Civic Theatre announces innovative structural changes
In March of 2020, like so many other performing arts organizations worldwide, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre was stopped in its tracks.
Our building remained empty, devoid of the typical hustle and bustle that comes with producing eight main stage productions and hosting the 60,000+ patrons who fill our audience to experience live theatre annually, as well as educating more than 1,200 students in our school of Theatre Arts. Our staff and volunteers stayed home, away from the creative and collaborative working environment they knew and loved. Our building stood largely silent, empty, and dark.
From Darkness, Light
In the darkness, however, one beacon burned brightly: our ghost light. From a practical perspective, the ghost light serves a simple purpose: to keep anyone venturing through the total darkness of the theatre safe from harm. For actors, production staff, crew, and theatre lovers, however, the ghost light serves a more symbolic purpose. One longstanding piece of theatre lore and superstition holds that the ghost light illuminates the way for the ghosts that inhabit virtually every theatre, keeping them happy and content. Others believe that the ghost light is intended to ward off mischievous spirits. No matter which tale of lore one may believe, there’s no arguing that the ghost light is one of the most powerful symbols of life in the theatre.
During our shutdown, our ghost light became a source of comfort for those who couldn’t be in our space. We cherished its steady glow and the symbolism that came with it. “If the ghost light kept us safe from the darkness of the theatre,” we thought, “surely, it can keep us safe from the external foes that threaten our existence.” It became a rallying point for our team — a reminder of everything we hold most dear — and a symbol of hope for what would be once again.
The Gift of Time
Inspired by that symbolism, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre and its team took the drastically lightened workload of the pandemic and the extra time that came with it to conduct important internal discussions. These conversations ranged from the seemingly mundane (examining policies, procedures, and organizational calendars) to the unquestionably critical (assessing where we stood in a tumultuous and changing world — and where we needed to improve and overhaul our efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion).
We learned that the greatest gift the pandemic gave us was time: time to talk to each other and learn more about ourselves; time to listen to our community members and hear their (sometimes sobering) assessments of whether or not our space was truly welcoming; and time to examine how our team could use our talents most effectively to advance our mission of educating, engaging, and enlightening our community through the Theatre Arts. Our leadership and our staff made a commitment:
We wouldn’t allow the gift of that time to go to waste, and we would emerge from our shutdown stronger than we were before it.
Leadership from the Board
The Civic Theatre Board of Directors saw the opportunity in this time, too, and joined in the staff’s commitment to come back stronger than before. Under the leadership of immediate past Chair Becky Afendoulis Trierweiler and current Chair Holly Sullivan, the Board formed several new committees, each of which has served and will continue to serve a critical role in adequately positioning Civic Theatre for its next century ahead of our 100th birthday in 2025.
The Board formed the following committees, and charged them with specific tasks:
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. This committee is charged with taking an all-encompassing look at Civic Theatre’s efforts toward fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. They aim to recommend policies and practices that will ensure that the Theatre will continue to progress toward its goal of making our space welcoming and safe for all members of our community.
- Marketing and Engagement Committee. This committee is charged with examining Civic Theatre’s external communications, brand identity, and visual representation of the brand. They aim to recommend strategies and plans to effectively communicate our mission, vision, and values to our community, and to help grow our audiences and volunteer base in the years ahead.
- Civic Future Planning Committee. This committee is charged with examining the leadership, staff, and organizational structures of the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. They have made (and will continue to make) recommendations about staffing and organizational best practices, aiming to best position our team and our leadership for the next chapter in our history.
The work of the Civic Future Planning Committee proved to be the most immediately critical. The Committee spent several months receiving feedback from multitudes of Civic Theatre stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, current and former Board Members, donors, patrons, and others. Taking this feedback into consideration, the Future Planning Committee made several recommendations to the Board of Directors and Civic Theatre staff. The staff’s leadership then worked to create a plan for the implementation of these recommendations, and we are thrilled to share them with our community today.
A NEW STRUCTURE
Bruce Tinker has served as Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s Executive and Artistic Director since 1999. Under Bruce’s leadership, the Theatre has continued to grow and innovate year after year. Bruce has carried on his predecessor Paul Dreher’s legacy of excellence — firmly solidifying Civic’s position as a national leader among hundreds of our peer Community Theatres, and ensuring that Civic Theatre remained a pillar of the cultural and performing arts fabric in Grand Rapids.
