In March of 2019, Adam J. Frank, the first-ever managing director of New York City’s Waterwell, had been with the organization for less than a year. The theater company had grown from the startup brainchild of two undergraduate theater students from Indiana University into a vibrant arts organization over the prior 17 years. The founders established a civic-minded approach to both Waterwell’s devised theatrical productions and its robust education program.
After Frank had been hired but prior to his start with the company, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Tom Ridgely departed Waterwell, leading to the creation of a new leadership structure. Ridgely left a few projects still in process, including one well into planning: Fleet Week Follies. The large-scale, immersive event was conceived by Ridgely and the other co-founder and co-artistic director, Arian Moayed, as a means to build upon Waterwell’s relationship with the military community after its successful production of Blueprint Specials in 2017. When Ridgely left, all preparation for Fleet Week Follies was put on hold until the new leadership team, a triumvirate including Frank, new Artistic Director Lee Sunday Evans, and longtime staff member Heather Lanza as director of education, could reconsider the project in 2019.
In early 2019, Waterwell’s new leaders recognized a direct request from the military community to continue the relationship, a charge they did not take lightly. Waterwell’s institutional brand, values, donor relations, and reputation as a “responsive” organization hinged on maintaining authentic community partnerships. Still, Waterwell’s leadership grappled with how to produce Fleet Week Follies with an impending deadline and limited resources – resources needed to support productions and relationships with its non-military community partners. Waterwell faced further questions of audience, timing, appropriateness, scale, and location. Evans mused, “There were so many conversations about if we were going to do it, when we were going to do it, and how we were going to do it. And we kept coming back to ‘why?’ What is the essential reason that we are doing it?” As the organization confronted these questions, Frank wondered how best to council his co-leaders: was using the company’s time and resources to produce Fleet Week Follies, a vestige of the prior leadership team, the best way to serve both Waterwell’s commitment to an important portion of its constituency as well as the aspirations of its new leaders?
Citation: Sarah Scafidi, "Waterwell (2019)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case 20-109, May 12, 2022.