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Suffusing Entrepreneurship Education throughout the Theatre Curriculum

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Suffusing Entrepreneurship Education throughout the Theatre Curriculum
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  117 Suffusing Entrepreneurship Education throughout the Theatre Curriculum Linda Essig  Entrepreneurship has been a topic of academic inquiry in business schools since at least the 1960s, evolving from how-to courses on starting a small business (Drucker 21). But business schools still consider entrepreneurship to be an emerging—or to be less kind, unrigorous—discipline. Busi-ness schools tend not to value entrepreneurship as highly as the more traditional business-school disciplines such as marketing, accountancy, and management when it comes to the ranking of busi-ness journals and the tenure reviews such rankings are meant to inform (Kuratko). Perhaps, then, entrepreneurship should not be taught in business schools, but rather within individual disciplines. Engineering schools embraced this intra-disciplinary approach two or more decades ago. Engineer-ing schools develop inventions, and inventors should learn to bring those inventions to market, so engineering schools often teach entrepreneurship. They tend to do so in a way that focuses on the mechanics of entrepreneurship, how to start a business to bring an invention to market. Like inventors in the engineering school, future theatre arts leaders can be educated about entrepreneurship within their theatre curriculum. Theatre artists, be they playwrights, designers, directors, or actors, develop creative products in the form of performances and plays, so they also can be taught—within their disciplines—to bring their creative products to their audiences, and be provided with opportunities to do so while students. Like the “writing across the curriculum” movement of the 1980s, theatre schools can teach theatre entrepreneurship across their curricula. Yet, there are significant challenges.  As new as entrepreneurship is to business schools, “ arts   entrepreneurship” is a much newer academic discipline, and one even less clearly defined. In this essay, I will offer several definitions of entrepreneurship, look broadly at academic offerings in the field and how they relate to teaching entre-preneurship within the theatre curriculum, discuss the potential for entrepreneurship education in a theatre arts curriculum, and share some current practices in theatre entrepreneurship education.One reason that entrepreneurship has not yet matured as a discipline is that the very defini-tion of entrepreneurship is a moving target. French economist Jean-Baptiste Say coined the term entrepreneur in his 1803  A Treatise on Political Economy   as “the person who takes upon himself the immediate responsibility, risk, and conduct of a concern of industry, whether upon his own or a borrowed capital.” In other words, an entrepreneur, according to Say, is someone who starts a busi-ness. Say’s term was translated into the English version of the text as “adventurer.” In Say’s time, “adventurer” may have been taken to mean someone who attends to business, or plays the markets, but for our purposes, the modern connotation of the term, even with its “Indiana Jones” mystique, is more fitting. What are theatre artists if not adventurers? Key to our understanding of the term entrepreneur, and adventurer, is the notion of risk. When one undertakes a “venture,” one undertakes risk in the hope of gaining reward. For the MBA, that reward is measured via the financial balance sheet, but for the MFA, the reward is often the opportunity to practice one’s art.The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, which proclaims itself “the founda-tion of entrepreneurship” and has provided funding to my institution to further entrepreneurship research and education, recognizes the need to define entrepreneurship. It notes in its 2005 “Les-sons Learned” white paper that in order to teach entrepreneurship, “[i]t is important to develop a  118 Linda Essig  common definition and understanding of entrepreneurship that is reflective of the school, its goals, and remains true to the nature of entrepreneurship” (Kauffman Foundation 2005). The foundation defines entrepreneurship and related fields as “a set of disciplines interested in the creation, manage-ment, and growth of firms in societies” (Kauffman Foundation 2004). The notion of the creation of a “going concern” is popular in the engineering school version of entrepreneurship education. Peter Drucker links entrepreneurship with innovation, writing that “[i]nnovation is the specific instru-ment of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth” (30). If you substitute “creativity” for “innovation” and “value” for “wealth,” Drucker’s statement becomes both more palatable and more relevant to artists: “Creativity is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create value.” Value can be not only academic, but social and cultural as well. How can I justify such a broad change to Drucker’s statement? By using my institution’s definition of entrepreneurship: “the spirit and process of creative risk taking.” If entrepreneurship is a “spirit”—a “mindset”—backed up by sound management processes, then entrepreneurship is inclusive of mission-based entrepreneurship (entre-preneurship designed to advance a mission rather than generate profit for shareholders) and of arts entrepreneurship. Two concepts are common to many definitions of entrepreneurship: “risk” and “opportu-nity.” After synthesizing the various definitions of entrepreneurship, from J.