The Art of the Offer
I've been studying leadership for a while now, from my Father and Mother as entrepreneurs and leaders of the family, in my athletic career and in the arts. My instinct and skillset is in the ability to take a look at a situation and assess inefficiencies, opportunities and offer solutions or ideas.
I once heard that if someone approaches you with a problem or challenge that they are dealing with before you come in hot you should ask do you want 1. a distraction 2. someone to listen or 3. help with a solution? I tend to roll directly into solutions and pissed off many a boyfriends.
I take leadership extremely seriously as an art form and a skill set to be constantly building. Before I became the National Head Coach of Team Canada Men's Roller Derby, I took my levels from the Canadian Coaching Association and spent years learning from Olympic level coaching staffs. As I move into arts leadership, Mel Hague and I were the inaugural participants in the National Theatre Schools Artistic Leadership Residency which we just completed. Also congratufuckinglations Mel who was recently appointed Artistic Associate Director at Canadian Stage!!!!
I participated in the Banff Cultural Leadership Program which taught me so much about systems management and innovation, values based leadership approaches, community centered decision making and challenge solving in other arts sectors from the cohort - learning from the cohort was immense.
Before I stepped into Directing, I studied as an associate director - starting with New World Theatre back in 2004 with at that time Marcus Youssef, Camyar Chai and Adrienne Wong and then Assistant Directing with Michael Shamata at The Belfry doing a residency and then the likes of people like Stephen Drover, Amiel Gladstone and Daryl Cloran over the last several years.
I present this information as context as years observing and participating in the art of making an offer. Playwrights make big generous offers with their plays, compelling actors make offers time and time again in the rehearsal hall, designers innovate many moving offers in their disciplines and directors - directors who listen and collaborate, I believe help distill and refine offers while working. We also know directors who make "new" offers an hour after someone already made that one....
I find that I want to work with artists making offers that are well thought out, innovative, nuanced and generous to the work at play. It can be quite painful working with an actor who waits to be told what to do. I was just never that type becausd I don't see how that would be a artistically fulfilling way to work. I would actually try and make offers that would make the director to tell me to pull back.
Maybe I pick up this lamp? Or I could jazz walk to down left. What if I had a wig change? Maybe she sings this part? I feel like I could use an umbrella.
I feel like I was just trying to take the piss out of the director sometimes because the roles I we're playing we're not as dynamic as I would've liked them to be. When I wrote Kamloopa I said I'm going to make a big fucking sandbox for these actors to come in and make a mess and play and to be honest - every offer I made above could literally of happened in Kamloopa.
I wanted to give them so much room to play and those womxn did. Sam, Kaitlyn and Yo Yo - correct me if I'm wrong but did I ever say no to anyone of your offers? Those three and the design team were so generous.
OK but here's where offers are really really lacking and I'd like to make some offers on how to remedy this.
Producers and Arts Organizations - your offers suck.
I get so many emails and with some of them, sometimes I have no idea what you're asking of me and I'm purdy good at deducing things, let's call these the "wut" emails, or it's a presumptuous tell poorly disguised as an offer or there is really no offer, this is what I like to call a "take" email.
None of them enticing and all actually makes me do more work. When you compose any of these emails you're that actor standing in the rehearsal hall asking what to do, it's painful, laborious and lacks generosity and any thoughtfulness.
I recently got an email from a very large colonial institution that just boggled my mind - I literally said out-loud when I finished reading it "ew no." It was one of those tell emails that presumed and projected I needed something from them, like an audition. FYI, I need an acting audition like I need more teeth pulled - which just happened in my life and I wish that level of pain on no one.
Also, auditions are usually pretty painful and so I don't audition people. I didn't audition anyone for Kamloopa and I don't plan on auditioning anyone for Break. I can do my homework and figure out someones capacity without putting them through a stressful manipulated colonial power distorted dynamo sitch in a room for ten minutes.
Back to that email, in my practice critical and respectful self reflection is embedded into my process - prolly too much to the point that my psychologist has said to me that my intense line of questioning towards myself can actually just be mean. But I think about the impact of my work and the space that I take up rigorously.
