For the past five years, the Board Mentor Program has served those who wish to have a career focused on leadership in the live entertainment industry. It has provided opportunities for board service and networking to one mentee each year. By design, the mentee experiences their first Conference alongside the outgoing board mentee, a chance to network between peers and gain usueful tips for their upcoming term before sitting on the Board.
This year’s participant, Southern Utah University student India McDougle, has her eyes set on a future as an executive director, a goal that is being stimulated by her newly found position as a mentee for USITT’s well-established and diverse Board of Directors. We caught up with the spirited stage manager in March at USITT19, three months before her mentee term began, where she divulged a wealth of information pertaining to future goals, mentors, and her outlook on why boards are a necessity for a smoothly run non-profit. Our conversation went a little something like this…
How did you get involved with USITT and the Board Mentor Program?
I attend Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. The Board Mentor program was started by a group that was led by Bill Byrnes. Bill Byrnes was a Board Member for USITT for a number of years. Since he’s involved in my graduate program, he posted on our current student blog that USITT had a mentorship program for students interested in learning about the Board of Directors. I want to be an Executive Director, and one of the requirements of an Executive Director is to provide guidance for the Board; connect them and be the liason between staff, the Board and patrons.
I didn’t have a lot of experience in Board operations. I was very unfamiliar with the process having just started graduate school. I thought the Board Mentee position was the perfect opportunity to learn. It seemed like exactly what I need in order to be able to begin. I hope to receive advice on how to run a Board and be an effective Executive Director.
Who have been some of your mentors throughout your career?
That’s one of the things we talked about in the Board Mentee interview. I haven’t had a lot of mentors prior to going to graduate school because the importance of having a mentor is not something that was brought up in undergrad or my career. But right now, I really like Kim Scott. I can see her being really influential in what I want to do. We just met recently, on the Board Mentee interview call but we met in person at USITT19. Others would be Donn Jersey at Utah Shakespeare Festival and of course, Michael Barr, who is my direct supervisor at Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Scott Wyatt is, President of Southern Utah University is another. I told him of my interest in Boards and he created a Student Board Governor position at Southern Utah University for which I’m the inaugural member. He’s very hands-on as a President and makes things happen for students.
Why do you think it’s important to have a Board?
You need a governing agent that does not receive any financial benefits. The level of investment and commitment that a Board has in an organization is strictly because they want to see the mission of the organization fulfilled. It’s important to have that aspect.
Being an employee of an institution or a patron, you have other investments. You either are being paid by organization or you’re paying to receive services from the organization. The Board members are removed from that. They are strictly responsible for looking out for the best interests of the organization. You need that perspective so that everything else can stay in alignment.
What’s would you like to learn during this mentorship program?
Board recruitment and management!
One of the most important things is managing relationships with individuals with different perspectives, from different industries, and with different backgrounds. I want to learn how to go about managing all of those personalities and experiences while honing in on what the mission of the organization is. I want to utilize everyone’s skills to be most effective in achieving that mission. Managing group dynamics and understanding is a big deal.
In addition to that, I’d like to understand what makes someone want to be a Board member and how to seek that out and hone in on those types of people. Once I really understand who they are and how they work together, the next step would be, how do you build a Board? What are those skills that you look for in people? Do they have any commonalities? Are there certain characteristics that you should look for when you look for a Board Member?
How do you plan on balancing your career, this position, and school?
One of the questions I’ve asked Board members with whom I’ve had one-on-one conversations with, is how much time they dedicate to being a Board member. It really varies from person to person. However, I did realize the people in Director positions, VP positions, and then all of the Executive Members, the Treasurer, Secretary, President, Past-President — they spend an enormous amount of time.
As of right now my school work takes priority over everything else. I’ll be finished with my program in May and then return in August to defend my thesis. I would say I’m prioritizing my school work. When I begin my mentee position and figure out what my duties are, I’ll start making a schedule. I’m a very well-planned person. I’m a stage manager by profession but I’m not a stage manager with a messy life. I always organize my life. Right now, I don’t have a plan in mind because I don’t know what all of it entails and how much time it will require. But as soon as I find that out, I’ll definitely have a well thought out plan on how to manage it.
What are your impressions of USITT?
USITT is a wonderful organization. I wish I had known about USITT when I was an undergrad, especially as a thatre production major. I was just so surprised that I had never heard about it until I was out of school and meeting with other professionals.
I’ve fallen in love with all of the mentorship opportunities and leadership opportunities that USITT has. I really want to work on getting that information out to people who may not know about it.
In my culture and background, a lot of young people are discouraged from going into technology. I think it’s because we frame it as theatre is a somewhat dated word. It also doesn’t necessarily explain the field. I’ve done more work in festivals and concerts as a stage manager than I actually have done in theater. I think if we open that conversation up to be more inclusive of all the things you can actually do, that would be beneficial.
Like using live entertainment instead of theatre?
Yes, and that’s what USITT does. So you can be in a program anywhere. If you attend just one Conference and see the possibilities, it could completely change your mind about what this industry is and what you can do in it. I want to make that possible for people who may not have the ability to think that expansively because they’ve never seen it.