-B. Say’s through the Kauffman Foundation’s and the characteristics of an entrepreneur as outlined by Drucker or the even more business-oriented Timmons and Spinelli, I developed a working definition as a way of linking entrepreneurship to the arts: taking risks (artistic, financial, or personal) to create one’s own opportunities. For a young theatre artist who wants to initiate his/her work and direct his/her career, learning theories and practices of entrepreneurship becomes an important part of training when entrepreneurship is defined in this way. The skills that emerging artists need to recognize or create their own opportunities are teachable skills. Perhaps as relevant as imparting entrepreneurial skills is a need to create an environment for theatre students in which their own initiatives are supported and the risks associated with student-generated projects can be minimized.Such an environment will not be created in traditional entrepreneurship programs, such as are found in business schools. Business school entrepreneurship education is often center-based as part of a school’s research or service mission, rather than a core educational focus. There are centers for entrepreneurship based in many business schools that offer services to startups and small businesses or conduct research on entrepreneurship. Arizona State University (ASU) has the Spirit of Enterprise Center, UC Berkeley has its Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the University of Maryland has its Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, to name just three. While centers such as these often reach out into their communities, interaction with academic units—especially arts units—is not their focus. In addition to business schools, engineering schools are sometimes a university’s locus for entrepreneurship education. Such programs tend to focus on technology venture creation. Penn State University offers a minor in engineering entrepreneurship that focuses on high-tech venture creation. Interestingly for this discussion, the website of Penn State’s minor in engineering entrepreneurship states: “We want students to complete the minor with an ‘entrepreneurial mindset,’ meaning they are more creative, better at handling ambiguity, better at teamwork.” These are three attributes we  would want our theatre students to possess as well, especially at the graduate level, where they might be considered prerequisites. Programs in arts entrepreneurship are few and far between. Programs in arts management are sometimes housed in business schools as at Carnegie Mellon, and sometimes in performing arts colleges as at American University or George Mason University, or sometimes they combine the resources of both. But these are programs in management   or administration rather than entre-preneurship—programs that focus on how to run an arts organization, not on how to manage the  119Suffusing Entrepreneurship Education throughout the Theatre Curriculuminnovation, ambiguity, and change required to launch   an arts-based venture or support creativity in the performing arts. There are a handful of programs in arts entrepreneurship, or arts management programs in which arts entrepreneurship is a significant conceptual touchstone of the program of study. Such programs include the Performing Arts Entrepreneurship program at the University of Iowa, which is essentially a degree in theatre, music, or dance with nine credits of entrepreneurship courses from the university’s business school, and the Arts Entertainment and Media Management program at Columbia College Chicago, which offers a more holistic approach to a curriculum in arts entrepreneurship. The University of Northern New Mexico offers a program in arts entrepreneurship focused exclusively on the visual arts.During the last several years, a variety of cross-disciplinary, university-wide programs in entre-preneurship has been developed to meet both student and industry demands. In their white paper “University-wide Entrepreneurship Education: Alternative Models and Current Trends,” Deborah Streeter and colleagues describe entrepreneurship programs in two broad categories as “university- wide” and their opposite as “focused” (i.e., housed exclusively in the business school). They proceed to categorize university-wide programs as either “magnet,” in which courses are taught in one school or college though taken by students from across the university, or “radiant,” in which “the teaching of entrepreneurship is diffused throughout the university” from a central locus (9–10). However, both of these models imply one central organizing administration for entrepreneurship education. Another model for entrepreneurship education combines elements of all three models (focused, magnet, radiant) while maintaining disciplinary autonomy. In such a model, departments or schools teach entrepreneurship principles and practices as appropriate to the discipline of each department, with the financial and marketing support of the central administration—or even without it. Let us call this model “suffused,” because as such, entrepreneurial practices and curricula pervade each academic unit. This is the model at ASU, where entrepreneurship education happens in the arts, education, biosciences, and nursing, as well as in the more traditional areas of business or engineering.  What does it mean for a theatre department to teach entrepreneurship within its discipline? There are basic skills of venture creation that can be taught across all disciplines. But to teach arts entrepreneurship to artists   means to teach them to recognize or create opportunity, manage and direct their careers, and launch their artistic “enterprise.”  