Who Got the Gig? Barbara George
In October Christchurch’s Court Theatre welcomed Barbara George, their new chief executive, to the team. Barbara has hit the ground running since starting and is enjoying getting to know the people who make the Court Theatre tick. I was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Barbara about her new role and to check out the rustic charms of the Court Theatre’s temporary home (an old grain shed) in Addington. She tells me that she has been settling in really well. “I find it incredibly heartening to realise what a fantastic team we have. There is extraordinary talent within the Court Theatre... I've been incredibly encouraged by the artistic excellence — and I use those words intentionally — we have people with high amounts of energy, passion, and commitment for what they do.”
Talking and planning
As chief executive, Barbara’s days are filled with conversation and managing relationships. She explains, “I talk with my team about the things that are coming up, planning how we can thrive, and ways we can do more for our audience. When I'm in the building pretty much my entire day is talking. I do try to get time out of the building because that's when I write and meet with people that are external to the Court Theatre. I have an inside life and an outside life.”
Find a mentor, it’s invaluable
Barbara has had an extensive career within the arts and has been in six different chief executive roles. Most recently she was chief executive at the Western Institute of Technology, and before that she was the chief executive of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. She says, “with each new position comes a lot of learning, a lot of reflection, and a lot of thinking about how I can do it differently this time around.” She is yet to tire of taking up chief executive roles and is excited for her future with the Court Theatre. For those wanting to follow in Barbara’s footsteps and forge a career in arts management, she suggests finding someone who can be your mentor and provide valuable advice. “I think that quite a lot of luck is involved — being in the right place at the right time. However, most importantly it’s being able to find mentors for yourself, people that can help you and will give you advice.” Barbara also insists that education is paramount: “My musical training gave me an empathy for performance and a love of art forms. My Master of Business Administration gave me all sorts of organisational, management and leadership theory and experience. I now have the ability to read, to analyse, and consider what needs to happen — that long term thinking and future focus is really important.”
Cultivate the skills you already have
While it may seem as though Barbara has always had a clear idea of what she wanted to do, she assures me that this wasn’t the case. “I didn't know about any of this when I was in high school. I grew up in a provincial city and went to a catholic girls’ school where there weren't a lot of options for young women. Well, I'm sure there were, but we didn't know what those options were. A lot of my friends went to teacher’s college and a lot went into nursing. I didn't want to be a teacher or a nurse — so I didn't know what I wanted to do.” Even though Barbara wasn’t sure what career path she wanted to follow, she still learned a lot of valuable skills during this time that help her with her job today, often in unexpected ways. “I learnt to type at school and I can type more than 100 words a minute — I use that pretty much every day. Sometimes when you look back you might think, ‘gee I wish I had done x or y.’ But I think everyone can make the most of what they have got. Learning shorthand typing at school helps me in my current role. Who would have thought?”
Nothing wrong with (musical) mischief
During her time in the arts and through working with various orchestras, Barbara has a long list of favourite pieces of music that continue to inspire and move her. Spartacus’ Adagio is one of those pieces – notably it was the theme song for a 1970s TV show called The Onedin Line. “The sailing ships and the bow of the boat crashing through the waves absolutely fits with Spartacus’ Adagio. I've always loved it. I would try and programme it into whatever orchestra I was with. Invariably it would be the piece of music that would stand out like a sore thumb and the music director would say, 'I love the programme but why is Spartacus’ Adagio in there?' I made it my mission to make sure was programmed at least once in every orchestra I managed. It became a running gag. After it was programmed and played, I would say, 'now my work is done!’”
Barbara tells me there are some great productions on at the Court Theatre at the moment and a lot of exciting things are coming in the New Year. She encourages everyone to go and see something. Currently showing, in time for the holiday season, are Jesus Christ Superstar and A Christmas Carol. The Court Theatre employs 60 permanent staff as well as hundreds of artists who create 19 productions each year.
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