In my first year of building and leading TITAN Teaterskole (The International Theatre Academy Norway), my first conservatory to found, we invited legendary avant-garde theatrical director and Artistic Director of Mabou Mines, Lee Bruer, to serve as a guest artist.
Lee Bruer has lead a remarkable career and theatrical company and has the unique distinction of having run the longest running avant-garde theatre company in American history. Mr. Bruer’s resume is of the kind that theatrical directors and aspiring people of vision long to have. Bruer has directed on and off Broadway, has toured throughout the better part of the world and has won most awards directors want to win. He is amazing and is one of my favorite theatrical visionaries. It was an honor and privilege to have him speak with our students.
During that time period, I asked him how his company has survived for so long. His response, I will never forget. “We are the ever expanding and shrinking company”. He went on to explain how when times are tough, Mabou Mines shrinks to a size that can weather lack of funding or a poor economy. When times are good and resources available, they expand. One such production, “The Gospel of Colonus” had a huge gospel chorus of around 80 people, a remarkable feat by any measure.
Ever expanding and ever shrinking. This, to me, translates that they key to success and longevity is adaptability or a willingness to change, when necessary.
The military has a saying: “No plan survives first contact”. This means that regardless of how well you plan, once you engage your opponent, things change and you must adapt, lest being overcome.
A rigid stick is easy to break. One that is supple and can be bent can withstand force and breakage.
At Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, we teach artists how to consistently overcome obstacles presented before them. When engaging in any sort of ambitious endeavor, one is guaranteed to encounter pushback. Nothing of value in life comes for free. Everything has a cost. Helping students not only intellectualize this concept, but experience it, leads to a rewarding result. When students experience something personally, they own it. This is why ACPA places such an enormous focus on Experiential Learning. When students only hear about a phenomenon or intellectualize it (coming from the lecturer at the podium), it is only a concept in the mind (in other words, not experienced and, consequently, not fully and deeply understood). Only experience can afford a true depth of learning and consequential ownership of ideas.
Flexibility. Adaptation. Willingness to Change. These are the keys to perseverance, survival and sustainability.
Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, The International Theatre Academy Norway (TITAN Teaterskole), The Hart Technique and Sleeping Hero Productions, LLC.