Lake Dillon Theatre overcomes dilemma
September 23, 2010
Josh Blanchard was the best candidate for the executive director position at Lake Dillon Theatre Company; he holds a bachelor’s degree in arts and performance and a master’s in humanities with emphasis in theater. He’s worked for the Lake Dillon Foundation as the educational manager, he’s acted with the company, and he brought Keystone Neighbourhood Company up to a new level with successful programming and the opening of Warren Station – not to mention he loves the theater company and is ready to help it develop into a small professional theater.
There was only one hitch: He and Lake Dillon Theatre artistic director Chris Alleman are partners; they’ve been together for eight-and-a-half years, and they own a home together. Though board members knew Blanchard fit the executive position perfectly, they worried about potential problems.
“I’ve always been a pretty firm believer that husbands and wives or partners should not be in managerial positions (together), because if they fight it puts everything in turmoil,” said board member Anne Marie Ohly. “We asked them to really look at it and think about it and tell us how it was going to work and why it was going to work.”
Alleman has held the reins for more than eight years at the theater, making both artistic and financial decisions. Blanchard’s new role focuses on the business side of the theater, including budgets, development and contracts, which Alleman had juggled.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re not putting them in a position to screw up their relationship, let alone the theater,” said board member Chris Ornes.
After “kicking around the negative aspects,” Ornes said the board recognized the risk, but also acknowledged that there is always risk in business – for example, the theater must raise 60-70 percent of its budget every year.
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“It’s just another risk we needed to consider,” Ornes said. “We’re trying to do it consciously, not unconsciously.”
And Alleman and Blanchard aren’t entering the new arrangement lightly. For one thing, they’ve set the positions up so that neither one acts as the superior of the other; instead, they both work for the board.
“We’re creating these boundaries of running the organization mainly for the safety of our personal relationship,” Alleman said. “We’re actually thinking very strategically about this because many organizations and corporations don’t like to hire spouses or partners because of the potential of explosive disagreements.”
The couple had to create boundaries early on, when they partnered on theatrical events presented at Keystone. They agreed not to talk about work they did jointly when they hung out at home, unless they made a previous “appointment” to discuss it outside the workplace.
“It’s going to be a unique situation because of our personal relationship being very quickly paralleled with our business relationship,” Alleman said. “On paper, Josh will be responsible for financial budgets, corporate relations, contracts and business relationships, and I’ll (maintain) the artistic integrity of the organization … but in all actuality it really will be a partnership of running the organization. Josh will have the final say on (the business end, while I’ll have final word on the artistic side).”
After considering the potential problems for a couple of weeks, executive board members met with Alleman and Blanchard to discuss the situation.
“Meeting with Josh was the clincher,” Ohly said. “He was concise and matter-of-fact. He just gave us all the comfort level we needed. … (He and Chris) felt they could deal with anything that came up and be professional about it.”
“I wasn’t really concerned about it,” Blanchard said about the partnership. “It was more of a concern for other people.”
Board members believed Blanchard’s six years of experience at Keystone, as well as his passion and knowledge about Lake Dillon Theatre Company, was invaluable.
“If we went out to find that person and ran into Josh, we’d think he’s perfect,” Ornes said. “He has a great attitude, and he understands what he’s going to be doing because of his past experience and relationship with Chris … there are two sides to everything; the relationship can actually be a big positive. It’s a great opportunity for the theater.”