Black Box Backdrop

A photo of Adrienne Dandy, president of KWLT for 2023–2024.

Black Box Backdrop: In with the new

Hello! I’m Adrienne Dandy, and I’m honoured to be the president of the KWLT Board of Directors this year.

KWLT is gearing up for our 2023/24 season and I’m very excited to have the chance to lead the Board as we tackle the year ahead. The Board had its first meeting on August 3rd and elected several people to new roles. 

President: Adrienne Dandy
Vice President: Morgan Anderson
Secretary: Fred Brandenburg
Finance Director: Rami Finkelshtein 
Rentals Manager: Nadia Ursacki
Membership Director: Michael L. Davenport

Joining the above members, of course, we have Members-at-Large Katherine Schill, Mel Mah, Stephanie L Keleher, Talia Dmitrienko, and Gaya Bin Noon and our past-president Carolyn Galvin. I’m very excited this year to have Talia backing up Rami and working closely with him to learn the Finance role. All of our at-large members participate in our various committees. Membership in committees is also open to general members of the theatre. 

Please join me in congratulating and thanking the members of your 2023/24 as we face the year ahead. 

And what a year it will be. We have three exciting mainstage shows coming up, our Artistic Steering Committee is working on more small-scale plans, and, of course, we’re gearing up for a very special call for directors: in addition to our mainstages at 9 Princess, we’re hoping to find a director that wants to take on the challenge of directing a Big Name Musical in a larger, rented space in February 2025, coinciding with the 90th anniversary of the founding meeting for KWLT itself. 

But we also have some significant challenges. We have an aging building and that comes with a cost. If you’ve been in the building when it’s raining, you’re probably aware that the roof is leaking, again. We’ll be striking a fundraising committee, led by Rami and Morgan. If you’re interested in joining that, You can find information in our latest newsletter. If you’re interested in jumping the gun on the committee and donating to the theatre, please consider setting up a one-time or ongoing donation through our Canada Helps site.

This year, KWLT Board meetings will occur on the  third Monday of each month and are open to members. The next meeting is August 21, 2023. Please contact our Secretary (secretary@kwlt.org) if you’re interested in attending or to view the minutes of past meetings.  

Finally, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to serve as your president this year. Please don’t hesitate to contact me on Slack or via email if you need anything. I’m hoping to see lots of you out at the staged reading on August 19th at 9 Princess (and let’s hope it doesn’t rain!). 

(Photo credit: Ange Clayfield)

Our lit but empty stage

2023 Annual General Meeting Review

Thanks to everybody who attended our 2023 Annual General Meeting and helped to make it a success. I wanted to share out a few announcements following the meeting:

New Board Members

New AGM, new board! I would like to warmly welcome our new board members:

  • Morgan Anderson
  • Gaya Bin Noon
  • Stephanie Keleher
  • Talia Dmitrienko

They will be joining myself, Rami Finkelshtein, Fred Brandenburg, Nadia Ursacki, Adrienne Dandy, Michael L. Davenport, Mel Mah, and Katherine Schill.

Over the next month or so, we will hold orientation and our first meeting, where new roles will be assigned (and you’ll have a new President writing these!).

Awards

As we do (almost) every year, we recognized a few stand-out volunteers by giving them awards.

Our Golden Spring Award is awarded to a person who goes above and beyond behind-the-scenes of a production. Our nominees this year were:

  • Cameron Slipp for great lights & tech for Ordinary Days
  • Michael L. Davenport for his excellent technical contributions to each show & always helping with build and strike
  • Stephanie Ozon for her “twin roles as organizer-in-chief and sunshine pumper for the production” which kept Zastrozzi running smoothly
  • Tristan Olenewa for going above and beyond in his contributions to March Madness

Our winner was Tristan Olenewa! Congrats to Tristan!

Our President’s Award is awarded to a person who exemplifies volunteerism at the theatre outside of productions. Our nominees this year were:

  • Matt Walsh for his active role on both the building & communications committee this year, and his excellent work as Bar Manager
  • Nadia Ursacki for going above and beyond in supporting our Technical Manager and keeping tech running smoothly
  • Stefan Verveniotis for his active role in the building committee, helping to lead several clean-up initiatives

Our winner was Stefan Verveniotis! Congrats to Stefan!

Committees

A big highlight of the last year was the successes of our various committees. Our current active committees are:

  • Show Support
  • Building
  • Communications
  • Documentation
  • Social
  • Artistic Steering

And they are recruiting! Join a committee today by joining our Slack and hopping into one of their channels!

