Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Successful Player

I have never wanted to write about failure. It has been written about so many times before. Intellectually I know, it is the much needed process we go through to find our success. Failure builds our prototypes, which leads to our successful product. Failure helps change us for the better. Right? Lately, there doesn't feel like there is room for failure. With jobs at all time low, the economy a sad mess, and the world's seams ripping apart from all corners, it seems that success is the only player who needs to be in the room.

So who is to say when you have succeeded. Especially in the arts. Especially a non-profit company in the arts? How can success be measured? Is it measured by income growth? Is it measured on notoriety? Or is it feeling satisfied by the individual project, seeing the creative process reach new levels?

Treehouse Company on Tour in Arizona 2005
Right before the big recession, I felt successful. Treehouse Shakers was growing every year by a large percentage, we were rapidly adding board members, touring dates, and company members. We were creating, increasing, and striving for new development. When the recession hit we kept growing, but not in the way we had hoped or projected. Our biggest company change has been that we haven't created a new piece in two years (before the recession we created an original piece every year). It takes a great deal of funding to create a new dance-play, and in the time that we are creating, we have to slow down on development and touring schedules. This is challenging when you want to grow. Of course there are ways around this dilemma. Send out a second company, in which case you need to pay a company manager to help keep everything afloat. This can be doable, but it is costly. And feels extremely costly when you have just been through two years of rough waters watching every dollar, and cutting expenses whenever possible, just to keep on the life jacket.

Success today looks very differently than it did two years ago. Now the idea of success seems that we need to not only increase our board members, our audience members, but also the salaries of the company. Success for us would be to create the new piece with the first company, while letting a second company continue to tour. Success is finding funding in new places, partnering with other non-profits in new ways, collaborating with new creative partners to bring in new ways of making, funding, and audiences.

Mara Post-Show Greeting Students from Brooklyn Kindergarten Society's Tompkins Center 2010
At this point I wake up daily and say, what is it we need to do to to make this company successful. I never use the, "I'm going to fail" mantra. It just isn't my way. Success, I believe will come. The recession will end, people will again feel generous about the arts, and the world will open its door to the importance of kids and the power of the arts. The world's seams, we can only hope, will be mended. After thirteen years, Treehouse Shakers is still striving for our version of success.


  1. Love the blog! Success is truly a state of mind I have found. And you and Emily and Treehouse Shakers, my friend, are an amazing success. When you actually go and DO IT, you can't help but be successful. :)

  2. A good friend and colleague once said to me -- we need to back up and find another way to move forward.

    It feels more relevant now than it did at the time she said it to me (2003). I don't always know what or where that other road is to move forward but I always know where I'm going. I think even if we need to make a few adjustments or layovers, having a clear goal - success and what it means today, tomorrow, next year - will keep us accountable and at least looking for that road that isn't covered in snow or flooded out.

    I beat myself up a lot in my early 20s, feeling like I was a failure b/c so many roads were blocked. It was so bad for my mental health but at the same time I was heading down wrong roads. Or maybe just taking very long detours. I have stopped questioning my place b/c too many times in the last 5 years it has all lead back to the performing arts. When I remember that - and I have a little faith - I trust that I won't fail. Or that the mishaps along the way aren't of epic fail proportions but lessons learned. Things will take time and perseverance (and tears of frustration sometimes) and some reimagining but I trust we are creative spirits and we'll be the leaders.

  3. Great post. Redefining success is definitely one of the challenges of an economic climate like this one. And I think one thing you said that rang a bell - new ways of partnering and collaborating - is an important thing for artists and entrepreneurs to keep in mind. A recession is definitely a time to be creative and find new ways of doing things, and therein lies the opportunity. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Mara!