The Hurdles of Running a Small Company

17 December 2018

As Jessica Lang Dance closes its doors, Ryan Casey at Dance Magazine wrote an article to discuss the financial difficulties that plague leaders of small companies (often women choreographers, we at DDP would like to note).

Describing his own troubles, Casey went on to make the highly poignant remark that transparency is key to alleviating this issue, writing:

It's not that we'd be surprised to hear what our peers are experiencing. I know I'm not the only company director to have funded gigs with my personal savings, spent thousands of dollars on largely unsuccessful APAP showings, received rejections for grant applications that took hours to complete, or lost money on events I produced. But watching ensembles such as Trey McIntyre Project, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and now Jessica Lang Dance announce their final bows in recent years has made it clear that we're all waging similar battles, and they're not going to be won alone.

The reason for JLD's demise isn't even mentioned in the company's official announcement. If we can't be transparent with each other and with the public about the issues we're facing, we're doomed to similar fates—which, as in the case of JLD, ultimately means depriving audiences of innovative, transformative art.

Running a company is a juggling act, and it cannot be tackled alone. We at DDP feel strongly that any resources that can make the load lighter on the artists seeking to create should be provided. Those resources come in the form of transparent contracts, aid negotiating those very contracts, tools to make choreographic competitions and performance opportunities at festivals well-known and application readily-available. The list goes on.

Melanie Doerner, mentioned in DDP’s academic inspiration, is investigating this problem at a deeper level, undertaking a research project that looks beyond funding to deeper questions of sustainable business model for arts organizations, particularly regional theatre and regional ballet. Melanie asserts, “The sustainability of theatre and ballet ultimately lives with the purveyors and practitioners, less it become a museum piece or mere preservation project in select urban centers, rather than the vibrant regional art forms.” Through her investigation of several companies and their business habits, Melanie hopes to highlight the best models that embody successful innovation.

In the coming months, DDP, too, will use its website address the hurdles women in particular must overcome in order to successfully obtain commissions and keep their companies up-and-running. Our team will be highlighting women choreographers and leaders of successful companies (both large and small) to reveal their areas of challenge, success, and inspiration in this tricky and competitive field. Look out for “Meet the Choreographer” and “Meet the Company” posts soon on our website.

Read Casey’s article in Dance Magazine.