Interview by Sarah Shumick
Stacie Boord would win in a game of 2 Truths and A Lie, hands down. The former cheerleader, accomplished chef and opera singer now puts her creative talents to use in a different way as the executive director for Shadowbox Live: the nation’s largest full-time resident ensemble theatre company. As an artist-run nonprofit organization, the staff at Shadowbox Live have put innovation at the forefront, even if it may have sometimes been out of necessity. (Artists took on administrative roles because they couldn’t afford to hire them outright.) And they certainly haven’t been without their challenges: the loss of their founder, venue closings, and a fire, among others. As they say in show business, “The show must go on,” or as Stacie puts it, “Find the purpose, learn, be better, and move on.”
Give us a brief overview of your organization: Stev Guyer and his then partner Rebecca Gentile founded the company in 1988 when Stev had written a rock opera called “Dawn of Infinite Dreams.” Truth be told, the first effort was very flawed, but that laid the groundwork for company to continue creating/revising original work and pushing the artistic boundaries. Shadowbox Live is now the nation’s largest full-time resident ensemble theatre company producing 19 different original works of over 400 performances annually. We use the power of live performance to share our artistic expressions within our community through engaged educational programming, enhanced corporate partnerships and inspired civic givebacks.
How you are innovating in the nonprofit space? Shadowbox Live is an artist-run operation. We initially took on the administrative responsibilities because we couldn’t afford to hire expertise in that area! But as we developed our administrative skills we’ve since discovered that our deep understanding of the business successfully informs our artistic choices. To that end, we produce more original genre-shifting work than anyone in the region and recently were featured in American Theatre Magazine. Our shows use the visceral, honest, and unapologetic energy of rock culture to tell stories in metamedia productions, dance theatre, rockumentaries, rock musicals and sketch comedy & live rock ‘n’ roll shows.
How is your organization making an impact in Columbus? In addition to our artistic contribution to the community, we offer the only STEM-based arts education programs in the nation. Geared towards high school and early college students, our innovative approach goes beyond just performance. STEM Rocks the Box, Summer Rock Arts Bootcamp, and our Artistic American Sign Language course (in collaboration with Columbus State) all have holistic educational goals: they help students build resilience and perseverance, overcome their fear of failure, understand how to receive critical and constructive feedback, and ultimately experience the thrill of performing before a live audience.
Additionally, we donate $250,000 back into the community annually via ticket donations for other non-profit organizations to utilize for their fundraising efforts (raffle, silent auction, door prizes, etc) This not only supports their worthy cause but also serves as an audience development tool. The program was created over a decade ago in my attempt to assist our marketing efforts during the slower summer season and continues to flourish. In 2018, we were able to serve over 600 charitable organizations and non-profit efforts within Central Ohio alone.
What makes your organization thrive? The best innovation comes from partnerships and collaboration. Clearly collaboration between artistic genres and disciplines is at the core of our organization and that makes us thrive artistically. But there’s also the thriving partnerships with our audience, donors, and all our corporate, foundation and community partners. Learning more about their goals and listening to their needs sparks new ideas on how we can provide more meaningful experiences and deliverables. This of course is best exemplified in the thriving partnership between leadership and our staff. Take care of your staff and the staff will take care of the business and the business will take care of you.
As a leader, how do you come up with innovative ideas, and what helps put those ideas into action? We consider Shadowbox Live to be an ongoing, living artistic experiment. As artists we are constantly reviewing and modifying our artistic efforts to maximize the integrity of the work and improve our personal onstage performances. Creating original work requires everyone to embrace the discomfort of the unknown. The same is true for our business efforts. “Why are we doing it this way?” “Does the criteria we used to make this initial decision still remain today?” “Is there a better way?” “Should it go away entirely?”
In an effort to streamline our operations and create a better work/life balance for our staff we recently did an overhaul on our programming and performance schedule. We eliminated the Friday 10:30p and Wednesday 7:30p show as the schedule was too taxing on our staff and we were wasting our marketing efforts on a non-desirable show time. This also allowed time for our creatives to actually “create” and enabled internal vocal, acting and dance workshops to take place routinely as professional development for the staff. This of course was a very calculated risk as we couldn’t afford to ‘lose’ the income of those performances. Our hope and intuition was telling us that our staff would be more refreshed, provide a better show experience for the patrons and that the focused marketing efforts on the remaining performances would provide enough of a financial increase to cover the loss of income. Thankfully it worked!
