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. 



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