Our lit but empty stage

September Board Meeting Summary & Committees

We’re 3 months into the new board year and our new committees are starting to get into the swing of things! We have restructured our board meeting agendas to be focused on the committees and their needs, and the first meeting with this new structure was a success. Here are some of the key decisions we made at our September board meeting:

  • We will be assembling and sending out a survey to the community to learn more about how people want to engage with us, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the coming months!
  • The first Friday, second Saturday, and third Thursday performances (November 11, November 19, and November 24 respectively) of Ali & Ali will have extra COVID restrictions, for our patrons who are more comfortable with enforced masking and reduced capacity
  • We had a discussion about whether to continue to enforce masking for our volunteers and patrons (currently required for both at all times in our spaces), and decided that we would continue to enforce this requirement (and also provide masks for anyone who forgets one)

Our committees have been busy, and are looking for more members to join them! Here are some of the projects they are working on which you may be interested in:

  • The Volunteer Development and Support committee is working on creating the survey to send to the community to collect information, and will be creating a repository of volunteers and their interests
  • The Artistic Steering committee is working on putting together the 2023/2024 season, and will also be determining the artistic direction of the theatre in a post-pandemic world
  • The Communications committee is working on sharing tasks around posting to social media, updating the website, sending this newsletter, and addressing emails as they come in
  • The Show Support committee is working directly with our productions to answer their questions and provide support as needed, and is also putting together a “master list” of all the tasks that have to be done (from the organization level) to support our events
  • The Social committee is working on deciding and planning social events

If you are interested in joining any of the committees, let us know! You can join the Slack directly by clicking on this link, or you can email Carolyn (president@kwlt.org) for more information.

Our lit but empty stage

Committees & Slack

In this edition Black Box Backdrop, I have a few things to cover:

  1. A bylaw amendment
  2. Strategic goals identified by the board
  3. How you can get more involved

Bylaw Amendment

Section 11 of our bylaws outlines the roles on the Board of Directors. In particular, it specifies which officer roles need to be appointed and need to be filled by board members – for example, the Building Manager could be any member of the theatre but President or Finance need to be a board member. Specifically, the roles that needed to be appointed and needed to be board members, according to the bylaws, were: President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Executive Producer, Artistic Director, Membership Director, Communications Director, Rentals Manager, and Box Office Manager.

This is a lot, and there’s no particular governance reason why these all need to be on the board, or why all these roles need to be appointed every year. In alignment with my principle this year of “projects even over roles” (you can read more about it in my last blog post), we amended this bylaw to reduce these roles to: President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Rentals. (Please reach out to secretary@kwlt.org if you would like to see the specific text change within the bylaws.) This does not preclude us from appointing these other roles, but releases us from the obligation to do so. This allows us to cover these responsibilities with committees instead, which brings us to…

Strategic Goals

As a board, we ran a strategic brainstorming session so we could establish some shared goals for the year. We landed on four key areas of focus:

  • Partnerships with other local businesses: This is an area that we’ve been neglecting for a while, but has a lot of potential opportunities for us.
  • Volunteer burnout: Unsurprisingly, this came up as a focus. I probably don’t have to explain why…
  • Strengthening our membership and volunteer base: One thing we identified as a strength we wanted to lean into more was our volunteer base – we’d like to find ways to make volunteering more accessible, fulfilling, and enjoyable.
  • Improving our documentation: We identified our documentation as an area we’d like to improve, in the hopes that it will help share knowledge and reduce siloing of skills.

In order to make progress in these areas, and in alignment with our principle of “teamwork over efficiency,” we’ve formed committees to cover these, as well as the day-to-day business of the theatre. Which brings us to…

How you can get more involved

Alright, so we have 9 committees and we would love to have you join some. We’re leveraging a new tool, Slack, for collaboration and discussion. If you’re unfamiliar with Slack, it is an app/site similar to discussion forums that is used by many companies for collaboration. You can learn more on Slack’s website here: https://slack.com/why/slack-vs-email

I’d invite anyone interested in joining a committee or keeping tabs on what’s going on to join us on the Slack, by clicking this link: https://join.slack.com/t/kwlt/shared_invite/zt-1el4dgdhz-NuLuZKxPnhiPReGCjzYspw (if this link has expired, please email me at president@kwlt.org!)

