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Focus on leadership: Rachael Whitworth

Apr 24, 2015

In January, Rachael Whitworth attended the 2015 International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress in New York, as a recipient of the ISPA Australia Council Legacy Program. We asked Rachael to tell us more about her ISPA experience and to give us her thoughts on leadership.

Currently a Producer with Performing Lines WA, Rachael has a background in dance, having trained at Victorian College of Arts before moving to Perth to perform with the West Australian Ballet and later Buzz Dance Theatre. She has performed and collaborated with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, and whilst on tour completed a Graduate Diploma in Arts and Entertainment Management from Deakin University. Through her role at Performing Lines, Rachael helps theatre and dance artists to create, present and tour work. “Working as a producer really brings together all my experiences: performance, artistic, creation and management.”

You’re currently participating in the ISPA Legacy Program. What are some of the experiences you’ve had so far?

I have been to two ISPA congresses and each time went to New York a week early to see as much performance as I could.  It is a fantastic opportunity to get an understanding of the kind of performance being made in the US and around the world and what is resonating with different audiences.  This informs my work as a producer and gives me a sense of the bigger picture when working with Australian artists.

Being a part of the ISPA Legacy Program has been a great opportunity to forge relationships with international colleagues who are at a similar point in their careers.  Many producers/presenters/curators are working in areas of the world where simply living is a challenge, let alone producing art.  This has given me insight into what great conditions we have in Australia for creating work.  I am hoping that some of the connections I have made will lead to long term relationships that will help keep me connected to international work and opportunities.  Certainly I have found synergies with a number of producers and presenters and it has also highlighted that challenges in our industry are often the same worldwide.

Have any of these experiences had an impact on your current role)?

Having the opportunity to attend ISPA three times is a game changer.  There is so much on offer in New York in January that you are only finding your way and meeting lots of new people in the first year.  From many of the panels and key notes I have attended, I have learnt that those producers and presenters who are working on international collaborations and tours are those that have developed relationships over the long term.  This is particularly important for me living in Perthwhere we are so isolated from most of the world!  I am encouraged to pursue opportunities that build relationships outside Australia as a way to enrich the work being made right here in my home state.

Already I have met a few presenters who will be able to give me a deeper understanding of particular areas I am working in.  I have realised that you don’t need to meet lots and lots of people.  Rather, you need one or two key connections who can directly introduce you to the people you really need to speak to.

What do you think is the most important trait a cultural leader should have?

An easy communication style and ability to listen and find out more.  This is particularly important when travelling internationally and constantly meeting new people.  Everyone you speak to has something to offer, even if they are not working in your particular area.  Whether this be a new way of thinking about an ordinary way of life, a creative solution to a practical problem or they may just be a catalyst to introducing you to a colleague who you can work directly with

What advice would you give your past self about leading others?

Don’t feel like you have to know all the answers.  Sometimes when I am leading a team I feel that solutions are concrete and I should know what they are.  But in reality, everyone is different and will have their own unique way of collaborating, leading a group or solving an issue.  In the end, you have to feel comfortable with your decisions and how you respect and communicate with others.  And don’t stress too much if things don’t go exactly as planned.  We work in a creative industry and management should be creative too, with an ability to take risks and sometimes not quite make it out the other side as you had anticipated…

How does the Australian arts sector differ (if at all) from other countries?

Being at ISPA has given me a clear understanding of how lucky we are to be funded to create and present art.  Our artists are able to access funding during the creative process and this doesn’t happen in many countries.  We also have access to amazing rehearsal and performance facilities.

What’s next?

After being at ISPA, I have a new energy for working on projects that really have something to say; a strong, clear point of view and creative vision.  Observing different case studies and performances from around the world reminds me that projects that truly resonate with an audience are the ones that can transcend a normal understanding of a subject which is important to a community.  Sometimes, I wonder if we lose sight of this in Australia getting bogged down in the reality of getting bums on seats and proving the worth of Arts in relation to other national industries.  I have seen artists from other countries really take some risks with the work they are making whilst ensuring absolute rigour.  I hope we can continue to strive to do this to encourage audiences to come on an adventure with us.

ISPA Australia Council for the Arts Legacy Program provided support for five early or mid-career leaders from Australia’s performing arts community to attend three annual congresses and access ISPA’s international network of arts professionals.  

For more information on  ISPA