Creative Partners: The Unexpected

What happens when you put dance, theater/puppetry and live music on the MCA Stage on the same night? The Unexpected. Thursday, April 25, Lucky Plush Productions, Blair Thomas & Co. and eighth blackbird, aka the arts collective Creative Partners, invite you to witness this innovative, interdisciplinary partnership for the first time. Each group will perform an excerpt of current repertory work with video interludes interspersed telling the tale of how they came together.

Three years in the making, Creative Partners began as Julia Rhoads (artistic director of Lucky Plush) was working with a consultant and learned of a three-theater share. “I was experiencing a little burn out from wearing every hat, which I do and have done for a long time,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t hire higher-level staff without paying a lot of money. I thought there could be a higher-level share.” She sought funding through a few avenues that ultimately didn’t work out, but was certain she was on to something that would work. Working on a grant from Arts Work Fund, Rhoads and a consultant did a year of research on resource-sharing models. When it came to selecting the companies to work with, she felt strongly that they needed to be interdisciplinary. “I felt that the inherent nature of insularity of the fields wouldn’t allow for some of the ancillary benefits, which I was hoping to see, like audience development,” she said. “You’re going to get true growth by putting Lucky Plush in front of a music audience that doesn’t know they like dance.”

Enter eighth blackbird, a Grammy-winning sextet that tours nationally but is looking to build its Chicago presence, and Blair Thomas and Co., a Chicago-based puppetry/theater company Rhoads admires. “Even though we’re all at different places organizationally, there’s a shared value system in the art itself,” Rhoads said. “We’re all interested in creating work that is intellectually engaging, but also broadly accessible.” They quickly realized the help they needed was in development. Working with the Northwestern Entrepreneurship Law Center for a year (pro-bono), they developed the contract and terms of the working relationship, tackling tough questions as they came up like how to structure the partnership financially. “We determined we didn’t want it to be a 501(c)3 because that would require another board of directors,” said Rhoads. “As we grow, if we grow, we may move toward that with more clarity, but for now, we determined we would be a dba of eighth blackbird, because they had systems in place for staff and for health benefits. The money is going through a dba, Creative Partners. We’re trying to divvy it up, so it’s an equal share. To start, it’s a quarter-time share. A quarter-time, the development team will be spent on each individual organization and the remaining quarter will be on the collective. There’s a real possibility there will be individuals and funders that will be excited about the collective narrative, so the financial model is that anything that comes in to Creative Partners is split three ways between the companies. Anything that comes in to an individual company goes to that company. It may very well be that there’s more money out there for music than dance or theater than music. It won’t be an equal share when you look at all the numbers, but whatever Creative Partners gets is very much equal.”

Add in a three-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation and Creative Partners is off to a great, slightly delayed start celebrated by the launch on Thursday. “It’s been super exciting,” said Rhoads. “We’ve already hired our Development Director and an Associate is coming on later this month. We wanted to fully vet it before we did it. It was way more important to cross the T’s and dot the I’s and do the work with the Northwestern Law Center to really make sure all of our boards were completely committed and engaged and behind it. It’s not a small thing. I know it’s the flavor of the day to share, but the fact is, we’re all unique and we’re all trying to figure it out in really thoughtful, intelligent, sustainable ways. It’s been three years in the making. I’m still in shock that it’s happening.”

Creative Partners: The Unexpected at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Thursday, April 25 at 7 pm. Tickets are $40. Buy here. 



Flyspace: A Dance Consortium

Four women: founders, directors, choreographers, administrators and artists. Four women working together to elevate the visibility and grow audiences for their perspective modern dance companies. Four women: Jan Bartoszek, Margi Cole, Michelle Kranicke and Joanna Rosenthal. These four women are launching FLYSPACE, a strategic partnership and consortium, with two weekends of shared performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World share the closed-in, outdoor stage this weekend followed by The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance next weekend.

FLYSPACE has been flying around the media recently, garnering tons of press for its unique approach to sharing resources. A meeting with Arts Work Fund director Marcia Festen between eight local female company leaders sparked the conversation and inspiration for the consortium. The discussion revolved around how to share resources and knowledge to help each other, which in turn would help each individual company. As mid-career, female, acclaimed artists, why are the economics not aligning with your accomplishments? Why are you still struggling? Obviously the economic downturn had a say, but a shift in funder focus to new and emerging artists added to the problem. “There’s a shift that happened, which kind of left us standing in the wind with our pants down,” said co-chair Cole.

Energized by the conversation, but realistic about the challenges, the group eventually shrank to four partners and FLYSPACE really took off. “To everyone’s credit, there was a real commitment,” said Kranicke, also a co-chair. “I think those that opted out did so because they realized they couldn’t give to the partnership the amount of energy that it was suddenly becoming clear it would need. It’s like taking on another job.” The group quickly discovered that technology would be a key factor in their success. “We recognized that our challenge is that we’re a one-man-show, for the most part,” said Cole. “Our audience walks up and buys a ticket. They don’t buy in advance, so it’s really difficult to get information. If we’re lucky enough to have them fill out a survey, who is going to enter all that data? I am. I’ve got grants to write and dances to make, so maybe technology is the way to solve the challenge.”

Cole and Kranicke make it clear that this is not an artistic collaboration, but a consortium with a shared interest. “The intention of the shared show and the launch is to showcase what we do,” said Cole. “We are dance companies. We are all different. Kranicke adds, “Our interests are strictly business. We operate to try to advance and extend our visibility and enhance our marketing, but we maintain our individual aesthetics.” The ladies of FLYSPACE have set goals with hopes of creating a national model for similar artistic entities and look to expand the FLYSPACE group in the future. “It is not an exclusive organization,” Kranicke said. “We are at a point where we’re still developing certain parts of the partnership, so we aren’t looking for new members at this time, but that won’t always be the case.” Cole said, “We want to have a solid structure before we bring more people in. We put an awful lot of time and energy into it and I’d like to see it sustain itself whether I’m sitting at the table or not.” A running joke between the partners is that between them they have over 100 years of arts administrative experience. With that kind of experience beneath them, other companies will look to them as inspiration and perhaps as future partners.

FLYSPACE Dance Series: Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World, Friday-Saturday, April 5-6 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 7 at 5 pm. The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance, Friday-Saturday, April 12-13 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 14 at 5 pm at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $15, visit