#D&I Institute Field Report: Children’s Theatre Company

by Tim Jennings

in Diversity & Inclusion

Post image for #D&I Institute Field Report: Children’s Theatre Company

(Photo by Dan Norman, from Children’s Theatre Company’s production of The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra by Lloyd Suh, a co-production with Ma-Yi Theatre Company. As part of TCG’s Diversity & Inclusion Institute, our online curator Jacqueline E. Lawton is interviewing our cohort of participating theatres about their discoveries, challenges and success stories along the way.)

Jacqueline E. Lawton: Why is it important for your organization to take part in the Diversity and Inclusion Institute?

Tim Jennings, Children’s Theatre Company: Working with young audiences puts us at the forefront of both the changing demographic of the United States and the inclusivity needs of LGBT youth and family. Nowhere is the face of diversity more present than in the youth of our community.

As the leading family theatre in our field, how then can we not take a substantive leadership role for the nation in charting the course in this work?

JL: What have you learned so far in your process? What are some of the challenges you have faced when doing this work?

TJ: These questions are conjoined for us with the Launch of ACT One (Access, Connect, Transform: The First Step) – Our inclusivity program. The biggest learning we have come to grips with is that “institutional priority”and “individual priority” on these areas will always vary and that we can make real improvement but will never gain 100% support or buy in to all areas (subjectivity will always remain) and so must continue the work at a macro level but not be disappointed if some of the micro levels do not move with the same force. They are like ripples and eddies in a river.

So far the question that has been hardest for us to find a specific answer to is how we generate an accurate baseline and what measurement tools can we use that apply to every area of our company and programming.

The excitement around the greater project is somewhat reduced by the angst and frustration around moving into a much less conceptual and more data analytics oriented phase of the process. Even looking at demographics standards within the U.S. context across our four pillar groups (Economic Access, Cultural/Racial Inclusion, People of Varying Ability and LGBT/Gender Identity Communities) has generated deep but unresolved discussion on profiling, priority and accuracy of our information.

For example, a heterosexual parent might self-identify as that, but under our household profile might note the family as transgender because they have a child who self identifies that way to the family. This would not be surveyed directly by us due to their status as a minor or, in another example (and this has come up a LOT), the children might be adopted or have a parent that is non-white and self-identify as multi-ethnic but the parent and step parent in the household identify as white and thus skew one way or the other. There is a large national movement in the census community to trying to create a wider group of boxes in these areas – so we know we are not alone in this frustration.

It has broadened our context as we are struggling with identifying in wider groups (eg: Does your household include LGBT, People of varying ability, etc).

The clearest denominator is generally fiscal (household income) but even that has had challenges for baseline since identification of poverty or wealth carry their own burdens. We have moved to access programs that simply rely on a statement of need from the family or individual balanced against outlier factors (medical costs, immigration issues, etc).

JL: What surprised you about where your organization is in the process?

TL: We feel pretty solid on the board recruiting we are doing presently. It seems we have a high diversity in some areas (ethnic/ racial) of our board. We are working on LGBT and Ability, and our board range in their origins on Socio Economic scales, although they are all in the top 2% or higher of present annual income.

Our ACT PASS program is working well even in its earliest stages, with 100% usage of available access tickets to the first production of the season disseminated through the program. The Pay What You Can system of the past saw high results on certain dates but not good usage across all performances. We are very pleased with this uptick in usage of available inventory. We also now know who were are serving specifically with each ticket and we know that each ticket is reaching a group/individual we intended it to reach. The user friendliness of the program in highly increased and feedback is almost entirely positive (a few issues around computer errors) but a substantial step forward from our previous systems. Our own staff report a much higher level of satisfaction with the program and with their deepening understanding of our patrons

We continue to be surprised internally about where we have not been historically successful in programming and so continue to look for opportunities to improve.

Having a simplified brand under the ACT One umbrella for Access, Connection and Transformation has made the starting point of the roll out work well and given us a simple focus that is repeatable and clear. The committees work is deeper than before and action is the new identifier of success. We are surprised by how often we need to say, and say again, the tenets of the program to all stakeholders (staff, artists, board, audiences, partners) but with each statement there is more buy in and belief.

Tim JenningsTim Jennings joined the Tony award winning Children’s Theatre Company as Managing Director in November of 2011. Working in partnership with Artistic Director Peter Brosius, Tim manages the marketing, resource development, educational and administrative functions of the theatre, its programs and subsidiaries (Costume Rentals, Plays for Young Audiences, Neighborhood Bridges) and supports Peter’s profound artistic vision. Prior to joining CTC, Tim spent 4 season as the Managing Director of Seattle Children’s Theatre where he shepherded the company through a $2 million budget reduction, several foreign artist collaborations (including bringing the first professional theatre company from Iran to the US in 30 years) and multiple CBA negotiations. Previously, Tim served as the Managing Director of the Roseneath Theatre in Toronto for eight seasons and taught Theatre Production and Management at both Ryerson University and Humber College theatre schools. Tim’s history includes management roles with such notable Canadian companies as the Canadian Stage Company, The Canadian Opera Company, Ainsworth at SkyDome and Theatre Passe Muraille as well as running his own theatrical management consulting firm. Tim has produced work garnering a total of 15 Dora Award Nominations (Toronto’s ‘Tony’) including 7 wins, 3 of which were for Outstanding Production. Under his leadership, Roseneath Theatre also won 3 Canada Council for the Arts ‘Prizes’, 2 Chalmers Awards for new play development and had a play nominated for the National Literary Prize of Germany (in translation). He has taken productions to 4 continents, well over a dozen countries and over 40 States in the last decade. In 2007, Tim was shortlisted for Canada’s ‘Arts Manager of the Year’. Alongside his appointment to the TCG board where he serves as Treasurer, Tim sits on the board of the Minnesota Theatre Alliance and the Ivey awards committee and is a past membership chair of IPAY (International Performing for Young People) and a past Board member of the Washington State Arts Alliance. Tim has served on the cultural database steering committees in both WA and now in MN and on the Board of the Boys and Girls Club in King/Kitsap counties (WA). Tim is married to Truly Carmichael and together they raise their 13 year old son, Zachary.

Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com