May 2017

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May 2017

Thoughts From Mark Shanda

USITT's President

I lost a good friend recently. He didn’t wander off, move to a new city, or drop out of contact. He died. He was only 64 years old, which is way too young to die, but his two-year battle with cancer ended with that disease as the victor.

Bill was my producing partner on a variety of projects; effective partnerships between the university and the downtown theatres his organization owned and managed. We often said that one of us served as the gas pedal and the other as the brake pedal as we took risks to provide students with unique experiences, exposed audiences to remarkable theatrical productions, and achieved the financial goal of at least breaking even. People described Bill as a visionary, a pioneer, and as someone who could achieve great things just by his force of will. I think of him as my friend.

As a kindred spirit in arts management, I learned a great deal from Bill, including:

  1. Start more conversations with “What if we...” than “I don’t think we...” As production opportunities unfolded, Bill seemed to always seek a positive answer. He held an underlying assumption that any problem could be solved, despite the odds. His optimism was infectious.
  2. All arts organizations benefit when one arts organization succeeds. I am confident that from time-to-time Bill relished in the strength of his own organization, but most of the time, it appeared that he preferred to share the spotlight. He was not afraid to publicly credit the work of others, striving to feature someone else to raise their profile.
  3. Reduce overhead. A real key to Bill’s financial success was his abhorrence for increased overhead. Bill believed that if one ticket office could sell tickets for theatre, then they could also sell tickets for opera, ballet, and symphony. While shared ticketing isn’t that revolutionary, what about shared accounting, marketing, development, and facility management? He mastered the concept of shared services that could allow arts organizations to focus on what they did best-create art, and left the back-office demands to those far more skilled in those disciplines.
  4. Hire good people and then challenge them to be even better. Bill saw potential in everyone he encountered and understood that nearly all have more capacity to contribute. Some criticized that Bill asked too much when he added the marketing for another arts organization to his already fully occupied marketing department, but invariably the team that Bill had assembled rose to the occasion.
  5. Truly value people. By paying fair salaries, promoting individuals from within, and regularly expressing gratitude, Bill built loyalty, trust, and an effective production team that achieved far more than anyone individually could have done. He put people first.

Bill was an outstanding arts administrator, a champion for live theatre, and a role model, who always assumed that the challenges that lay ahead were worth overcoming. I will miss his presence, but celebrate that his impact on so many will live on for years.

Mark Shanda

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