In August 2018, The Lark Theatre Company (The Lark), an international theatre laboratory located in New York City, was experimenting with a radically different staff structure from most arts organizations. When Michael Robertson, The Lark’s managing director, announced he was leaving the organization, John Eisner, The Lark’s artistic director, decided not to hire a new managing director but instead named four current staff members as co-leaders of the organization. Eisner hoped that by eliminating the managing director position, he was creating a more accessible, inclusive, and equitable office that would allow the staff more autonomy and opportunities for leadership. He also hoped this structure would provide space for a wider range of voices to contribute to decision making in the organization.
The 15 members of the staff spent a lot of time over 11 months discussing the impact of the new structure. For some, it was positive. Some staff members found the structure created clarity around job responsibilities and provided more decision-making power. They felt the structure also allowed for increased and streamlined communication amongst staff and with the board. For others, the new structure was difficult. They felt the structure created a false sense of power in decision-making and struggled with Eisner’s position as the only official executive leader. This group felt that the structure also created tension between staff members and board members. Depending on the staff member, their feelings on the effectiveness of the structure ranged from great success to difficulty with the overall structure.
Was the staff structure accomplishing Eisner’s goal of striving to make the organization more equitable, accessible, and inclusive? These values were the spark for implementing the structure. Eisner knew just how much time and energy the whole staff had put into experimenting with this new structure. While he knew he needed to initiate the conversation about the next step, he didn’t want to make the decision on his own but also did not want to create a space where consensus from every staff member was needed to decide what to do.
With a three-day staff retreat fast approaching, Eisner needed to figure out the next steps for the staff structure and had to answer two important questions: did the staff structure work for the organization and who on staff would he let decide the answer to the first question?
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Publish Date: 2019-05-15
Keywords: New York, Governance, Leadership, Mission, Organizational Culture, Small Organization
Suggested Citation: Dani Barlow, "The Lark Theatre Company (2018)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case 18-92, May 15, 2019
Teaching Notes: Yes (please contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
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