Give us a snapshot of your career path—what is your background, and what led you to work in the nonprofit sector? I never would have predicted 30 years ago that I would be the Executive Director of the nation’s largest resident ensemble theatre. I graduated cum laude from OSU with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and I have two years of a Bachelor of Music Education and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance. Clearly my training reflects my focused interest in performing and education. But as the organization evolved, I came to truly love arts administration and quickly realized that my creativity was easily applied to business.
What is the one thing you are most passionate about? Education. In addition to having a very robust education program where we teach high school and early college students how to be rock stars on and off stage, we also embrace education within the organization. No matter what training you may have received prior to working at Shadowbox everyone still must learn “our” approach as meta-performers. We have ongoing workshops where we help further our performers skills in all the performing arts. Professional and personal development opportunities are encouraged and are ongoing as new projects are mounted and new territories are explored.
Who inspires you? My colleagues. Everyday I am in awe of their abundant talent on and off stage.
How do you stay motivated? What drives you to take things to the next level? My passion for our mission and my endless curiosity of “what could be.” I LOVE meeting new people, making “friends,” and sharing my genuine joy and enthusiasm for our various projects. Our production F#(K Cancer: The Musical is a great example of that. Our experience with Stev as he fought his fight inspired us to write a show that’s raw, funny, unapologetic and beautifully healing all at the same time. F#(K Cancer: The Musical opened in June 2018, and I’m happy to report that the show is gaining tremendous traction from the theatre industry and Cancer community alike! Someone recently diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer told me, “I’m sitting at the James singing the lyrics to F#(K Cancer: The Musical in my head. It’s getting me through.” THAT’s the power of the arts. And THAT’s the type of thing that drives me to take things to the next level.
What struggles or adversities have you had to overcome to get to where you are today? What HAVEN’T we overcome? We’ve faced so many hardships in our evolution as an organization: Lack of funding, venue closings, artistic mishaps, a devastating fire, loss of our founder, etc. But each of these occurrences gave us strength, provided clarity and led us to opportunities beyond our imagination. When facing difficult situations, find the purpose, learn, be better, and move on. We live and breathe the theater philosophy of “the show must go on” on and off the stage.
Why do you think people should care about innovative nonprofits? Innovative nonprofits can be a real barometer for determining the vitality of a city. Dynamism is an attractive and infectious quality, and it’s critical that organizations that are committed to fostering new ideas and solving problems receive the support of the community they serve. And that support doesn’t always have to come from writing a check!
As a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? No clue! In retrospect, I was an “in the moment” person even when I was younger. I participated in EVERYTHING: sports, student government, choir, musicals, honor roll, etc. I came from a small town and all I knew for certain was by the time I hit high school I wanted to get out, attend to the BIGGEST college possible (OSU), experience everything and achieve something impactful and significant. My choir teacher was the one who encouraged me to pursue a career in the arts. I wasn’t truly convinced that’s what I wanted to do, but I auditioned, had a great experience, was accepted and never looked back.
What might others be surprised to know about you? 1) Before I settled on rock n roll as my art form, I had a very successful collegiate opera career and sang a few seasons with Opera Columbus and Columbus Light Opera. 2) I’m a very accomplished cook. I find the culinary arts incredibly therapeutic, expressive and adventurous. 3) I was a co-captain of a national competitive cheerleading team, cheered in the Hula Bowl, taught camps across the US, and commentated on ESPN.
How can others in the Columbus community get involved with your organization? We have a wonderful volunteer program where they assist us in our preshow operations by ushering people to their tables and helping deliver food and drink from the kitchen/bar. Some offer their time and expertise in other areas of need i.e. costume construction, facility improvements, etc. We have a volunteer application available online and we hold volunteer training sessions year round. Our volunteers are an integral part of our operation!
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? I think that the pulse of the city is strong, but only recently discovered. Columbus has been waiting on this time in its history. We are starting to receive recognition for what Columbus natives have known for decades: this is a cosmopolitan city that embraces growth and change with Midwestern charm and warmth.