In this premiere episode, we kick off our interview series with About Face Theatre. This conversation, and the episodes that will follow, feature in-depth discussion on the hows and whys of creating new projects and programs within Chicago's arts community. 2nd Story's Artistic Director Amanda Delheimer joins Logan Jones and Kirsten Baity to discuss the evolution of the Green Room Collective from idea to reality. Listen as they explore the motivations behind the creation of the Green Room Collective and how they hope to change the professional landscape for young workers in theater.
cover photo by Amy Sheahan
Amanda Delheimer Hello, my name is Amanda Delheimer. I am the artistic director of 2nd Story, an arts organization located in Chicago, Illinois. And you're listening to the first of a series of conversations with recipients of grants from the Arts Work Fund. The Arts Work Fund is a funder collaborative that invests in the adaptive capacities of small arts and culture organizations across Chicago. And through these episodes, we are excited to share stories about just a few of the unique and innovative projects that Arts Work Fund grant recipients are embarking upon. We hope that by opening up our experiences and goals and glitches to conversation, peer organizations can benefit from the lessons learned, and we can strengthen the sector together.
In this episode, recorded on Zoom, I spoke with Logan Jones and Kirsten Baity from About Face Theatre, about their program, the Green Room Collective. We are here with Kirsten and Logan from About Face Theatre to talk about the Green Room Collective. So, first tell us what is this? What is the Green Room Collective.
Logan Jones The Green Room Collective is a leadership development program that we have designed to really bridge that gap between the educational environment and the entry level arts admin environment.
Amanda Delheimer Before we go too much further, I would love to have both of you talk a little bit about what your relationship to the Green Room Collective is. So Logan, you shared with us what it is. But would you tell us a little bit about your relationship to this program?
Logan Jones Absolutely. So, I'm the Managing Director at About Face. And it was partly partly my brainchild in collaboration with Megan Carney, the Artistic Director at About Face, and Mikael Burke, our Associate Artistic Director. We've been working on it for a long time of like figuring out what mentorship could really look like in a way that was serving folks better in a more welcoming environment than than what we all had experienced coming up through programs like that. And I mean, to be quite frank, that's really, that we all had a real personal stake in that having experienced, having had net negative experiences coming up through what's available for us. So, I serve as one of a handful of mentors, everyone on staff serves as an mentor in some way to this program. If if the greenroom collective participants choose to explore a medium that a single staff members an expert in, we make the space for that. Sometimes I'm really hands on as I mentor sometimes I'm like just observing and creating space for the process.
Amanda Delheimer So Kiersten, you are one of the participants in the Green Room Collective.
Kirsten Baity Yes. And it's been really cool. So far, a lot has sort of changed over the course of this process. At first when I came into it, I was like, I'm going to do marketing, and I'm just going to do marketing, and that's going to be my thing. But then after working in marketing, I was like okay, I'm okay at this. But this is not, this is not the most fun for me. I'm sure other people love it. But it wasn't for me. And so I thought that I was gonna have to do like a whole, "I want to change tracks," type thing. But it was just like, "Oh, you didn't even need to send that email. You could have just said I I don't do this anymore and switched on over." So yeah, this process has been really, really, really neat so far.
Amanda Delheimer So Kirsten what does this look like in practice?
Kirsten Baity It looks a lot of different ways. One thing that comes to mind is the fact that we are actually included in the processes of theater making, rather than being like in one spot and like you work only in literary manager you work only in, I don't know, like producing you don't get to do anything else. That's it and you have the one mentor and we actually get to be part of it and not treated like interns who are supposed to like be silent or not have very much power in space.
Something that comes to mind for that is the Magnolia Ballet workshop. I went in and I asked like can I come sit and because I got to read the script while I was working on literary management stuff. And I was like, wow, this is really interesting. Can I sit in and I thought that I was just going to be able to go fly on the wall like I kind of sat off in the corner. Like I don't want to interrupt your creative process. I don't want to be in the way of anything. Mikael Burke who is directing the piece, invited me over. And Terry, who was the playwright, it was like, Hey, come over here. And even still, I was like, Oh, I'm gonna set up this music stand next to the table. So I'm still giving these artists their space, because you know, they're doing important work. And I'm just kind of sitting here. And the music stand that I had my laptop on fell, and I caught it, it was an amazing catch, oh. And they were just like, hey, we will move over, you can be here. And also you can talk. If you have, you know, things that you relate to in the play are things that you want to bring out in that. Go ahead. And Mikael, also name that. When I first read the script, I had a question about one of the characters, which ended up resulting in a new monologue. So you actually become a part of what is going on how theater is being made in the space?
