Back in early April when I was writing about Robert Porterfield and the Barter Theatre, I mentioned a book I highly recommend: Shannon Hayes’s Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living. I once again bring it to your attention and urge you to read it. Today, I’m going to use another one of the concepts she mentions in the book: the Quality of Life Statement (QOLS).
I’m not a major fan of the development of “mission statements” and “vision statements,” not because they can’t be useful, but because they tend to be written in such broad strokes (often under the guise of being “inclusive”) that they embrace pretty much everything in the whole world. I remember examining the Mission Statements of several major regional theaters in the US, and I was appalled. They were like, “We are committed to doing plays from the past and plays of today; large cast plays, small cast plays, and solo plays; tragedies, drama, and comedies; an we will perform for an audience of anyone who wants to buy a ticket.” Of course, they said this using many more words than that.
When you write a Mission Statement that includes everything, then it serves no purpose. A Mission Statement should create boundaries–a circle that includes some things, and excludes other things. I know, I know–theater people don’t like to be confined; they want to be able to chase every squirrel. But in our culture of niche markets, you need to focus; think of cable TV, not TV in the 1960s with 3 channels.
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about Mission Statements; I’m here to talk about Quality of Life Statements.
Unlike Mission Statements and Vision Statements, which are for the world to see, the Quality of Life Statement is for the members of the company only. A QOLS “will help you choose, envision, and attract what to bring into your life,” Hayes says. It does that by focusing on “our personal wants and needs. That black-and-white statement spells out plainly what you’re after.” And also what you’re not after. QOLS’s allow you to know what to say “no” to.
What makes it different from a Mission Statement is that it is about how you and your partners (and your families and your friends) want to live. Hayes provides an outline of the process, which I will summarize as below:
- “Start with core values. Make sure everyone agrees on them.” For instance, Hayes and her family, who have a farm in rural New York, were not interested in “any kind of business or lifestyle choice if it depletes the soil, pollutes the air, or fouls the water, or if it pushes you toward divorce, estranges you from your kids, or tears apart your community.” Put in positive terms, they wanted their lives to be environmentally-friendly, provide for enough time to support their marriage, spend lots of time with their kids and parents, and that contributed to a stronger sense of community. What are the central values that each member of the company feels strongly about? What kind of plays will you absolutely not do? Do you want your theater to be environmentally friendly and use as few raw materials as possible? Do you want to produce plays that are family friendly? “Make that known. And agreed upon.”
- “List the people that you want to populate your daily life. Who are you and your family members making time for, no matter what? In what ways do you expect to make time for them?” I sincerely believe that, if this question had been discussed long ago, the 6-day/8-performance week of most professional theaters would never have happened. The current theater world is notoriously hostile to families and extremely difficult on relationships. It can be very difficult to just have a life outside the theater. How might your theater support growth and happiness of members’s whole lives, not just their artistic lives?
- “Describe the home and land surrounding you as you want it to be. Full of your kids’ friends? Serene and quiet?…Is everything in place? Or do you accept and welcome chaos?” Again, imagine what your theater is like to be at. And I would say not just for you and the other members, but for your audience as well. When you arrive at the theater, how do you want it to feel? For instance, are kids welcome to hang out at rehearsal, even if they are not quiet like a mouse? Is there a theater cat? When a spectator opens the door, how are they greeted? What about after the show–is there a place for the spectators to gather to have a refreshment and talk about the show? Do the performers join them? If an audience members encounters a company member at the grocery store, how do you want them to talk to each other? How is that embodied by the way you lay out your space?
- “Describe how each of you sitting at the table wants to spend your time.” Visualize your day and your week. Google famously provides one day a week for its employees to work on their own individual projects and ideas. What times of the day do you want to have available for family time? For seeing friends? For spiritual pursuits?
- “What are the essentials that must be in your life in order to enjoy it? Foreign holidays? Mornings off? Daily naps? Camping trips? Home-cooked meals? Dinners out?” Being a theater artist should not involve sacrificing everything that you find pleasurable. That’s the way to create stress and burnout. But also be aware of the word “must” in that first sentence. This isn’t a laundry list of “wouldn’t it be nice” items; it’s about the things that make your life worth living. On the other hand, don’t think you can live like a monk for years on end!
Hayes notes that “everyone sitting around the table doesn’t need to agree on everything. A lot of answers will be unique to each person. That’s fine. But you need to hear one another. You need to know what makes each person…tick, what makes them buzz with joy or feel like life sucks. And then figure out what you can agree on, and what you can agree to disagree on. That’s a good enough start on a QOLS. Tack it up where you can all see it and refer to it and move on.”
Let’s pretend that the people in your company value home-cooked meals and many really love sharing a meal with others that they’re working with. Perhaps you could arrange to cook a couple meals together each week and eat around a large table at the theater. Maybe it would be a pot luck, and once a month audience members were invited to join the company members as well! Do you see how this is different than a Mission Statement? This is about your day-to-days joys and lives!
This is an opportunity to learn who you are working with, and it relies on people being honest about their needs, wants, and desires. It is part of the Planning Process, an important preliminary activity prior to starting The Work.
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