Becoming Strangers to Ourselves (or Activating the Staff)

by Danielle Amato

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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One of the major steps The Old Globe has undertaken in its AHA process so far is to engage and activate the staff of the theatre as important participants in the Think-It process. For many years, the staff and board of the theatre have felt that something should be done to activate our large outdoor plaza, to take advantage of that opportunity to reach an audience that is completely unaware of what happens behind closed doors. But until now, the Globe did not have the time or the resources to spend carefully thinking through what form that “something” should take. The energy, enthusiasm, and ideas were there. We just had to tap into them.

Since September, our leadership team has been meeting with staff from Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC), a technology organization that supports Balboa Park institutions like The Old Globe. BPOC leadership toured the theatre, and we jointly imagined the broad scope of what the project could look like.

On March 5, BPOC presented a Design Thinking workshop for 20 members of the Globe staff representing all departments.  The workshop took the group through an observation and empathy process leading to a collaborative prototyping activity.  We were asked to walk the plaza as if we were first-time visitors.  Once we got started, this became remarkably easy to do.  We walked paths that we did not usually walk and instantly began to see the plaza with new eyes.  Suddenly, the shuttered pub windows looked like a boarded-up building, and our entire complex looked a bit like a ghost town in spite of the signage.  We spoke to each other as if we were friends visiting the park and we found ourselves joking about what the place might be and then “discovering” pictures on display outside one theatre and “theorizing” on what this place might be.  There was so little there to actually help us understand the place, especially if we were people without a theatre-going background.  It was a great exercise and helped us develop lines of questioning when we got to the next phase which was talking to actual visitors and asking them what they saw and what they thought about the place. Finally, we moved to brainstorming and prototyping, breaking into groups and building paper and cardboard models of our favorite plaza ideas. Each group presented their work; it was celebrated and interrogated by the other staff members present.

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This ignited a flurry of new ideas.  One of the surprising findings was the idea that, while technology is extremely useful, many people just want to see real things such as costumes, props, wigs, scenic models, etc.  Our initial plans had focused more on high tech but we are now looking at a much more blended approach to activating our plaza.

In the next phase, BPOC will conduct more in-depth research on who is currently using our plaza, how they are using it, and how they might be interested in using it. Combining that data with the ideas generated by our Design Thinking workshop, we will decide what concepts will move to the prototype phase. Our biggest challenge will be to find the common themes that underpin our wide range of ideas so that we can focus on what is possible and what will best meet our desired outcomes.  Additionally, we have found that there may be hurdles to overcome if we decide to install permanent or semi-permanent structures or objects, because all changes must be approved by the City of San Diego.

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So far, an unplanned—and incredibly positive—outcome of the AHA Think-It grant process has been a greater sense of ownership of the Globe amongst our staff members.  The brainstorming process has given people voice by inviting them to come out of their shops and away from their sewing machines, band saws, catwalks, computers and control rooms to convene, discuss, laugh, observe and participate.  If we did nothing else, we would feel that we had already accomplished something tremendous.  We are now excited to move to the next phase, which will once again allow us to make use of staff talents as we build and experiment, revise and rethink.


Photo credit: Brinker Ferguson.