Reaching Out Across the Ages
By André Lavoie
translated by Andrée McNamara Tait
Ulysses, that Greek mythology hero born of the imagination of the poet Homer, was not only a valiant warrior and formidable strategist; he was also concerned about the future of his descendants. That is why, before he left for Troy and still had no idea how long
his perilous Odyssey would last, he entrusted the education of his son, Telemachus, to his loyal friend, Mentor.
“One generation must always pass the torch on to the next, but for this transition to be smooth there must be a period of supportive coaching.”
At a time marked by formidable challenges (aging population, low birth-rate, massive retirements, reduced financial resources, etc.), the theatre scene has not been immune to these upheavals. And, it could undoubtedly be inspired by the many virtues of mentoring, in order to ensure its
continuity while re-energizing its practices. Indeed, many cultural institutions seem to lack a Telemachus and many a Mentor are leaving the scene, taking with them their knowledge and experience, which could greatly benefit their successors.
This is a situation that has attracted the attention of Francine D’Entremont, coordinator of the Canada Council for the Arts’ (CCA) Flying Squad, and a passionate advocate of mentoring. Over the years, like her other colleagues in arts management, she has acquired a vast experience.
And her generation, which has put in so many years of effort, will all retire practically at the same time. Before taking their bow – and this is one of the raison d’êtres of the CCA’s flying squads – some of them have agreed to donate their time, not only
to companies in crisis, but to any and all artists and managers who wish to take on new challenges, develop their audiences, plan the future of their organizations, etc.
Are these inspirational guides actually management professors in disguise, or coaches with an answer to everything? Francine D’Entremont feels that “people cannot seem to agree on a definition,” but when you talk about mentoring, you have to go beyond the clear-cut idea
of simply transmitting information. “We are dealing with the world of ‘knowledge and perception’ rather than the world of ‘know-how and procedures,’” she says.
Whether we are talking about administration or inspiration, the needs are numerous and urgent and will only increase. One generation must always pass the torch on to the next, but for this transition to be smooth there must be a period of supportive coaching. However, the current generation
has acquired a certain amount of wisdom but seems to be lacking apprentices. “It is often artists who manage their companies and they are not trained to fulfill that role,” adds Francine D’Entremont. “Companies cannot afford to hire an
assistant; therefore, they are not training the up-and-coming generation.” Many refuse to call upon specialists of any stripe to address these problems. “Cultural managers,” she says, “are not inclined to seek the expertise of management
consultants. They prefer to learn from someone who knows their sector from the inside. They know that those individuals have travelled the same road, fought the same battles, and faced the same issues. Also, between them, many things do not even need to be explained...”
So, is mentoring the answer to everything? Can it save a company from financial ruin or jumpstart a career? “Not really, but it can help prevent major mistakes,” explains Francine D’Entremont who can point to a number of examples. For instance, she cites the classic case
of a young acting company that creates its first success. Impressarios propose a tour, maybe even engagements abroad: a dream...which can turn into a nightmare. “Knowing how to prepare a budget is not a God-given talent,” she pursues. “Some
don’t even know how to
calculate the cost of a stage rental. Imagine what happens when they have to plan for a foreign tour. In the past, we’ve seen companies leave for Europe with a great hit on their hands and come home practically bankrupt.” Faced with these Telemachuses somewhat abandoned onto
themselves, Mentor has his work cut out for him and retirement is but a distant dream.
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