Abstract: If I knew then what I know now, I might well have piled the money and rolled atop it with no clothing and felt better about myself. But I didn’t and we have a performance troupe 😉
Still reading? Okay Pros and Cons, then some points.
Pros: It is empowering to run a group of people who take your vision and turn it into something amazing on stage. It’s great to be able to delegate tasks to others, set the tone, have control of what is and isn’t accepted practice. It’s super-grade euphoria to have patrons and organizers tell you that your group rocks and to have fans.
Cons: You have to pay out of pocket to support this idea, you still have to do most of the most rotten jobs and if anything goes sideways you have to stand up, eat the crap pie and take responsibility. You have people who tell you how awful your group is and heckle you and there is no big money payoff at the end. Your own group can turn on you faster than the townsfolk of Transylvania.
So how do groups get started? Usually because some delusional people decide
“I can do that!” or “I can do that better!” I will admit to the latter. Performance groups are like plants, there is natural growth, they have shoots or seeds and these spring up in fertile ground. Or in our case “hitchhiker” seeds, like cocklebur, which stick to everything and have to be dislodged, but generally in a new location.
The only experience we had with managing this sort of thing came from our (day job) workplaces where there was an organization chart, a goal, a team statement of intent and a plan. What we ended up with was Herding Cats Perhaps the smarter readers realize that performers make terrible office workers because they chafe at rules and restrictions and many popular performers mentally vacation. That is, they leave the planet for a personal world that does not intersect with the one the rest of us inhabit. The best ideas we received on how to manage a performance group often came from public school teachers and this is excellent advice: Start hard-nosed and then you can relax the rules but the reverse is disaster. You may laugh but the dynamics are similar. Also in an office you have financial leverage, bonuses and the backing of an organization. As the owner of a group doing renfaires, none of these things is generally possible.
Things to remember as a group head/owner:
You set the example, you should know how to do the lowest to highest jobs. It doesn’t mean you’ll do them well, but you have to be able to pinch-hit in a crisis. One of the first sacrifices you may have to make is pull your stage time to do support work.
You need to keep everyone in working form-this means understanding that others have lives, that people can become sick or have car troubles and that sometimes even if THEY think they are up for the job, you will have to pull them and make a an unpopular decision.
Although it’s nice to think it’s your way or the highway, you in fact, have to pick your battles. Too much “my way” and not enough “leeway” can result in no performers. I am not saying give up personal ethics or let bad behavior get swept under the rug-because you pay now or pay double later if it is not handled. But if one of your top performer says they need a small favor, or a day off, then by all means, that is time to assess and step back. They have certainly done enough for you.
Being the leader doesn’t mean you are THE BEST at anything but keeping your group running. You can’t DO everything. If someone has a skill then let them do it, it’s to your benefit. When they find holes in how you do things you should thank them and fix the issue.
The dirty jobs. Sometimes you have to say no or let people go. It stinks. Sometimes you have to be the fall guy for an unhappy organizer or take the heat because your performer did a dumb thing and THEN you have to explain to the performer WHY it was a dumb thing and why they are experiencing a reprimand. And you have to do it with facts only, even if secretly in your heart YOU might have made the same mistake or felt the same way. And you WILL make mistakes and you will get called on it by your members.
For us, running a group came out of a bad experience. We were in a group run in a strange way that didn’t work out. Seeing that model, we chose “Benevolent Dictatorship.” And that doesn’t win popularity contests either-we have some members that by keeping them, we caused others to quit in a fit of pique. That didn’t bother us for a second because the ones who quit have gone on to obscurity-forgetting that there was a lot of back work that kept them in the public eye. And my favorite quote
“You are nothing without me!!!!!!”
So being in a group is great but if you flounce out, gone are all the benefits. Ask any goose that flies outside of the flock about wind resistance. Our group is a straight-up meritocracy and we’ve been told we commit favoritism. Guilty as charged, if you have a performer that does 99 percent of the jobs, a boatload of work and is a joy to work with, they get perks.
So if you are prepared to financially take on mistakes, be criticized about decisions, endure being in some tough environmental, mental and physical conditions, by all means, run a group, It’s rewarding if you are a driven, highly creative person with a strong vision and constitution.