Amanda Delheimer And when you had that question, how did you raise that question? Like, how did it get moved forward to the playwright so that it caused that that change in the script?
Kirsten Baity So Mikael and I had a conversation about the play, and I was like, "What is this thing?" "Why is that happening?" and "Why is that? Why are we not upset that this is happening? And what can we do to make, make it make it be understood by the audience, this isn't just how queer relationships works, that's actually a bad thing. And it comes from such and such place." And he brought it to Tyrion was like, this person who is also a playwright. And also, you know, know some stuff, had this question about the peace. Carrie was like, You're right, that is a good question about the peace and then wrote a monologue for that character, to get understanding why he spoke the way that he spoke and did the things he did.
Amanda Delheimer Nice. Logan, I understand that there was a kind of specific inciting event or a series of events that caused about phase to really identify this challenge and try and build this program. What What were those? What did that inciting event look like?
Logan Jones Well, beyond just the arts administrators, a lot of us come up through various ways to get into these roles, beyond just having some personal baggage that a lot of us are carrying into that kind of always holding a question in the back of our minds of how we can do better for more young folks as they're coming up into these roles. Beyond that, About Face, as a company has had leadership development at its core for a lot of years, like, almost 20 years, there's been some sort of sort of Leadership Development Program. And it's looked so many ways over the years. The most recent evolution of it before Green Room Collective was called the Youth Task Force. And the last couple of years of that we had the same cohort of three leaders who were really involved in the organization who had been with the the about face Youth Theatre Ensemble as divisors, and actors for a number of years and grew into some leadership positions in that specific program. That led them to want to create a program called kinship. That was a really successful queer, all ages variety show. And there was this beautiful, beautiful experience of just handing all of the producing tools over to this group of three young people who really wanted to create something for themselves.
And so we saw and very, very successful pilot of just saying, like, we can be here to support you. And we're going to give you the keys to really just explore what you want to do, we're going to give you the necessary support to do that. And we're not going to like dictate what your specific job needs to be here. And so we saw, just very organically how that worked with that specific cohort, and then a pandemic hit.
And all of a sudden, we had to go into pivot mode. And early on in the pandemic, we were coming to the end of the fiscal year, which was the last. It also happened to be the time where those three youth leaders were going to be aging out of our program, and moving on to different things. And so we decided to hold a post mortem with those three youth leaders and just talk to them about how it went, talked to them about the the successes and challenges of kinship as a program and specifically what it was like to all of a sudden be in the middle of this pandemic and not necessarily know where they were going with their careers, what was open to them what felt accessible after doing all of the youth programming that we had available.
And the the thing that came out so clearly afterwards, Megan and I call each other. And we're like, the real thing here is that we don't necessarily have that next stepping stone. We don't have what these three young people were hungry for, to really see what it's like to be a staff member and arts admin, and to really explore what they couldn't already see visibly as artists working with the company. So then we sort of went to the drawing board to figure out, well, what could that be? What would we have wanted, when we were first entering into this field? And how can we try to think creatively and create something that was going to work for more people and be more accessible, to open that door to people who don't necessarily have money that they can sit on and take an unpaid internship? And really just open that door to anyone who is interested in exploring? And how could we make it worth their time?
Amanda Delheimer And that's the question that you posed earlier, right? Like, how do we serve artists who are entering the workforce, right? How do we create some kind of program that addresses that gap between when folks are really active in an educational environment? And when they're trying to really step into a work environment? So Kirsten, what did that inception of the program, or the beginning of the Green Room Collective look like from your side?
Kirsten Baity So there was a Zoom call with all of the people who were aging out. Sharon was the one who was like, sort of facilitating that she's also in the Green Room Collective. And she was on the youth taskforce before then they brought us all together, and we're like, hey, what do y'all need? People want it, people are asking what we need, what kind of support we need, as we age out of this program. And all of us said, Okay, we understand how to make art. But we don't understand how to make a living making art, like we get the concept of this is how you write a play. This is how you take that play and put it on a stage or put it on screen. But how do you you know, how do you get hired for the stuff that you do? How do you tell people what you're worth, rather than just taking whatever it is you can get?
Honestly, when we had that sit down, I thought it would be like, we would get a letter of recommendation or something like that, or somebody would, you know, bring us in and talk to us about, I don't know, taxes, or tell us how to send your resume to people or had or who to call. But then a couple months later, Megan reached out to me and was like, Hey, we're doing this thing. Let's hop on a call. And I'll tell you about it. And then she explained, basically everything that Logan has talked about. And you know, are you interested. And of course, that was like, Yes, this sounds like fun.
