05/12/2007 - 22:00

Culture corner

05/12/2007 - 22:00


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Tom Gutteridge - Black Swan Theatre Company

Tom Gutteridge

Artistic director of the Black Swan Theatre Company for four years


WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?

TG: “Remember that you’re also part of the team, not just the leader. Your passion, commitment and energy towards your work are more likely to inspire similar in team members than are management mantras and top-down policy pronouncements and targets.”

WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?

TG: “I am really bad at delivering bad news.

The first time I had to let a staff member go was extremely difficult, but I think the secret is to remain engaged with the person as distinct from their function so that you don’t give the impression that it is the person who is being rejected.

“Having said that, I have also learned that you have to be straight with people even if they’re not going to like it. It is often worse for them if you allow your ‘compassion’ (read ‘desire to be liked’) to distort your message or to make you hint at some compensation – when you really don’t intend to follow through. I have found this insight useful in staff reviews. Keep eye contact, be clear and honest, and give them time to respond.”

WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?

TG: “It would be wonderful to say that we are measured by the pure artistic quality of our output, but the reality of running a subsidised arts company is that the government rightly requires more tangible measures of how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

“We need to report on earned income, audience numbers as well as numbers of works produced, artists engaged, new works commissioned and so on.

“As an artistic director, my own personal key indicator is how well the company nurtures new and emerging talent. I get enormous pride from the success of young artists such as Matthew Lutton, who have cut their teeth at Black Swan but who are now working nationally and internationally at the highest levels.

“But overall my career highlight would be the achievement of my goals for Black Swan. With the aid of a wonderful staff, we have gone from four shows of variable quality in 2004 to seven shows (plus two emerging artists’ plays) with high production values and top-quality artists.

“And we have more than doubled the company’s earned income and audience numbers over that time as well.”

WABN: Is there an organisation/business model that you strive to achieve/reach? What is it?

TG: “As is probably clear from what I’ve said so far, I believe in the collaborative team as the best model for success in this business. People are not paid enough to tolerate the kinds of high-pressure competitive structures that many corporations use to get results but which I am told lead to high levels of burn-out and workplace conflict.

“Unless our staff and artists feel that their contribution is valued and used effectively, they will not stick around for long.” 

WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector? How do you deal with them?

TG: “The lack of resources can be very frustrating in theatre and we all have our war stories about making work on the smell of an oily rag. Sometimes this can produce wonderful work but it also leads to very talented people leaving the industry in frustration. We deal with these limitations by working intelligently and imaginatively to find another way to solve each problem. Improvisation doesn’t just happen on the stage.”

WABN: Who is someone that you dream to work with?

TG: “One of the great things about this business is that you are always working with new people. Every project has a different group of artists working on it.

“For example, I’m currently working with Paul Kelly on a show for next year’s Perth Festival – so there is a reasonable chance I’ll get to work with at least a few ‘dream’ collaborators.”


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