Theater Project Fact Sheets

Authors: Ineke Ceder, Sumra Erkut, Ph.D.

Year Published: 2016

Ensuring Effective Leadership in Non-Profit Theaters

 Artistically, diversity can nurture our souls and our shared humanity. It enriches art by introducing more viewpoints and attracting a wider audience, simultaneously addressing the economics of the theater’s survival. However, research shows that women and people of color are vastly under-represented in theater leadership positions, even though women are present in large numbers in next-in-line positions throughout theaters.

The study on which these guidelines are based focused on the persistent gender and racial disparity among artistic and executive/managing directors of theaters, and on how this disparity can be addressed. The study found that the largest barrier facing women and people of color on the path to senior leadership was the selection committee process. In that process, men benefit from a strong, persistent male-leader stereotype. As a byproduct of the committee members’ unconscious biases, a deeper trust is placed in men’s potential.

The scarcity of women in leadership lends credence to the glass ceiling metaphor, where women can see the top but cannot get there.


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Preparing for Leadership in Non-Profit Theaters

American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and the Wellesley Centers for Women collaborated on documenting the career paths of leaders in large non-profit theaters in the U.S. to identify the skills needed for successful leadership. The recommendations presented in this pamphlet are a snapshot of the results of their research.

In the larger non-profit U.S. regional theaters, artistic leaders have carved their paths through various entry points. Most were directors, but many were producers, and some have climbed to top artistic leadership through other fields, like dramaturgy.

Regardless of their career path, artistic leaders’ job descriptions include artistic planning, community development, and fiscal cooperation with the executive director and the Board of Trustees to support fundraising. This document contains suggestions on how to attain some of those important skills in order to prepare for a leadership position.


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Preparing for Leadership in Non-Profit Theaters

American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and the Wellesley Centers for Women collaborated on documenting the career paths of leaders in large non-profit theaters in the U.S. to identify the skills needed for successful leadership. The recommendations presented in this pamphlet are a snapshot of the results of their research.

In the larger non-profit U.S. regional theaters, executive leaders have carved their paths through various entry points. Most were general managers before taking a leadership position, followed by directors of marketing, production, finance, and development, and producers. A few others had founded the theater they are leading.

Regardless of their career path, executive leaders’ job descriptions include 3 main areas: (1) work - ing with the Board of Trustees; (2) working with the artistic leadership; (3) overseeing all business/operational departments. Each of those areas requires specific preparation and skill development. A deep understanding of each department’s functioning is an important preparation. This document contains suggestions on how to attain some of those important skills.


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