It Turns Out Leadership is Empowering...For Everyone

By Nicholette Routhier

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Last year, I was elected as UpLift’s Ensemble Facilitator. The position was born out of the vision to give everyone in the ensemble an equal voice through voting and ask an individual within the ensemble to facilitate that process. Here is a short summary of my responsibilities:

Ensemble Facilitator facilitates organization, communication, self-care, and the overall well-being of the ensemble via the following:

  • Maintaining online organization systems
  • Moderating business meetings and other ensemble discussions
  • Ensemble mediation if necessary
  • Facilitating decision-making in the most efficient means possible by maintaining a vision for the “big picture,” both in business and creative processes; making final decisions if the ensemble cannot come to one as a whole
  • Constant availability as a resource for ensemble members to address questions and concerns
  • Maintaining constant awareness of self-care, specifically pertaining to nutrition, hydration, rest and injury prevention/care

It looks pretty great on paper. In practice, it was disempowering and impractical.

UpLift creates theatre as an ensemble with each member contributing their own personal perspective, vision, and inspiration to the whole. As both Ensemble Facilitator and a member of the ensemble, it was difficult, and at times impossible, for me to maintain a vision of the “big picture.” Therefore, when I was called upon to make a final decision, “when the ensemble couldn’t come to one as a whole,” my decisions were almost always biased by my personal perspective. In addition, I wasn’t used as a “resource for ensemble members to address questions and concerns.” Instead, those with strong opinions, questions, and concerns kept them to themselves and brought them out during stressful situations, which, as you can imagine, was never effective and became taxing on me as a leader.

If I may be blunt, it was a shit show.

It is a testament to our skills, passion, drive, and commitment as an ensemble that our production of Terra Incognita was so successful last summer. No matter what, we always came together onstage and presented a powerful performance. With that in mind, we turned this year’s focus to finding a better way to run our company.

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Last month, we made some big changes to our ensemble structure and creation process that have already made a powerful impact. We no longer have an Ensemble Facilitator. Instead, we’ve elected an Artistic Director and a Managing Director. For the next two years, Hannah is the Managing Director and Alyssa is the Artistic Director. Hannah has delegated the responsibilities of workshop coordination to Juliana and financial management to me, and Alyssa has delegated the oversight of training and skill development to Juliana. Beginning in 2018, we will alternate the roles of Managing Director and Artistic Director within the ensemble on an annual basis.

The beautiful thing about our new roles is that we are all empowered to make our own decisions and lead in our specific areas of responsibility. I got to see this in practice at our last rehearsal when Juliana arrived with a full rehearsal structure rooted in training and skill development that she formed based on discussions with Alyssa. Juliana took leadership and owned her perspectives on what we needed to train and how to effectively do so. Hannah and I trusted and valued those perspectives and improved because of it. Juliana was also open to our perspectives and feedback, which allowed for an open dialogue throughout the training session. It was such an awesome experience to have with my colleagues. At one point, we were doing an exercise to strengthen our wrists and I couldn’t contain my enormous gratitude for the space we made to allow for this. It was such a joy to see Juliana in her element and experience my growth as a result of it.

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This is happening on all levels of our company now. With Alyssa as the director of our new show, we are free from having to hold the role of the “outside eye” and can apply ourselves fully to performing and devising the content of the show. With Hannah as Managing Director, we can give her the space to establish protocols and policies based on what she feels will most effectively and efficiently move our company forward. Both are open to feedback, but ultimately, we trust in their leadership.  

The unexpected benefit to establishing these roles in our ensemble is that now, we are all empowered. I’m grateful for our resilience and our creative capacity to try a new way of working together, and I look forward to seeing how our company evolves because of it.

Special thanks to Colum Hatchell for editing and Audrey Leclair for photography.