Let me start by saying that I think the longer I do this, the less I know and the more questions I have. But the one thing I ask myself often and always is “what does success look like?” Sometimes that is so easy to answer, like “when that show makes goal”, and sometimes it’s overwhelming to sort out what really has value and what is simply external pressure to be on it and timely and relevant and savvy and cutting edge and you struggle to retain your own sense of vision and purpose and clarity and most, importantly, leadership.
Almost 20 years ago, I started a theater company in NY and we had a lofty mission statement about producing new work and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember but what I do remember was what I called the “internal mission statement” and that was much simpler:
DO THE BEST PLAYS WE ARE CAPABLE OF AND BE REALLY NICE TO THE PEOPLE WHO COME.
Now, in those days my resources to accomplish that was about $12 for the show, my lovely smile and some mediocre wine that I always poured post show. But I really cared about creating a vibe like people were coming to my house and although I didn’t really know what I was doing, it just sort of felt right. And as a result the focus was on building relationships and creating a shared investment with the work on the stage.
So cut to 2013 where I now have this embarrassment of riches. I am part of a 5 member team that runs a $28million dollar a year organization, with a top notch staff in a remarkable new facility that has nothing but opportunity to engage with the community in multiple ways. We have five floors of public space where you can just hang out and have a coffee, we host 100′s of discussions and workshops, year-round classes for adults and kids, backstage tours, iPod tours, architecture tours, 3 places to have dinner, free wifi, gorgeous views of the Mississippi River, 40,000 Facebook likes and 13,000 twitter followers, dozens of community partnerships with organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the Children’s Hospital, more than a dozen printed and online publications, a volunteer program of more than 500 individuals and a remarkable and generous board of directors. And I love that about my job and my team is ferocious about bringing good ideas to the table and implementing initiatives at the speed of light. But about 6 months ago at the end of my yoga class when I was supposed to be thinking of nothing and instead I was thinking about work, I realized it is still the same as it was almost 20 years ago. At the end of the day with everything we do and all the varied ways we engage, the thing that still engages people the most is when we:
DO THE BEST PLAYS WE ARE CAPABLE OF AND WE ARE REALLY NICE TO THE PEOPLE WHO COME.
Now, it’s more complicated than that, as it has evolved beyond my mediocre wine and I have a visitor services staff that is profoundly dedicated to hospitality–we have a mission statement and everything. And although I participate in conversations about the work we choose, I don’t ultimately make the decisions about what’s on our stage. But I am in charge of being really nice to people. So I am now looking at EVERYTHING my departments do through the lens of service. So from mobile ads to Facebook posts to box office uniforms to wandering the house of the theater pre-show just to chat with people, I’m mildly obsessed with “are we making this choice for our audience or for ourselves?” Is it the information they want or is it the information we want them to have? So in many ways I’ve gone back to my roots–and I’m trying to simplify the approach, quiet the noise, reflect on what has real value vs what the media tells us matters and that has led me to the list I’m about to share because I’m now going all old school and thinking about the basic stuff from 20 years back. And my apologies for it being a list that will not have much explanation, but Jesus, I only have five minutes.
So here it is in no particular order and with the understanding that I do not do all of this really well every day:
MY TOP 10 THINGS THAT I KNEW 20 YEARS AGO THAT I STILL HOLD TO BE TRUE:
1. ONE OF THE MOST INTIMATE AND PROFOUND RELATIONSHIPS THAT EXIST ON THE PLANET HAPPENS IN THAT SPACE BETWEEN THE ARTISTS ON STAGE AND THE AUDIENCE IN THE HOUSE.
2. BE GOOD TO YOUR DATABASE AND IT WILL BE GOOD TO YOU.
3. IT’S OK TO DO LESS BETTER; GO DEEPER NOT WIDER.
4. HIRE GREAT PEOPLE, INVEST IN THEM, TRAIN THEM, TELL THEM YOU ARE PROUD OF THEM OFTEN AND ALWAYS SAY THAT WHEN THEY FAIL.
5. AVOID THE ONE OFF AND THE DESIRE TO PURSUE ALL BRIGHT SHINY OBJECTS.
6. SAY THANK YOU OFTEN AND ALMOST TO THE POINT OF BEING ANNOYING.
7. EVALUATE OFTEN AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO LET STUFF GO.
8. DEVELOP A KICK ASS PLAN AND THEN CHANGE IT AS OFTEN AS NECESSARY BECAUSE CUMULATIVE KNOWLEDGE IS YOUR FRIEND.
9. NONE OF THE NEW STUFF HAS REPLACED THE OLD STUFF. YOU HAVE TO DO ALL OF IT.
And #10 is the most important so if you’ve been ignoring me pay attention now:
THEATER PEOPLE ARE BY THEIR VERY NATURE, PIONEERS, INNOVATORS, ILLUMINATORS, REVOLUTIONARIES, GAME-CHANGERS, RISK-TAKERS, PROBLEM-SOLVERS AND GREAT FUCKING CITIZENS. WE ARE A NOBLE BREED AND WE NEED TO OWN THAT. WE DO IT SO WELL THAT WE FORGET HOW GOOD WE ARE AND WE LOOK OUTSIDE FOR WHAT WE INHERENTLY DO EVERY DAY, ALL DAY. SO LET’S JUST TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EACH OTHER ON A MORE REGULAR BASIS.
AND WE NEED TO DO THE BEST PLAYS WE ARE CAPABLE OF AND WE NEED TO BE REALLY FREAKING NICE TO THE PEOPLE WHO COME.
Trish Santini joined the Guthrie in August 2006 as External Relations Director. She is part of the Guthrie’s five-member senior management team, overseeing marketing, communications, education, visitor services, events and the Guthrie Store. She previously served as the Vice President, Broadway Division at TMG-The Marketing Group, a national marketing and press agency for Broadway and National Tours. She directed and managed the marketing campaigns for more than two dozen Broadway shows including The Drowsy Chaperone, WELL, Mamma Mia!, Doubt, Hairspray, Avenue Q, Lestat, and Movin’ Out as well as sponsorship for Roundabout Theatre Company and Manhattan Theatre Club. Trish returned to New York after spending over 2 years in Los Angeles as Director of Marketing at the Kodak Theatre and as consultant to the Music Center (for their Inaugural Dance Season), Feinstein’s at Cinegrill, Kirov Ballet and Serino Coyne West. Prior to moving to LA, she was the Marketing Manager for Dodger Theatricals in New York and was involved with Into the Woods, Urinetown, the musical, 42nd Street, Music Man and Blast!. Her other New York credits include the off-Broadway production of Urinetown, Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man and Dirty Blonde. Trish was the founder of the not-for-profit theatre company The Working Group and served as their Executive Director for four years.