Here are the committees! All of them are open for KWLT members to join:

  • Partnership Committee: this committee will strategize and explore partnerships with local businesses
  • Documentation Committee: this committee will help develop and organize our documentation
  • Volunteer Development & Support Committee: this committee will brainstorm and develop ways to support our volunteer base
  • Artistic Steering Committee: this committee, first established last year, will create a vision for our artistic season (this year and moving forward), and will solicit and select submissions for the season
  • Communications Committee: this committee runs our social media, puts together our newsletter, etc.
  • Show Support Committee: this committee fills roles like Executive Producer, Artistic Director, and generally serves to ensure our productions and events are successful
  • Building Committee: this committee takes care of our building (right now, for example, we are coordinating a fix of our foundation)
  • General Manager Committee: this committee is exploring the question as directed by the membership at the AGM: should we hire a general manager for the theatre?
  • Social Committee: this committee is for organizing social events for the community

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me at president@kwlt.org (or on Slack!)

Our lit but empty stage

2022-2023 Vision

It’s no secret that this past year has been tough on the board. In May, as I started reaching out to current board members about whether or not they planned to continue on the board, I had a minor panic attack as I realized that, as of the AGM, it was just going to be me.

Literally. Everyone else was either resigning, had already resigned, or had their terms expiring.

What happened?! As most social dynamics go, it’s both complicated and not. From my perspective, and the perspective of remaining board members when we did a retrospective, it boiled down to 3 things:

  1. COVID
  2. Lack of team cohesion
  3. Volunteer burnout (both on & off the board)

This led to fewer people taking on more responsibility in an uncertain global context that was constantly in flux. Honestly, I nearly quit as well.

But here’s what I’m thinking for next year. My vision for next year’s board/operations boils down to these 3 principles:

  1. Projects EVEN OVER roles
  2. Teamwork EVEN OVER efficiency
  3. Community EVEN OVER events

Projects over roles is about reducing siloing of work at the board level. People on the board tend to take on these personal portfolios of projects that don’t tend to be shared with other board members, except when a decision needs to be made or a status report is requested. Next year, I would like the board to do away with titles as much as possible and legal, and focus TOGETHER instead on the projects that are really going to move the business forward. No more pet projects, just team projects.

Teamwork over efficiency is about spreading institutional knowledge and creating documentation so that new people can onboard into our community more easily. The learning curve to join us today is exceptionally steep, and we lose a lot of great potential volunteers because we don’t have a good way to introduce people to the theatre gradually. Before doing anything, I want us to slow down, write a document, and try to get someone new to do a task instead of relying on the same people to do things every time. (With some exceptions – things like the financials should be handled by the experts.)

Community over events is about building our community OUTSIDE OF our productions and events (which obviously will still happen!). I’m looking into creating a Slack or Discord instance in order to facilitate communication among our members outside of specific events, so that hopefully people who join in between events can get a nice warm KWLT hug without the expectation of immediately doing work in order to make friends. I’d also like us to start doing in-person social events again.

The way I plan to make this happen is 3-fold:

  1. Board orientation, onboarding, team building, and co-creation of goals
  2. New tool to facilitate community-building & collaboration
  3. Find ways to delegate more board responsibilities

By spending time building a team of people who know how to work together and are ready to lead a focused portfolio of projects intended to increase our capacity as an organization, I believe that we can weather the storm of COVID and learn how to operate as a theatre company again. It will be hard, and it will be different than what we’re used to doing, but I hope it will get us through and back to a place where we are brimming with volunteer energy. Next year, I hope to report successful shows and a larger volunteer pool to our AGM, and I hope to not have to report resignations.

I’m delighted and surprised by the response of our community to our desperate plea for board members. Let’s make some change!

Our lit but empty stage

February Board Meeting Recap

We decided that our AGM will be on Tuesday, June 28th – save the date!

We had a lengthy discussion on how to handle memberships extended through the pandemic now that we are about to enter our first season back. We will have an official announcement of the decision and what it means for your membership expiry next month!

We discussed a draft of our budget for the next financial year, which will be approved in our March meeting.

We approved our next season! Stay tuned for our official announcement within the next few months 🙂

In light of the government lifting vaccination and capacity restrictions, we discussed whether we wanted to continue enforcing these restrictions for ourselves. We are in a good position at the moment where we don’t have much upcoming of our own events, so we have opted to revisit the question at a later date. For now, to participate in KWLT events, you will still need to be fully vaccinated, and we will continue to discuss and revise as appropriate.

