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A Letter from Merri Brewer

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What does a professional non-profit theatre’s managing director do, you ask? (Honestly, NO ONE ever asks…) It’s a loaded question that has a long-ish answer. Let’s start with the job description I received upon starting my employment here at Theatre Three:

  • Responsible for the operation of the facility and the staff.
  • Supervises Customer Service Manager, Marketing Manager, Bookkeeping and Facilities Manager, Development contractor, IT contractor
  • Maintain and manage a thriving theatre which follows its mission.
  • With Artistic Director: grow the theatre’s contribution to Dallas; budget; provide input into the schedule for productions; approve the theatre’s public communications; fund raise; represent the theatre to the community; design special programming and other mission-related activities; provide input into the repertoire;
  • Hire, manage and support well qualified administrative staff and contractors, either as direct reports or through their supervisors;
  • Establish, monitor and meet annual budgets for operations and productions;
  •  Negotiate, write, monitor and enforce contracts including those with Actors’ Equity, the Quadrangle, and insurance companies;
  • Fundraise, including the annual campaign and other campaigns, grant applications to corporations, foundations, and government agencies;
  • Maintain relationships with donors, and; maintain donor records and acknowledgements;
  • Maintain accurate bookkeeping; monitor and control cash flow report; prepare budgets, projections and reports including those specified by the board; sign contracts and checks;
  • Provide complete and timely reports to the Board of Directors at each meeting, providing requested reports either personally or by other staff;
  • Represent the theatre to the broader to community, including all arts organizations, arts education entities, governmental bodies and others

I think my peers in the industry would agree that the job requires the juggling of many chainsaws, wearing several (often clashing) hats, and a no-job-is-too-big-or-too-small attitude. Not one day in this biz is ever the same as the previous.  Sometimes, and this is not reductive, it seems my job is more about toilets and air conditioning than it is about producing theatre.

When I accepted the opportunity to join Theatre Three’s management team exactly three years and ten months ago (September ’15), I had several goals. Among those, two of the greatest challenges were to guide the organization through the devastating loss of the theatre’s beloved Jac Alder and assist a search committee in selecting an Artistic Director to lead the theatre into the future.  I was merely an acquaintance of Jeffrey Schmidt upon his hire and count him as a dear friend and colleague now, and forever more.  He’s the real deal, y’all, and Dallas is lucky to have him.

But let’s take a moment to jump back to one of the bullet points above. See the word bookkeeping (you’ll actually find it listed twice)? That’s quite a tough task in an industry that provides an unspeakable amount of value, yet frequently costs more that it can possibly earn. Nobody joins our unique field to get rich, unless they’ve found some way for artistic success to pay their bills. But call me if you’ve figured that out.

You may have noticed that, in the past few years, the annual season selections on our stages have reduced from 12 titles in 2017-18 (including the Theatre Too season) to 8 titles in 2018-19 and just 5 (plus one co-pro) in our upcoming 2019-20 season. As we’ve continued to “illuminate the human experience with exemplary, intimate theatre by nurturing authors, artists and audiences,” we’ve been faced with the truth of what being a fiscally responsible organization truly means. In other words, we’ve been reconsidering the business side of show business.

And in doing that, we’ve accepted the reality that certain changes must be made for our theatre to thrive and survive. As a result, we (me, the staff, and the Board of Directors) have made the difficult decision to end my full-time employment with T3 at the end of our current season. With my personal recommendation and the support of both Jeffrey and the T3 board of directors, the Managing Director title will no longer exist in this building. During the months of July and August (once The Armor Plays close and before Dracula opens), the theatre offices will also briefly be on furlough, with greatly reduced hours for the staff.

Effective September 1st, the talented T3 leadership team will consist of the following:

  • Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt
  • NEW Associate Artistic Director Christie Vela
  • Executive Director Charlie Beavers (a newly crafted position!)
  • Company Manager Sarah Barnes
  • Technical Director Jon Leitch
  • Production Manager TBD  Check out the job posting, as the brilliant Lauren Volz will be moving to the Dallas Opera with our fond wishes for success
  • Plus, our wonderful front-of-house and patron services team, led by Box Office Manager Wes Farnsworth and House Manager Angelica Rollins

 

And I won’t be going too far. I am thrilled to remain a part of the T3 family as a Management Consultant and am honored to continue supporting this group of theatre makers.

Our marketing team (who insisted I write this announcement), asked the Theatre Three family to share a few words about this transition, and these kind words moved me more than I can share:

 

The next time you see Merri give her a big, long hug. She says she hates hugs, but sometimes you don’t know what’s good for you. She did a monumental amount of work in a short time in a thankless job and against all odds. Her talents, skills and empathy knows no bounds. Theater is impermanent. I won’t dwell on her absence, but I will cherish the time we worked together.

-Jeffrey Schmidt, Artistic Director

Merri is the embodiment of the theatrical spirit:  smart, collaborative, empathetic, strategic, and tough. She leads by example, and seems to never want for ideas or determination. I enjoy working with her because she clearly outlines her expectations and needs, which I truly appreciate.”

-Sid Curtis, Board of Directors

“After we lost Jac, as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Theatre Three, the first thing I wanted to do was find a steady hand to manage the business of the Theatre.  We were so fortunate to find Merri.  Not only was she that steady hand, but she has been a tireless champion of the Theatre and an invaluable partner to the Board of Directors, deftly navigating us all through the challenging waters of running a post-founder arts organization.  And Merri has not only been a great friend to Theatre Three, but she has also been a great friend to me, always willing to provide advice or just listen whenever I needed her to.  Merri is a true arts leader, and I have been blessed to get to work with her.”

-Scott T. Williams, Board of Directors

If you know me outside of my role as Managing Director, you know I’m a certified teacher of the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique, a busy broadcast actor, and an active improvisational actor and teacher. In the spirit of improv…

Yes, I am departing the managing director role, and I look forward to continuing to be a champion of T3 and the DFW theatre community.

Yes, I will miss the day-to-day chaos of an incredible live theatre venue, and I look forward to new onstage and on camera opportunities.  I’m excited to see what new prospects present themselves.
Yes, I am honored to have been a part of the best staff in the world (I hired all of them), and I have every confidence in the world that they will carry on wonderfully.

This letter is not a press release, and I don’t anticipate there being one. This is a heartfelt thank you note to anyone and everyone who has supported me and our theatre and our journey. I look forward to seeing YOU at the theatre!

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3 Comments

  1. Merri Brewer, what a terrific story. Yes, those who fulfil operations responsibilities are often looked on with a certain dismissive attitude. Oh yes, we can do that. A piffle.

    I know the work that you do and am proud of you and what you have done and are about to do.

    Let me know if Coach Carl can be of assistance. Love to lend an ear.

    Best, Carl

  2. My goodness, so much has been accomplished under Merri’s watch not only in the front office, with the Board but the simple act of organization of the back of the house and great much needed updates. Such a great staff that I am sure will soldier on successfully. As previous Board member watching this beloved theater for 5 decades the enormous body of work is quite remarkable. The reality of how much it cost to run a theater requires much more than production cost which varies, but this is a business, though non profit
    This is a prudent move forward and so smart keeping Merri on as a Consultant. With the tools of technology, this approach is manageable. This also gives Merri a platform to spread her talented wings to allow her to fly to new heights.
    Wishing all well.

  3. Woman. Big old flashback phrase, but Righteous! And Brava! And also, thank you. Let’s hang. 😄👍🏻