Because I already had a relationship with About Face from being in the Youth Ensemble. And it was, I think a lot of people who are in youth programs would agree that when you leave when you're when you age out, it feels like you get like dumped like a baby giraffe of like, you used to have used to have all of the support, you used to have all of these teachers who told you exactly how to do the thing. And now you're out there, and there's no like, and a youth Acting Program or something like that, very rarely do they then tell you when auditions are or tell you how to audition for their, for their space, you are entirely on your own.
And so this was like a really cool opportunity to be able to actually, you know, be at the place that raised you to sort of, it's sort of like living at home is what it felt like, after college or whatever being able to like have the people who've supported you through your youth also support you as you age to a different level. Um, so he talked about that, and I was like, Yes, of course I want to take it, but I was still in school at the time when they when she wanted us to start. And I was like yeah, um, I might not be able to start this week but I would be able to just work through my last week of college and it'll be fine. I can start as soon as you want me to and she was like, No, you can rest on spring break like a normal person and just come on in after graduation. Which was also super cool. Like very rarely do employers like prioritize rest as well as production. So that's basically how I got here.
Amanda Delheimer And I know that there was a little bit of behind the scenes stuff happening at the same time, right Logan? So you you get all this information from these various sources, his various conversations, and then how did the actual like what did it look like this, this imagining of this program that both is this kind of home place as Karason just said and also teaches skills and build skills and also prioritizes, rest and all of this kind of wonderful alchemy that it sounds like you all have going on.
Logan Jones Yeah, Megan and I are both facilitators outside of our work and About Face. And so we both love a group group process facilitation with sticky notes and getting together in a big room to just throw some things up on the wall and see what sticks. So we did that. She and I reserve some time together and one About Face's rehearsal rooms and just put some of those giant sticky note boards up on the wall had tons of colors of sticky notes, and just wrote down what we could remember from all of the conversations, what really floated up for each of us and stuck it up and started mapping out what the biggest priorities were for what we wanted to make sure we're essentially on the program and playing around with various configurations of who was going to staff it, what that was going to look like.
And then we just really took it to each other and said, Okay, clearly, we need to figure out something else will support here, how are we going to pay for this? Who should we be asking? And we kind of just packaged it up that day and said, This is what we wanted to try to do as a pilot. Let's just start asking people for support, let's just start putting it out in the universe and see, see who bites on it. Then we submitted a couple of grant applications for pilot funding and Arts Work Fund was very excited about it.
And so part of that is how we're here today. I do also want to ask Kirsten a question here. About another postmortem that happened pretty early into the pilot. Because initially, we thought that this funding for our little staff playground of it to figure out how the program was going to evolve, was going to be like a 15 week pilot with a couple of participants over the summer. And probably week 13. Mark, we had a post mortem with Pearson Sharon, talk about what they learned what they wish they could have learned what what they saw on the horizon for them for themselves next. And you just did you want to talk about how that was for you? And what was so clear to me after that.
Kirsten Baity Yeah, that was a really cool moment of reflecting on what I learned and what I still needed to learn. So in that there was a conversation. It was just like, hey, what have you learned? What do you think? Do you feel like you've completed what you needed to complete. And at that point, I was like, I just now know what it is that I don't know, and what it is that I want to learn. So it'd be really great to be able to stay on. Another thing about it was, the thing that I'm really interested in at this moment is education. And it's like, it's really difficult to learn how to do education when the young people are not there when we're not in a season. And those were like the things that I was saying, this is what I need this is what wouldn't be helpful. And the project that we were. So in Green Room Collective, we're supposed to work on two projects. One is more like a something that the about face needs, like a archival stuff or something along those lines. And then there's the thing that you choose, and you want to learn more about. And I also was like, if I do, what if I give you what I have right now of the archival project is going to be rushed, it's not going to be great. And if I get more time, then I can do something that is bigger and better. While I'm also learning more of this stuff, so it was the 15 Weeks was just enough to know what I didn't know.
Amanda Delheimer And it sounds like the program has been extended since that revelation happens.
Logan Jones Yeah, exactly. So after that, Megan, Mikael, and I went, went back into it and put our heads together again. And you're like, Did you hear what I heard? I think we all heard the same thing here soon. Sharon need to be with us next year. Right? We need to just figure out a way to fund that all of next fiscal year. So we were that also happened to be when we were wrapping our fiscal year and finalizing the budget for the next year. And we were able to make that pivot at that moment to secure the funding for them to come in for a full full fiscal year with us.
Amanda Delheimer So at this point, you're about halfway through a full year of the two of them being in this kind of program that accurate.
Logan Jones Yeah, I think just over the halfway, so we're halfway point.