When I was a freelance designer without academic affiliation over two decades ago, my actor friends and I used to wait for the proverbial phone to ring while waiting tables or working temp jobs. In a good year, the phone might ring often enough. But times change and the climate for theatre artists changes as well. There is more competition and fewer opportunities in traditional theatre forms in the major theatre cities of New York, Seattle, and Chicago than there were then. Yet, as small and medium-sized cities (often on the outskirts of these larger ones) build performing arts facilities, new opportunities arise to produce, perform, direct, design, or teach theatre as these new venues seek community-centered programming. If, for example, an actor is driven to play a specific role in a play he or she loves, why not find a way to mount it him- or herself in such a venue? As educators, we can teach that actor the skills needed to create that opportunity.One example of a theatre student taking advantage of just such an opportunity is the found-ing of Progressive Theatre Workshop. With talent, passion, and a new performing arts center in Mesa (the third largest city in Arizona), undergraduate theatre student John Caswell founded the  workshop. Caswell had material that he and several collaborators had devised. He recognized that the new Mesa Arts Center was seeking programming and so was able to negotiate a residency for his fledgling company’s first season. He formed a 501(c)3 (nonprofit) corporation. Following a successful run in Mesa, the company announced a second season, featuring three new works. This second season was, however, in a different location—another new performing arts facility—in south Scottsdale, an area geographically closer to the company’s alternative-theatre audience base. The opportunity afforded by a community arts center in need of programming helped Caswell to launch  120 Linda Essig  his company, and his understanding of his audience base will help him sustain it. As a measure of the company’s artistic as well as entrepreneurial success, I note that it has been accepted into the New York Fringe Festival.Recognizing opportunity usually involves an understanding of market need. That recognition can happen on a local level. Two graduate theatre students, Jonathan Beller and Patrick Demers, recognized that downtown Phoenix lacked a means for showcasing performances that were not connected with the institutional theatres in residence at the Herberger Theatre Center. While the visual arts community of downtown Phoenix had a tradition of “first Friday” art-walk showcases, there was no analogous outlet for alternative performance. To meet this perceived need, the pair launched the Phoenix Fringe Festival. The inaugural festival featured fourteen artists and theatre companies, seven of which played to over 85 percent capacity. Based on interest generated by the inaugural festival, the team scheduled the second annual Phoenix Fringe Festival to accommodate twice as many performances and to expand its artist base nationally.There are numerous ways in which a theatre curriculum can support the creativity and initia-tive of students like Caswell, Beller, and Demers. Courses in audition techniques are not new to the theatre curriculum, but there are few courses that teach students how to manage their careers. Theatre artists intent on starting a company or on a freelance career—itself a form of entrepreneurship—can learn about marketing, negotiating contracts, legal and tax issues, and even wellness techniques for sustaining their careers. Furthermore, in teaching marketing to designers, actors, and directors, the students have the incentive to clarify their vision of the theatre and their potential to make unique contributions to the discipline. It is in finding their uniqueness that theatre artists will find their marketability—talent being a necessary prerequisite, of course. A class, or at minimum a workshop, on marketing communication can convey the importance of clarity of message, of identifying the audience for the message, and of developing an effective strategy for bringing the message to their audience of casting agents, producers, directors, and other potential collaborators or employers. Negotiation is another important skill for artists undertaking a freelance career. Designers and directors are often in a position to negotiate their own contracts with production companies or independent producers, even when they have the benefit of union or guild membership. Actors may need to negotiate with casting agents and managers, as well as with producers or directors. Negotiation skills can be taught in a workshop or as a unit within a class on career development. Role-playing is an effective means of teaching negotiation skills, and actors are particularly successful at learning through role-playing.  A workshop on legal and tax issues for freelance theatre artists is another unit to include in coursework on career management. A CPA can be brought in, often on a pro bono basis, to provide theatre students with a primer on estimating a freelancer’s quarterly tax burden, expense deductibles, and the like. An entertainment-law attorney can introduce students to intellectual-property issues, contracts, and the various business models and organizational structures an entrepreneurial theatre artist may want to undertake. Many larger communities have lawyers willing to do pro bono work for artists through affiliation with “Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts,” which also operates a hotline.  A theatrical designer, for example, may find it advantageous, after consulting with an attorney or tax professional, to form a limited liability company (LLC) or, if his or her practice becomes large and diversified, a type-S corporation. It is in this last area, starting an arts-based business, that traditional entrepreneurship education can be useful for the emerging theatre artist. Traditional entrepreneurship education focuses largely on venture creation: assessment of risk, development of a business plan, financing, marketing, and management. The student serious about starting an arts-based business, beyond the individual artist trying to limit his or her liability, may want to take that course in traditional entrepreneurship; or, if a course specifically in arts entrepreneurship is available, the requisite skills can be introduced in that format.
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