On the second day of the Latina/o Theatre Commons New York City Regional Convening (#LTCNewYorkCity), attendees chose between three tracks: aesthetics, identity, and leadership. While I recognized the value in each track, I chose leadership. I wanted to learn more about how to become a stronger leader and hear more about other arts leaders’ experiences in their respective communities. In recent years, I’ve come into more leadership roles, but, as expected, I’m not always sure how to best position myself and negotiate my privileges in different spaces. So what did I learn on the leadership track at #LTCNewYorkCity?
The leadership track took place in Teatro SEA’s intimate theatre space at The Clemente in the Lower East Side. The panel consisted of Jacob Padrón (Artistic Director of The Sol Project), Stephanie Ybarra (Director of Special Artistic Projects at The Public Theater), Nikko Kimzin (NYC-based actor and arts entrepreneur), and Sharifa Johka (FAIR Experience Manager at Oregon Shakespeare Festival).
After everyone in the theatre introduced themselves, Padrón led us in a popcorn brainstorming session centered on the word “leadership.”
Inspirational, visionary, authenticity, risk taker, driven, political, listener, innovator, strategist, accountable, colleague, conviction, impact, empathy, shared, ingenuity, learner, fearless, courageous, inclusive, not crazy, wholesome/whole, communicator, flexible, all-embracing, curiosity, charismatic, aware, reflective, honest, respectful, passionate.
While our group popcorn session certainly tested Padrón and Kimzin’s quick spelling (and we learned that Noe Montez placed 19th in the National Spelling Bee), it was generative to hear what other theatre artists associate with leadership.
Next, Padrón asked panelists Ybarra and Johka what being an agent of change means to them. How do they use leadership to tell the types of stories they want to tell? How do they leverage leadership to affect change?
Ybarra encouraged us to ask ourselves the following questions:
- What kind of leader do you want to be?
- What kind of producer do you want to be?
- Which decision most aligns with my values?
Essentially, each leader needs their own personal mission, vision, and values that drive forward their work. In addition, Ybarra prioritizes hiring people who share her values and can take care of the people in the room.
Johka doesn’t think about the word “leadership.” In the beginning, she thought that everyone wanted to be a leader and then realized that it is a politic. As a person of color in a primarily White institution, her leadership style is to hold the door open and help situate people in the organization who can become allies later on.
Both Ybarra and Johka stressed the importance of cultivating relationships with allies, finding peer groups, and identifying collaborators within and outside of your institution.
The next portion of the leadership track was spent in small groups discussing what leadership means to us. Each group was tasked with creating a mission statement, finishing the following prompt: “An agent of change in the American theatre is _____________.”
- Group 1: An agent of change in the American theatre understands their power and privilege and uses that purpose to build resources, opportunity, and equity to dismantle white supremacy, isolation, and ignorance by actively organizing and building alliances that come together around core values.
- Group 2: As agents of change, our mission is to identify the strengths and areas of growth needed in myself in order to actively inspire and challenge the American Theatre to grow and take active responsibility in changing the landscape. Let’s make sure there’s room at the table for those need to be heard and bandwidth to support it.
- Group 3: An agent of change in the Theatre of the Americas mindfully creates a home with the community where everyone is welcome and able to define their own agency and to make art that reflects, challenges, and helps shape the values and narratives of their community.
- Group 4: Being an agent of change in the American theatre means localizing, sharing leadership (past, present and future), and being the resource.
The conversation then shifted to mentorship. While it was beneficial to hear others comment on their relationships as mentees and mentors, perhaps the most productive portion of the session was the one-on-one mentorship speed-dating. In pairs, we discussed our specific mentorship style. Since my partner was also a professor, we discussed the balance between teaching and mentoring and how those lines can become blurred based on the types of courses we teach.
While the leadership track certainly offered its fair share of constructive takeaways, I find that LTC events are best understood by looking at the whole. Leadership was on display throughout the weekend. In addition to Jacob Padrón, Rebecca Martínez and David Mendizábal flexed their leadership muscles time and time again, leading by example and showing attendees what dynamic leadership looks like in real time. The artistic collective of The Sol Project was launching their ambitious initiative the same weekend (congrats to Hilary Bettis and the creative team of Alligator!). LTC Producer Abigail Vega continues to amaze and inspire me to become a better leader.
To conclude, there is no conclusion. Becoming a stronger leader is a never-ending process. I still have much to learn and am thankful for events such as #LTCNewYorkCity that give me a crash-course into different ways to become a more effective arts leader.