Colonial arts producers and administrators and leaders when you make an offer or you've asked someone in your org to make one, ensure that it is one. That it is well thought-out and enticing. I'm going to distill the plethora of emails I get down to a few examples.
I work for Blank org and we're interested in your play can you please get in touch with us ASAP.
Hello Kim Senklip Harvey
***Insert 10 paragraphs of not so decipherable relevant information about the org or project that doesn't actually tell me what they want or need from me.
If you could please get back to me in the next 2 days that would be greatly appreciated.
My name is Jed,
***Insert paragraph cloaking humble brags or trying to assert unchecked colonial dominance and or patriarchy.
***Insert I need Indigenous content paragraph with words like diversity, inclusion and a few examples of how your org's contributing and or "working on it" with no accountability to the decades of damage you've done as a white oppressors.
***insert paragraph on how lucky I would be to collaborate with you.
***insert paragraph of "ideas" you have because you've never read my blog or done your homework on the extensive work Indigenous artists have and are currently doing.
I really hope we can meet so we can discuss this incredible opportunity.
Reconciliation is so important Kim so lets do this together,
Lets break this down.
There are no explicit desired outcomes and so I have to play a fishing game on deliverables, institutional history, cultural competency and a fucking monetary offer. These emails are wastes of my time and I don't respond because if this is the start of our relationship - no thank you - I don't have time for that unpaid labour.
Here is an examples of an email that I rarely get but love:
How are you? I'm familiar with your work in this way (concisely presences that information and thoughtfully introduces their personal interests and intersections with my work)
I also know so and so (presences relationality which allows me to follow up with said person if I'm so inclined - great subtle offer)
I work for and or I'm working with blank (two sentences on the project and or they hyper link to said project/initiative so I can easily find out more)
We understand that colonial institutions have a violent history working with Indigenous peoples (they cite and take responsibility) and these are the most recent steps we've been taking to ensure we engage with communities responsibly (they link to their org's cultural competency work or policies around workplace and art practice safety)
We have an opportunity coming up on these dates (includes time and local if possible)
We'd like to remunerate you this (puts actually number in) for the event and this (puts in actual number) for planning meetings ahead of the event to ensure your time is compensated, even if you're unable to participate in the said event.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us and we will follow up with you in a couple weeks (I fucking love this last generous offer because they actually get I'm busy and sometimes forget and don't get passive aggressive with emails or try to text me or DM me.)
Thank you for your time and I will also be attending blank event where you will be speaking, I look forward to becoming more familiar with your work.
Indigenous land territory acknowledgement.
This email will usually get a response within the hour, I would say though minutes because it's so fucking clear and generous.
My most recent example was in January - ya that's the most recent - with a City of Vancouver email consultation offer.
We're doing this (bunch of context and links), on this date, and we will compensate you $400 to cover 2 hours at the event and any prep (which there was almost none) and there will be food.
My response was in like 10 mins cause here's the thing - I am swamped but if you become proficient in the art of the offer, you will get results just like an actor or artist does. Artists working consistently, the org's innovating on the reg with innovative artists have become accomplished at this and if you don't - well things may become dry.
Also, Nicola Harwood sends amazing emails. Ask her what she does. Love getting emails from her.
I'm am always working on my leadership skills, my relational engagement approaches and on educating myself on the most up to date language and terminology to ensure my offers are relevant, respectful and thoughtful.
So much work to do and I'm just getting bombarded with so many non-offers. If you are a producer and or arts org that wants to collaborate or support Indigenous theatre ensure you're doing the work to be accountable and communicative of your history of working with Indigenous peoples. Make sure you are parlaying your privileges as multi-year funded bodies to be accomplices with Indigenous peoples.
Ask whatchu got and how you gonna disseminate the power and resources equitable and thoughtfully. Have a hyper conscious awareness of your past, present and future impacts because you gotta earn your partnership of getting your name on a poster.
Do The Work. Learn it. Earn it.
With Indigenous love and to the Indigenous artists out there doing all that unpaid labour to generously and patiently help, assist and hold colonial institutions hands,
p.s here's some photos of what I've been up to recently.