Honest Planning Isn’t A Game

One of the common elements between the non-profit arts world and the gaming industry are the long, dehumanizing hours for little to no pay. There is actually a web comic dedicated to satirizing the work conditions at gaming companies. It allows people to submit their horror stories. Incredible as it may seem, if the stories are true, working in the gaming industry might actually be more dehumanizing and exploitative.

There is one post that sounds hauntingly familiar as it recounts comments from friends and family along the lines of “you are doing what you love, how can it be work?”

Makes me think the arts need a web comic/war story board to gather around.

Last month we had a video gaming conference in our theater. One of the speakers was talking about the stages of putting a game together from pre-production through testing and release.

What he said was, if you did your planning right and maintained discipline so that you didn’t get sidetracked trying to integrate some new cool technology or idea someone had, you wouldn’t end up doing a lot of 60-80 hour weeks of crunch time.

He said it was important not to allow your or your team to put in too many 16+ hour days because when it came to planning out your next project, you would forget/ignore the true cost in time the project would require. Yes, you were able to complete that stage in four weeks last time, but it involved your team working 80 hours a week during those four weeks.

And guess what, the new project will require everyone to work 80 hour weeks for a month as well. By trying to adhere to a reasonable schedule, you will inevitably recognize that you really need 6 weeks to complete that stage (not 8 weeks because your team will likely be more effective well rested than exhausting themselves every day.)

I often hear theater staff talk about the fact that renters often underestimate the amount of work their event will require because everything appears to occur so effortlessly and simply. But the truth is, a lot of theater staff don’t really acknowledge the true effort either because they push themselves over long hours to get a project done or people are pulled in from other departments to lend a hand.

Often this results from the gradual push to do more with less as the organization tries to maintain the same level of service as their funding gets cut.

Just as often, if not more often, this practice has been part of the organizational culture from the beginning. Everyone happily worked the long hours or stepped in to lend a hand on that first show and no effort was ever made to evaluate the planning process to create a schedule that was more conducive to good physical and mental health.

Then either the number of projects increased or new people joined in who weren’t part of the original core group and they start feeling a little resentful about the work load.

Those who have been around longer start complaining about the work ethic of youngsters these days, never really noticing that the founding culture might have been fine at the time, but it really wasn’t a sustainable planning and working model.

There is a lot of talk about work-life balance these days. The solution you may came up with is to allow people more time off. What you might really need to do is pause for a second and think about whether the assumptions you are bringing to your timeline planning is flawed.

If giving one person more time off means you are shifting more responsibility to someone else, that can be great in the short term if it is helping someone develop new skills. However, if in their enthusiasm over being trusted with new responsibilities they start working longer hours, it just hides the problems with the planning process until they get burnt out or the person who replaces them complains.

A good, hard, honest look at the true cost of time and resources being expended in order to fulfill annual or project plans may be required if you are going to effectively provide a good work-life balance to everyone.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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