On February 26, Danielle Irvine, Artistic Director of Perchance Theatre at Cupids, gave a passionate speech during Business & Arts NL’s latest Sunrise event at Virtual Marine. Hosted by a different business member each quarter, these early morning events bring together our members to learn about how collaborations between artists and businesses contribute to a flourishing society.
In her speech, Irvine spoke to the power of having a diverse, passionate and caring board with a united vision. With her permission, we have shared it below.
We know what we are but know not what we may be. (Hamlet)
Perchance Theatre at Cupids is the province’s only professional, classical theatre company. The evolution of our board has been transformative. An effective, knowledgeable, passionate, and compassionate board of directors will truly enable an organization to flourish.
When I first joined the company in 2014, it had been through the wringer. All my friends recommended I run screaming, but apparently, I love a good epic journey story.
Those early years the board and I were too busy putting out fires to look ahead and plan. Once things got steady, we started to gain a bit of space to look long term. The board started to change, positions opened up, and we began looking strategically at where we wanted to go and wondered how to get there. We knew we needed people who could fundraise, as well as people who were connected. Beyond that, we didn’t really know who else or why.
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action. (Hamlet)
Two really key things happened, both thanks to Business & Arts.
1 – They gave us a really great board interview sheet that we began to employ. It helped us ask strategic questions and reminded us to give important information to prospective board members so they would understand their role and the company well. Matchmaking for success.
2 – Business & Arts, along with the province, put together a fund development course that Margo Connors-Stack, our current chair, and I attended. It reframed our understanding of how to effectively bring people together.
A board needs to have people that are passionate about the vision of the company. They can’t be doing it for a favour, or out of guilt, or because they are fulfilling a requirement. They have to be excited about where this particular company is going, and how they can help it get there. That is the key, and unifying, ingredient.
Using the vision, we identified skills and prospective board members. Some members may seem obvious, like lawyers and accountants. But even they play unexpected roles on our theatre board.
Some lawyers look over governance and contracts – ours is also the outstanding treasurer while our resident accountant, surprisingly, isn’t there for the books. Instead, he is helping with the mysterious and magical world of Excel: including graphs, tables, spreadsheets I had never seen before and could never, in a million years, build myself, but now I can’t imagine not incorporating into the grants we write all year-round and which contribute to a third of our operating budget.
Some of our board are teachers. This is key because we are planning school tours in the future and who better to help us with identifying our curriculum outcomes? They have the knowledge, they have the network, and they truly believe in the work we do.
Board members have come from academic research backgrounds, which has been really helpful in the development of our sustainability study, which is the foundation of our path forward, not artistically, but developmentally.
Board members have been donors, who have joined the board because they could tell that we had no idea how to properly cultivate them and, amazingly, instead of taking their donation and walking away, decided to join in and help us grow.
All of my board brainstorm well over all sorts of things. Their unique and differing perspectives fire up lively discussions that then come together and offer the best clarity on a situation.
Board members also help with practicalities like setting our stage up in the spring. They lend us their trucks, they make enormous amounts of delicious food, they tend the garden at the theatre – because I may be excellent with actors, but I am death to plants.
Because the board is now filled with believers in the vision, they are an unstoppable force.
If you had asked me seven years ago what an arts board should look like, I would not have thought of this mix of people. But now I cannot imagine a better one.
As we head into my seventh season with the company, we are at our strongest in terms of capacity, connection, and knowledge sharing. We still have room to grow, but I know that, together, we can make Perchance the best it can be.
As Shakespeare wrote: There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to Fortune.