanding. Our resources are stretched, and many of us are often doing the jobs of several people. Patrons frequently say to me, “You must be looking forward to the off-season, when you’ll be less busy.” In truth, I think there’s perhaps four days a year when I’m not busy. I believe they happen in November, but they usually go so quickly that I don’t notice them till they’re gone. I remember relating this to Ilsa, our graphic designer, a few years ago; she replied, “Me too! But I think it’s about two days for me.”

In the winter and spring, our education department is busy setting up school residencies and Summer Shakespeare Conservatories. Development is raising money for the annual fund, getting corporate sponsors, and planning our annual gala fundraiser—referred to internally as our biggest production of the year, since it all happens on one night. The Artistic department is working on our New Works/New Communities projects, working with at-risk youth through Creative Risk, hiring interns for the coming year, and planning the Main Stage season. Marketing is designing our beautiful subscription brochure, fine-tuning the website, working with the press, and beginning group sales for 2011.

I’m busy with subscription renewals and seat change requests. I also work with the Marketing department to plan promotions and sales campaigns, and support other departments with statistics needed for corporate sponsorships and grant applications and reporting. In the box office it’s mostly me holding down the fort, answering the phone and talking to patrons. I have been lucky to have great people working during the season, and I miss their contributions. But the phones ring less this time of year, so I’ve got it covered.

A big thing we do in the “off-season” (which, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is inaccurately named) is set objectives for the following year. We look at what worked last year and what we want to try again. This fall, our senior staff unveiled a three-year Strategic Plan for the company, spelling out Cal Shakes’ vision, mission, core values, goals, and strategies for the next three years. While this could be a very dry document, I’m finding it inspiring. For instance, how many companies include in their core values “humor, authenticity, and a sense of home?” Valuing all members of the Cal Shakes community is equally important to productive goals. Gotta love that.

When the final draft of the Strategic Plan was presented to us, staff members were invited to create a team—facilitated by board member Alan Schnur—that would come up with suggestions on how to implement it. This invitation to contribute allows us to feel included in the creation of everything that we do. A major concept we’re looking at here is “de-siloing”: making sure departments are not isolated from one another, and that pertinent information is shared. Most of all, de-siloing allows us to share our skills cross-departmentally; as a result, we’re learning more about each other’s talents.

During our well-earned break over the holidays—the office is mostly closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day—I often personally consider what’s happened in the previous year, and make plans for the coming year. So does Cal Shakes. So what do we do off-season? We plan. We review. We talk with patrons. We vision. And we laugh, and support one another. Just like we do all year-round.

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