The artistic director of a performing arts organization, such as a regional theater or opera, is the chief creative officer responsible for the artistic vision of the company. This person assumes creative control over choices regarding show selection and staging, and those concerning the employment of artistic and production staff. He or she may also serve as a spokesperson for the organization and is therefore a public figure whose goal is to attract audiences through positive interaction with the media and surrounding community.
In close collaboration with the senior administrative officials of the organization, the artistic director is primarily responsible for selecting material to be produced, including the development of original works by resident or visiting artists. The selection process involves consideration of theme and subject matter in an effort to put forth a cohesive season program. Financial and logistical feasibility of mounting the production must also be taken into account. Associated tasks such as licensing properties and marketing are delegated to appropriate personnel. The AD will coordinate with the general manager and other senior staff to set a production calendar and supervise the preparation of associated budgets. He or she will take on the task of hiring artistic and technical staff, including the director, designers, technical director, and production manager. Where necessary, the artistic director is available to consult with the show’s creative team to offer artistic input and to act as a producer in the facilitation of pre-production and rehearsal. Typically, the AD will direct at least one show during each season.
In designing a production season for the theater, the artistic director seeks to present a program that is culturally valuable and that appeals to the organization’s audience. Careful consideration is given to the image of the company through the establishment of a recognizable artistic identity. For example, the theater may select material that expresses the intended contemporary personality of the company or its commitment to presenting time-honored classics. As a top-ranking member of the organization, the artistic director is involved in the development of all performance programs within the company, including educational programs and special engagements. He or she will also participate in promotional activities in support of the theater, to include speaking with the media and communicating with corporate sponsors and community leaders.
Skills & Education
A diverse education in the performing arts is required for this career, and a master of fine arts degree in theatrical production is recommended. Study should include traditional theater, as well as musical theater, dance, and opera. Courses in directing, performance, theatrical management, and design are also beneficial. The artistic director should be capable of effective leadership and the establishment of a clear creative vision for the subordinate staff. He or she must collaborate respectfully with other personnel and have the ability to communicate abstract ideas in a clear and concise manner. Efficiency, attention to detail, and multitasking are necessary skills in this position.
What to Expect
In most instances, the artistic director is either the founder of a small theatrical company or appointed by the board of directors at a regional theater. This person generally has significant prior experience as a professional director and may have served in similar capacities as a production manager, stage manager, or assistant director. Within a dance company, the artistic director is usually a retired dancer and choreographer. This position is similar to that of a music director for a symphony orchestra. The artistic director does have a great deal of freedom, but must also answer to the board for the success or failure of a production season. He or she is measured by not only the quality of productions staged, but also by the box office returns generated by each show. Therefore, the AD must take care to understand the audience in the theater’s market and offer programming that appeals to that community.
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