Amanda Delheimer So I know that one of the stated goals was to try and bridge This space between the educational world and the work world. And I'm curious if there are other other byproducts that you've discovered, or other things that have come to the surface. I know one of the things that came up in our prep conversation was this idea of how education programs can sometimes be very siloed from the rest of the organization, or other things that you are learning about this program, or the things that it can do.
Kirsten Baity Um, one of the things that I think about, like with the siloing of the education programs is putting interns in like, this very specific box of you have to go here, you have to do this thing. And you have very little power, also very little money. If If money is on the table at all, like that's part of it. And then the other thing is, is that I had been in internship programs before that ran like that. And when you go on your resume, you have to put that you were an intern in this day. And then job sometimes will look at you and be like, Well, you haven't, you don't have enough experience. Most of the time, what I have found in internship programs, where I was a teaching assistant, or I did the job, like the job was there a part of it that was obviously done by whoever was mentoring me. But also like, there were points where I taught that class, I put the lesson plan together, just like the other teaching artists did. And then I went in like lead, lead warmups, I didn't assist that person, like if a person was was out that day I took over. But still, I don't think that the word intern translates to work experience every single time. And it is really helpful to be able like to say, no, no, this is a staff position at this place. This is a fellowship, because for some reason people love when you have a fellowship. I think that that's like, one of the important things about the green room, or the Green Room Collective is that we're not off to the side, we're not like the people who run and get coffee. We have jobs like this is an actual job that we actually get paid for. And our opinions are respected.
Amanda Delheimer Yeah, well, it also sounds like you brought up the point that, like in your own experience, you have been able to both shift your focus and also have multiple photosite, as you've been working as a member of the Green Room Collective, which is kind of in very stark contrast to the point that you just made about there are some places where like, I have a Devo internship where I have a marketing internship or I have an education internship. And I sounds like the program that you are trying to create. Logan allows us to think more expansively about career paths and skill sets, and, and all of that kind of stuff. Is there anything you want to share about that?
Logan Jones Yeah, absolutely. Because who knows, right out of college, or right out of high school, or whatever your education program is, who actually knows what the jobs are? I certainly didn't, I wasn't able to really see, from my perspective, what was available to me. So when I was out there, applying for internships and apprenticeships, of course, I like went with what I thought I knew was possible. And I didn't want to create an environment like that for other people where they felt like they were stuck into that one narrow lane. It's also bringing up for me this idea that the field in general, doesn't necessarily trust folks who have a degree of finished college to enter into the workplace, like so many other fields do, in what could be considered an entry level job. We're not necessarily assuming that college training programs or other educational training programs are getting people ready for arts admin roles. So part of what I'm learning through this is that it's important to give agency to the people who are in those positions to say like, this is exactly what would help me get to the next level. Now that I've seen this, I want to explore that I want to be able to say that I held that title very specifically, because that's going to help me with what I want to do next. And I didn't know that before I came here.
Amanda Delheimer Yeah, so so much of the work in the theater is invisible, right? Like I'm thinking about myself as a young person going to the theater. And what you see is the actors. And for so many folks entering theater acting is the entry point or even folks who end up as stage manager to directors or directors of development or managing directors or sound sound engineers, but all of that is all invisible. It's all behind the scenes. And so part of the work it feels like we can do as a field is being more transparent about the 100 jobs that live Behind the thing that we can really see that's really visible to us KEARSON Is there anything else on your mind in terms of things that you feel like this program is pushing against or bringing to the surface for you, as somebody who is making that transition to the professional field or anything that you'd like to share?
Kirsten Baity Most definitely, one of the things that I found to be really important is, like I talked about having a job title to be able to say, I am the lead facilitator for a fit this year, and be able to say that fully and not assistant and getting over that imposter syndrome and applying for jobs. I also think that Mikael has been really helpful with that as well. So as Megan, and other people that are on staff, but we have check ins every other week, with Mikael, where it's just like, hey, I'm thinking about applying for such and such, but I don't know if I have it, and like looking at the things that we've done and be like, yeah, you definitely can do this. And it's no problem.
And also being reminded that some of the times, the reason why you think that the thing isn't for you or that you're not ready, is because their system in place to make you feel like you're not ready. It's not you, it's something else. And if you were to apply, people would realize that, oh, no, you can do this job without a master's degree, or whatever it is that they're asking for, they might realize that there are people who have that same level of work, that don't necessarily have the thing that they thought that they needed. So that's been one big thing.