  • What this means for Falling: A Wake auditions – you will need to be fully vaccinated to be cast.
  • We opted to lift the restrictions for people renting our space, as we cannot feasibly enforce the restrictions on our renters.

Similar to the above, we discussed whether or not we might want to specify a subset of show nights to have higher restrictions (e.g. require vaccinations & masks on certain nights but allow other nights to be more open), to accommodate those in our membership who might feel more comfortable. We didn’t make a decision on this, since our next shows aren’t until June, but it is something we’re considering. If this is something you’d be interested in, please either email me or let us know anonymously via this form.

We discussed support for FASS, an organization we’ve historically had close ties with who is going through some challenging times. We didn’t make any decisions, but are open to talking to FASS about what their needs are and how we might support them.

We looked at a few quotes for upgrading our internet service at the theatre, and expect to make a decision on this at the March board meeting.

We discussed our struggles with the front walkway being icy as well as some struggles with a crack in our foundation, and directed the Building Manager to address them.

Our lit but empty stage

January Board Meeting Recap

We approved a revised version of our Privacy Policy, which is more up-to-date with current practices and technology

We decided we would possibly defer Ali & Ali to the start of next season (pending the Artistic Director and Artistic Steering Committee’s approval) instead of trying to find a time for it before September. A possible alternative that we considered was at the end of July, but would interfere with a rental opportunity representing a significant portion of our rentals revenue for the year. We resolved to pick new dates ASAP before the next board meeting.

We talked through some questions we had received from WODL regarding a 2023 festival. We decided we would not be interested in adjudication or a festival in that year, so that we can focus entirely on ourselves for our first season since COVID.

We discussed options for internet service at the theatre, which has been problematic for a while. We decided we’d like to investigate finding a new ISP and improving our speeds and stability to support streaming use cases.

We discussed how much we’d like to spend on fixing our shed. While we didn’t land on a specific number, we gave additional guidance to our Carpentry Manager to help produce a budget.

There were a number of shout-outs, mostly to Matt Walsh. We were also thankful to whomever passed by our sidewalk with a snowblower following the big storm January 17; Nadia’s mom for helping with the booth work; Monica for being quick with emails; and, Nadia for answering questions from Davenport.

The booth reconstruction is nearly complete! There are a few finishing touches but both the sound and lighting booth could be technically usable any time (…given a little notice). We expect first use to be by a renter on February 25.

Our Carpentry Manager, Ahrar, has patched holes in the shed and is planning more thorough repairs in the next few months.

Our Librarians have been hard at work cataloguing and organizing our stock of plays and books. Look out for more about this soon!

Our Workshops Coordinator is exploring doing a lighting workshop and sound workshop, but scheduling for these will be dependent on the state of COVID.

We have a crack in our foundation that needs to be fixed. We’re trying to find a contractor who can fix it – if you have any leads, please send them to me at president@kwlt.org.

Our lit but empty stage

COVID Impacts to Performance Dates

Are you potentially interested in directing a show with us but are unsure about how COVID may affect the season and proposal? In this post, I’m going to aim to clarify how the board is currently making decisions so that you can understand how you may be impacted as a director.

As always, we have the dates for our productions chosen far in advance. Even in the uncertain world of COVID, we need to do this so that we can manage our rental calendar, which can be busy even in COVID-times. Our shows require about a month total (plus or minus a week) in the space: 1-2 weeks for build and tech, then 3 weeks of performances, followed by a day for strike. If we do not book the dates in advance, rentals can whittle away at the available time even a year in advance. 

Currently, our production dates for the 2022-2023 season are:

ShowAudition DatesPerformance Dates
Always Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Season OpenerSeptember 6 – 8, 2022November 10 – 26, 2022
Winter ShowNovember 7 – 9, 2022January 26 – February 11, 2023
Spring ShowFebruary 6 – 8, 2023April 27 – May 13, 2023
Summer ShowMarch 27 – 29, 2023June 8 – 24, 2023

We do recognize, though, that timelines often shift these days due to provincial regulations and COVID waves. We’re not going to pretend like this isn’t a possibility – we have already moved our dates for Ali & Ali twice. We’re also not going to pretend that we can be certain that COVID is “almost over” and that our next season will be totally normal (though, obviously we are hopeful that this will be the case).