During Bruce’s tenure, Civic Theatre has expanded its programming and educational opportunities by an immeasurable factor. As the organizational needs of the Theatre have changed, it has become increasingly clear that the leadership structure of the
organization must change, too. Managing the several business and facility functions of the Theatre and its century-old spaces has become more and more time consuming. As our School of Theatre arts continues to expand and grow, our programming needs
have become more diverse, and have required greater attention and planning.
With these environmental changes in mind, the Theatre is adopting a new leadership structure as we move into our 96th Season in 2021-2022. Under this new structure, Bruce Tinker will remain in his role of Executive Director for the Theatre.
As Executive Director, Bruce Tinker will oversee all of the business functions of the theatre from financial endeavors and community partnerships, to the physical and facility needs of the theatre, which includes capital improvements, stewardship of our century-old spaces, and partnerships with vendors, contractors, and others who help keep the Theatre in peak physical and structural condition.
Effective immediately, Allyson Paris, Civic’s Associate Director since 2015, will transition to a new role as the first sole Artistic Director in Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s history. Since joining the staff six years ago, Allyson has fostered incredible growth in our School of Theatre Arts, and has proven time and again her immense creative ability as an artist and director.
Prior to joining the Civic team, Allyson received her Masters in Fine Arts in Directing Asian Theatre from the University of Hawaii and spent five years as Education Coordinator at Hawaii Opera Theatre.
Under our new leadership structure, Allyson will oversee all of the programming and educational initiatives of the theatre, including all of the Theatre’s productions and the entirety of the School of Theatre Arts.
Rounding out our Executive Leadership Team is Ben Greene, who joined the Theatre in 2019 as Director of Marketing and Engagement. Ben will retain his current title and responsibilities. This includes continuing the oversight of all marketing, communication, and development functions of the Theatre, as well as the expanded supervision of Box Office, Front of House, and Audience Experience functions.
Prior to joining Civic Theatre, Ben spent seven years working for several West Michigan legislators, including former State Representative Chris Afendoulis and now-State Senator Peter MacGregor. In addition to his service in the Michigan Legislature, Ben has worked on or consulted with many political and philanthropic campaigns, both in West Michigan and across the state. In addition to his work for Civic Theatre, Ben serves as County Commissioner for Kent County’s first district.
Growing the Team
Civic’s team continues to expand with the addition of multiple new team members. Helping to guide Civic Theatre in providing welcoming customer service to our patrons and other guests is Audience Experience Manager Jess Burke. In this role, Jess will help transform our brand into an experience that enables everyone in our community to feel a sense of belonging. A Michigan native, Jess is a graduate of Saginaw Valley State University with a focus in Theatre, Management, and Criminal Justice. Her most recent experience was with Florida Studio Theatre.
Rounding out the Audience Experience team are Customer Service Associates Marcus Chapman, Max Luke, and Tyshiria Moore.
Transitioning from the role of Summer Camp Coordinator, longtime Civic Theatre volunteer and teacher Jenna Betka-Pope assumes the role of Education and Outreach Manager for the School of Theatre Arts. Jenna received her Bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University in Special Education, English Education, and the Spanish Language and recently received her Master’s degree from Grand Valley State University in Literacy Studies: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Prior to joining the Civic team, she was a special education teacher. In this role, Jenna will collaborate with community members, advocate for all students, and create a safe and equitable space for all individuals to thrive and be celebrated.
Noddea Skidmore joins the Civic Theatre staff as Marketing and Communications Manager. A longtime Civic volunteer both on stage and off, Noddea will manage the messaging, media, and promotions for the theatre’s programming as well as the institutional marketing of the organization. She is a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations, and most recently worked as a theatre administrator and event producer in Grand Rapids.
In addition to these new team members, Civic grows closer to the announcement of the new Volunteer Coordinator, who is slated to join Civic’s staff this fall. This role will oversee the belonging journey of Civic Theatre’s large pool of volunteers, ensuring that the process is inclusive, accessible, and efficient for both new and returning Civic volunteers.
The building blocks of Civic Theatre’s team are the many talented artists and professionals who have been on our staff for several years. To meet the rest of the team, visit www.grct.org/staff.
Together with the Executive Leadership of Civic Theatre, under the guidance of the Board of Directors, Civic Theatr’es new team is positioned to work toward continued growth and development of the Theatre in Civic’s next 100 years.