posted on Oct 19 2019
Matt Dorter, here! I'm the Executive Director of mainstages. As we gear up for our 10th year in business (!), I have been reflecting on where we've been and the lessons we've learned. Remember how Jerry Maguire wrote his manifesto in that movie? (I can’t remember what the movie's called but that's beside the point.) He talked about how his industry could function in an ideal world. A world where values and culture matter more than dollars and cents. As mainstages evolved, I spent some time thinking about our successes and challenges and how what I’ve learned could propel us into the future. I want to share the 10 most important lessons that I’ve learned in the past 10 years, as we grew mainstages from an inspiration to a full-fledged business:
I learned early on that having people to collaborate with was going to be an integral part of the process. We’ve had literally hundreds of amazing staff and collaborators who made mainstages what it is today. Collaboration is key. Without multiple viewpoints and insights, a business can only go so far. Watching the business become bigger than me has been the most rewarding venture.
It took about eight years for me to realize that the services that mainstages provides are not necessarily going to align with every organization. The success of our services relies on a mutual relationship of respect and understanding with our clients. As such, we’ve brought on clients who truly care about our mission and have been able to deepen our relationships over the years.
Work with children requires a large amount of flexibility. As a professional entertainment company, our clients rely on us to provide a positive experience, regardless of the circumstances. I’ve come to realize that our job titles include “creative problem solving” and improvisation. These skills don't only apply to the stage, but in business as well.
This rule applies to business as well as improv. When we started we were simply providing staffing and costumes for summer camps and have now evolved to offer full-scale performances and programs across the nation (including Canada!) The idea is that we continue to say yes and offer new services to help us expand and meet the needs of our clients.
At a certain point, you realize that spreadsheets and post-its are not a way to manage a growing business. Changing our mindset to think systematically has helped us develop new and unique systems that help us reach a larger audience, more efficiently.
The one piece of advice I give to anyone starting a small business is to work on a mission statement. At mainstages, our 4 core values of community, confidence, creativity, and character always drive our programming and business decisions. When I find myself mired in a difficult decision, I always go back to our mission statement.
Having non-profit work experience prior to starting mainstages, I had preconceived (negative) notions about the effectiveness of meetings. As a creative company, we committed ourselves early on to make meetings efficient. By respecting start and end times, preparing agendas in advance and considering different meeting techniques, we leverage effective, collaborative meetings to boost productivity.
For anyone that’s come across mainstages over the past 10 years, they know that good communication is a key focus in our business. We are looking to create the Google of children’s theater. To do that, we try to consider all the questions, all the challenges, and all the logistics in advance of anything we do. Then we communicate accordingly. If there’s a piece of software that helps in communication, we use it!
When we choose subject matter to focus on in our programs and performances, we choose to embrace difficult topics and tackle subject matter that is complex. This allows us to speak to the needs of the communities in which we serve.
I’ve been lucky enough to create a profession based on my lifelong passions. With that has come freedom and creative independence, but also immense stress and anxiety. One lesson that has been difficult to learn is how to set boundaries. I’ve had to work hard to think of productivity in terms of effective time management, rather than hours on the clock. By fostering a strong team and leaning on them for support, I’ve been able to find a positive work-life balance.
I'm sure in another 10 years I'll have 10 more lessons, but I hope this was enjoyable and you learned something, too.
posted on Oct 19 2019
Matt is a seasoned camp and theater professional with over 20 years staff experience at both day and resident camps. Matt graduated New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Theater and Applied Education and served as Company Manager of the New Acting Company in New York City.
Matt has toured with the National Theater for Children and has written, directed, and produced over 150 shows for children. Matt is a consultant on theatrical services for summer camps and is a presenter for the American Camp Association on theatrical best practices.
Matt is proud to be a founding member of the mainstages team and is passionate about the goal of using creativity to inspire social action and strengthen theatrical arts in the youth movement.