The decision to change dates has been prompted by either provincial regulations preventing in-person auditions, or uncertainty about comfort levels with regard to gathering for auditions or rehearsals. We have relied very heavily on the production team to communicate their comfort levels and needs to us, via our Artistic Director and/or Executive Producer. Different shows require different levels of physicality and interaction; the Ali & Ali team, for example, are planning a very physical show and online video conference rehearsals are not a possibility. If they could have rehearsed remotely, we may have made a different decision about deferring dates. These decisions, so far, have been fairly last-minute (2ish weeks before auditions) because things tend to change so quickly with COVID.

When it becomes clear that we need to change the dates, we start by announcing publicly that the dates are changing before picking new dates. Picking new dates can take some time, and it’s important to communicate ASAP to people wanting to audition that the plan is changing. Then, we take a look at what’s possible in our calendar and what’s possible with the production team’s schedules. Our Artistic Director or Executive Producer works with the production team to come up with potential new dates, which are then brought to the Board for approval. Once the new dates are selected, confirmed by the Board, and our rights updated, we can publicize the new dates.

We are continuing to iterate on this process. Like other theatre companies, we are trying to balance needing to be nimble in responding to COVID with needing lead time to plan and schedule our productions. There is a lot of room for improvement in how we’re handling these situations now. Here is what you should consider if you are thinking about submitting an application:

  1. If we have to shut down in the middle of your rehearsal cycle, would Zoom rehearsals be adequate, or would we need to consider changing your performance dates?
  2. How flexible can you & your team be with changing dates?
  3. Would you be able to do your production entirely remotely or via livestream? (This may also be impacted by limitations in rights agreements, which wouldn’t be obvious until we apply for the rights.)

Hopefully, none of this will be relevant and we won’t have to change dates for productions going forward, but I wanted to provide this glimpse into our process in case people were wondering.

Our lit but empty stage

Communications Challenges

I’m sorry to announce the resignation of our newest board member, Rachel. Rachel did some great work in getting our Communications Team up to speed and operating well, so the absence of a Communications Director for now is more easily mitigated. Rachel brought us some great ideas and great expertise; unfortunately, the demands of the role were too much, and she realized that she did not have the time required to dedicate to it. The Communications email will still be monitored and the Communications Team is ready to fill the gaps in the interim.

For me, this again highlights the difficulties that we experience retaining Communications Directors. For those of you at our AGM this summer, you know that this was a hot topic, and one that the board was discussing at length before Rachel joined. It was our hope that Rachel would be able to help shape the role to make it more manageable and sustainable. The Communications Team is a great step in that direction since there is more than one volunteer’s worth of work involved in ensuring that our messages are going out on all the platforms with reasonable frequency. Spreading the load among several people makes that slightly easier. However, the number of platforms has grown, people’s attention has fragmented, and the “all-powerful” algorithms punish posts that are arbitrarily deemed “not engaging enough.” It’s become harder and harder to effectively spread our message and harder and harder to serve in this role. This is all coupled with our typical tension of power between productions and the Communications Director, making the role a trial by fire.

A little more context on this tension…when I was Executive Producer for several years, and indeed when I served as producer for individual productions, this is something that I came to understand very well. In my experience with our theatre (going on 7+ years now), the power of productions versus the power of the board has been in an uneasy flux. On the one hand, productions are the lifeblood of the theatre – no productions, no theatre. Directors of productions especially have held a lot of power over every aspect of their production even down to promotions. One of the great things about KWLT is the artistic freedom afforded directors, which isn’t the case at a lot of theatres. On the other hand, the business of the theatre has an interest in ensuring that its funds are spent appropriately, productions are making money, and the public image of the theatre is retained. The theatre needs to make sure that we’re getting the word out, but the director wants to have control over how that happens. In an ideal world, the director and their team collaborates with Communications and their team to create promotions and put them out. In volunteer management, however, we rarely encounter an ideal world. There’s a lot of work here and a lot of unclear ownership over that work that changes person-to-person, production-to-production. 

It’s no wonder that Communications Director & Producers are our hardest roles to recruit for and retain. Several years ago, I tried to solve the Producer problem via a Producer Committee. The committee worked for a while, but with the lack of new people coming onto the committee, it just turned into the group being Producers 100% of the time and led to the same burnout we were trying to avoid. 

All that said, I have been puzzling over this problem for many years with no solution in sight. If anybody has any ideas, please (please) send them my way. Similarly, if anyone would like to volunteer to help our Communications Team, please let us know!