Adaptation, Assumptions and A Conference

by Adam Thurman

in Financial Adaptation,National Conference

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(This post is a part of the Financial Adaptation blog salon curated by Adam Thurman for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

Adapt or Die.

I hate that phrase.

Don’t get me wrong, the phrase is true.  It’s as true now as it has ever been.  I hate it because it’s one of the pithy phrases that masks the difficultly of adapting to a new situation.

For decades life in the theatre was simple.  It wasn’t easy.  It has never been easy.  But it was pretty simple.  There was a defined product, defined competition and a clear way to reach audience.

No more.

It’s easy to say the world has changed and we who have chosen a life in the arts need to adapt but the road to that adaptation goes through all the emotions that make us human.  Emotions like fear, anger and betrayal.

It’s a messy process.

Part of what makes that process so messy is the assumptions that we make about the world.  We all have strong feelings about how life in the theatre should be.  We have even stronger feelings about how our organizations should operate.  Some of us reserve our strongest feelings about how other organizations should operate.

There’s nothing wrong with making assumptions.  It’s human.

But the key to adaptation, financial or otherwise, is to have a moment where those assumptions can be identified and examined.

Here’s a related thought.  Why should anybody come to a conference?  We are all now connected digitally.  Why should anyone fly, book a hotel room and pay a conference fee?  The easy answer is “to network, socialize and knock back a few drinks on the corporate card”.  While I like those things as much as the next guy/girl, I’d propose that the true value of coming to the TCG Conference reveals itself when you ask the hard questions about the assumptions you are making.

The point of heading to Dallas isn’t to get your worldview validated over and over again.  It’s isn’t to immediately jump into your role of “LORT Theatre Producer”, “Fundraiser”, or “Scrappy Artist”.  It’s a moment to pull yourself above the day to day and really think about the world while you are surrounded by people who are (hopefully) doing the same thing.

That’s the opportunity we have.

Those of you who choose the Financial Adaptation Arc during the Conference are going to get a lot of knowledge.  You are going to hear from incredible people who are doing splendid things.  That’s our end of the bargain.

Your end of the bargain is to really think about the assumptions you are making, ask the hard questions, discard the easy answer and help your fellow colleagues find their way.

That’s the road to adaptation.

See you in Dallas.


Adam Thurman is the director of marketing for Court Theatre, one of the largest nonprofit theaters in Chicago. During his tenure, Court has had some of the highest grossing production in its 57 year history. He is also the founder of Mission Paradox, an organization devoted to connecting art and audience. He authors a widely read blog on the arts, marketing, leadership, diversity, and other issues at MissionParadox.com. He has been featured in the LA TimesTime Out New York, the Chicago TribuneChicago Artist Resources and TedxBroadway.  Adam is a former board member of the League of Chicago Theatres and has served on the Illinois Arts Council’s Advisory Panel. He has been recognized as an Emerging Leader by Americans for the Arts and the Theatre Communication Group (TCG). He is also a member of the TED mentor program and provides support and counsel to TED Fellows.

  • Laurie McCants

    There was a time (long ago) that except for an adventurous few, there were no “scrappy artists” at the TCG conferences at all– just administrators and artistic directors. That’s changed. And I think we’re all the better for it. Mix it up! I really appreciate your framing of the purpose of coming to the conference. I come to TCG conferences to be jostled! (No drinks on the corporate card, though, sorry to say! This still-adventurous still-scrappy artist comes on her own dime, except for 2 years ago when I was there as a Fox Fellow– thanks, TCG!)