And the other thing that I think that Green Room Collective is pushing back against is this system that makes young people are very vulnerable. What I've seen a lot of is one theaters that have huge budgets, then finding these people who are coming out of college, and who are very good at the things they do, and having them work for free doing labor that somebody should definitely be getting paid for that they should have a full on title that they should be able to get medical insurance for. And instead, you're having these people who you know, are already good doing this work for free. And the other part is, sometimes you have a mentor outside of the theater, just like somebody who's just in the art, they're not necessarily attached to any company, and you start working with them all the time, that is the person every time they are directing a show you are in some ways on it, or every time they are a part of something, they kind of take you along for the ride.
And it's great when the person who takes you under their wing is a good person. But also, if that person does something wrong, or if you take off that person, they decide they don't like you anymore, you can be left in the dust and you don't necessarily know where to go, because all of the contacts you have are through them. All of the thing, all the places that you know to work are through them. And it can leave a lot of people vulnerable, especially people who are in the global majority people who are women and trans people and queer people in general, are left especially vulnerable. Because sometimes when we tell our stories, people don't believe us just on principle, or people will assume that it is something else or that we're just too sensitive or whatever the case may be when stuff is in some cases really going wrong. The way GRC pushes back against that is, while I may be working specifically with one person, there is accountability between all of us, like I know that if I, if I'm having a problem, I can go and say to somebody else, hey, I'm having this issue in such and such a such a way. Or even if it's just somebody, somebody gets mad, and they decided they're gonna tell everybody that I work, work ethic is terrible. There are five and six other people who can say, No, it's not. Where did you get that from? I don't know who said that. And that's really important. The fact that there is accountability here. Not that we've ever had to use those sort of accountability systems. It's just really helpful knowing that those things are there.
Amanda Delheimer Yeah, that makes me think about how core the word Collective is in the name of this program, right? Green Room Collective. It's not the green room program. It's not the green room, whatever. But there's something about that kind of collective experience both the collective investment that the about face staff has made in the skills and careers and trajectories of these young people but also that kind of collective safety net that is created both in terms of like I have mentored people Mentoring can take a lot of time and energy, right and so that safety net of being able to also pass that task of mentorship from person to person, or as you're seeing Kiersten the idea of like if something does go wrong, and hopefully it doesn't, right. But if something does go wrong, or even if we're worried that something might go wrong, knowing that there is that safety net to catch can really be a huge stress reliever. So here's my last question for the two of you, which is, like, where do you hope this thing goes? What would you like to see? What is the change that you're hoping this program will create in the world?
Logan Jones I hope more people will start thinking this right. I think for far too long, we've had a system that's really built on highly competitive, low paying low paying jobs to be able to access the arts admin field in general. And I hope that this sort of thinking continues to spread and more companies start to find ways to push against that.
Amanda Delheimer And how about you Kirsten?
Kirsten Baity Yes, ditto to all of what Logan just said. But I also hope that in Green Room Collective specifically, it's able to expand and have more people at once. I was telling share it I was like, Wouldn't it be amazing if there were like, five or six GRC, folks, and they all came together. And then they made another queer theatre company, or there was a group of people who every time they needed like a lighting designer, they knew exactly where to find a queer lighting designer, you know, I hope that it's able to create a bunch of really amazing Queer Theater professionals, because we need we need some more we have we have some, like more, and also creating like a system of support, especially for people who are aging out of the programmable you face. Because it's like turning 25 does not mean you have it all together. But you do lose access to a lot of support. And so I hope it instead of having like this sort of cliff that we currently have in youth program, that it becomes more like a hill and so that you can, instead of falling off, you can just roll down gracefully into the next stage of your life.
Amanda Delheimer I love that I just had this image of all of us, like rolling down a nice grassy knoll. Let's all roll down grassy hills together as we move forward and our work as artists. Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me. Thank you so much for this program. It is super exciting. And as you say, I hope that it inspires all of us to really think about how we can center rest and care and collective work towards supporting each other as we're trying to achieve our goals and dreams. Thanks for having us.
Kirsten Baity Yeah, thanks for having us.
Amanda Delheimer These interviews were produced by 2nd Story, edited by Max Spitz with music by Mariana Green. They are supported by the Polk Brothers Foundation, along with Marcia Festen from Arts Work Fund, and Jon Satrom from studiothread. 2nd Story, About Face Theatre, and Arts Work Fund are all located in the traditional homelands of the Council of The Three Fires. For more information about the organizations featured in this interview, go to 2ndstory.com and AboutFaceTheatre.com. To learn more about the Arts Work Fund and to continue the conversation, we encourage you to join the Arts Work Fund listserv AWF Connect, which can be found along with more grantee stories at artswork.fund. Thank you for listening!More Sharing