Meggan: Maybe setting norms is something you and I can continue to do, like: This is the way we’re going to give feedback, or This is the way I’m going to ask for help. Our relationship has been particularly organic since I’ve started. I’ve appreciated that you offer a healthy balance—“I’m not going to offer feedback unless it’s solicited, but I’m also paying attention and will alert you if there’s information that I think you might not have.”
A healthy transition, and a joyful transition, can also be about outgoing leadership and incoming leadership having a healthy relationship. I can’t even imagine what kind of anxiety you must have in terms of handing over something you founded. But I also don’t think anybody should hold an executive director’s spot for a really long time. Just for self care.
Nothing we do is easy. And the more committed we are to honoring our values, the harder it gets. Because ethics require us to make time for the dialogue, make time to have dinner together, make time to come to terms with what didn’t work, and make time to plan it better for next time. For all of us at TONYC, we have made the agreement that the whole self does not mean the perfect self, and sometimes the most needed part of the work day will be dancing it out to Lizzo. I am so grateful to be in an environment that puts such high value in being human, and, just as we do in our forum plays, each day has opportunities for intervention, chances to do things in a different way.
It’s a truly bizarre sensation to be at work and have a moment where we are all laughing so hard, and suddenly I’ll get a burst of a “cop in the head”—I’m suddenly afraid I’ll get in trouble for having such a great time, only to realize that I’m the one who gets to decide that. Being in charge is super weird—I admit, I actually miss having a boss sometimes. But then I remember I do have a boss, lots of them. Every actor in our troupes, every member of the staff, and, of course, the board. They are all part of the decision-making here. But that’s only because of the precedents you helped set, and because our mission is so clear.
Even with the joy of this job, being in it makes me wonder how many people don’t have that in their work. It has made me almost horrified to understand just how much power executive directors have to impact other people’s lives. It’s such an unthinkable amount of responsibility, it really makes me think maybe there shouldn’t be any executive directors anymore. Imagine if we could get foundations to pay real endowments so we didn’t have to fundraise anymore, or just make the government pay for the arts and social services, if we paid more taxes.
We have made the agreement that the whole self does not mean the perfect self, and sometimes the most needed part of the work day will be dancing it out to Lizzo.
Katy: If we paid taxes, that would be great.
Meggan: Ha, right. And really, why is it so normal that the person responsible for the budget gets to decide how everything about an organization functions? It’s so much to hold, and making money should never be the reason you do or don’t do a thing.
Katy: And yet here you are, in this job. Knowing what you know now, what do you tell people when they ask how you are doing during this transition?
Meggan: I talk a lot about how the best surprise I had coming into this job was discovering just how much people love this organization. We get to pay people to act in the plays they create about their lived experience. We get to be wildly explicit about race, gender, class, sexuality, and the many, many systems that oppress people every day. Best of all, we get to dream together. Every day I get to talk about how to keep making our work better, keep moving issues forward, and amplify the work of our partners.
I really love the way training is built into our model. And I love that our systems are constantly evaluated and fine-tuned. I’ve been doing Theatre of the Oppressed work for as long as I’ve known about social justice theatre—reading the book is quite literally where my journey on this path began. And while I have been so excited about all the techniques and ideas I bring our troupes, I have been humbled and deeply inspired to learn so much about facilitation and the methodology from our joker team. The narrative about the transition has been about me transitioning into executive director after the founder left, but I have to say, in this case, what has become clear to me is that this is more people-led than anything else.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but when I left New York in 2008 to move to Colombia, I left because the organization I wanted to work for didn’t exist in New York yet. So far as I knew, it didn’t exist anywhere. I moved to South America because my instincts told me it would open a path for me. I wasn’t sure what the path would be, but I was certain a major change in my environment would lead me somewhere. At that very same time you were heading to Brazil to work with Augusto, which ultimately led to the founding of TONYC. I like thinking about us both on our journeys at the same time, not really knowing where they were going to go, but knowing we had to go out into the world to make something happen.