Recovery via Belvoir, the ACO & At The Movies

I think I’m slowly starting to improve in spirit and mind after the unexpected death of my brother Murray in early May. For a while it was all surreal, unsettling and confusing. I could not really concentrate on much at all. I could not read or even watch movies. One night I left a live concert at the Enmore Theatre (see image left) in a complete state of confused anxiety.

The support from my friends and family has been amazing and really helpful in aiding my own recovery. I’m now beginning to see some things more clearly again, but I find my emotions are still in over-drive.

So, I think I’ll try and post something each day on this blog as part of my recovery and in line with the #blogeverydayofjune hashtag on Twitter. Maybe someone will notice whether the posts become more or less coherent over the month. This first post is probably going to be a bit of a mess but I did warn you that my emotions are still in over-drive. Mind the step . . .

I saw The Power of Yes by Company B at Belvoir St Theatre on Friday night and really enjoyed it. I tweeted after it that it was “Brilliant, funny, but sadly all too true” and I stand by that comment. Maybe it is the lapsed economist in me? I also saw the ACO’s Romantic Symphony concert that mixed music by Schubert, Brahms and Johnny Greenwood (the lead guitarist from Radiohead) on Saturday night. There was a lot of energy apparent on both stages. What both Company B and the ACO do is really challenging because they must keep their products or output fresh and entertaining and up to the demands of very critical audiences with high expectations of satisfaction. Maybe they are measured by paying bums on seats, but I think the performers also know themselves when they are doing self-satisfying and fulfilling work.

I don’t think the kind of management theory that emanates from Harvard Business School that, along with a culture of sheer greed, gambling and competition, has almost destroyed the finance industry can be applied neatly to rescue or to keep afloat libraries and other cultural institutions. This is especially the case given the kind of second rate management “experts” (who didn’t make it to the finance industry) who tend to regard it so highly in such institutions. We don’t simply have clients and stakeholders and we don’t need to worry about bottom lines and shareholder returns in exactly the the same way as a merchant bank does. Our outputs are different and we should be able to focus on more specific qualitative indicators that are much harder to measure.

Obviously, just focusing on ticks in corporate governance boxes (designed by finance managers) does not work either. We are services providers, but not in the same way as a retail store or a call centre. What we do is less tangible, but not less important. I think we have more to learn from successful artists and maybe from the Artistic Directors and General Managers of successful arts organisations like the ACO than we do from sundry second rate management consultants, accountants or auditors. That lot should not be steering our course.

On a happier note, On Sunday afternoon I caught up with At The Movies on ABC TV. I’ve been a fan for years, even though I don’t always agree with David’s or Margaret’s ratings. David was reporting from the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and I really liked what the actor Melanie Thierry had to say about her Director Bertrand Tavernier (not to the bishop!) in the film The Princess of Montpensier. I think it is what we have been trying to do at UTS and what distinguishes us from many other workplaces. (Maybe I’m just a bit silly about this kind of thing in my present state, but it is how I like to work when I’m happier.)

Bertrand’s directing consists mostly in the confidence and freedom he gave us. He never imposes anything. He hates marks on the ground. He just can’t stand them. He’s so cheerful when he’s shooting, so happy. His obsession is that energy flows, that every moment, every second is fresh. He communicates so well. He is so positive, so cheerful. He jumps around all day long, getting excited about every scene, rubbing his hands and muttering, “This is fantastic! I love my actors! I’m crazy about them.” And just that gives you so much confidence that you’ll do anything. And that’s an important aspect of directing.

What a fantastic way to direct.


  1. Penny

    I concur – fantastic way to direct. Love the idea of the positive energy that would come from that sort of leadership.

  2. pk

    Hi Mal. I have been there and I know nothing id ever the same for anyone but, if you can write, writing helps. Only up to a point, and the point is very sharply defined, as you know, but it is only a point. Then you go on. Good luck.

  3. Kim

    It's all about trust. Trusting your actors to do what they do best. I think it is true of the people you work with too if the trust is there :o)

  4. CW

    1. Trust is so important, and so hard to build. On both sides.2. The more I work with/manage people, the more I'm convinced management is an art, not a science.3. Good to hear from you. Be good to yourself.

  5. restructuregirl

    I think it's a little more than trust. It's about looking for the positive. About expecting the fantastic everyday. I lost that recently, whilst still trusting all my staff. I'm going to try and build it up again. As you say – it's about the way i like to work when I'm happy.

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