I first met Stacy Waring, the recently appointed Executive Director of Operations at The Lark, while consulting with the world-famous Apollo Theater. I consistently was impressed with her commitment to her work as the Director of Theater Operations, as well as her professionalism and high standards of performance.
I knew Stacy would have a long and successful career, and she proved me right! Stacy has stage managed productions both nationally and internationally, working with a host of talented artists. In addition to her work at the Apollo, she served as Production Manager for the touring leg of the Central Park “Summerstage” Festival, responsible for overseeing more than 100 outdoor concerts and performances in parks throughout New York City.
Stacy first joined The Lark to stage manage the BareBones Workshop of Katori Hall’s award-winning play The Mountaintop. The Lark is renowned for its efforts to amplify the voices of playwrights by providing resources to develop their work, including funding, space, collaboration and professional connections.
Stacy and I reconnected when she became the Director of Operations at The Lark, responsible for the organization’s fiscal operations, and I was consulting with them on significant Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) work. When I learned of her promotion to the position of Executive Director of Operations, I reached out to Stacy on behalf of the readers of Arts & Culture Connections, to ask her to share her thoughts about being a woman of color executive decision maker, and what steps she is taking to usher the The Lark towards greater sustainability in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic and movements for racial and social justice.
Donna Walker-Kuhne: How did you happen to pursue a career in Arts Administration?
Stacy Waring: I got my start in theatre as a prop assistant at National Black Theatre (NBT) in the early ‘90’s. I had no intention of pursuing a career in theatre at that point. I had just come home from college and my aunt took me to see “Legacy: Memories of the Gospel Song” at NBT. I had never experienced black theatre before, and the show was about the journey of African-Americans from when they were taken from Africa to modern day.
I remember that the play struck me so deeply and the late NBT founder, director and playwright Dr. Barbara Ann Teer was like a Black Goddess to me. I was so enriched by that theatre family; the late Tunde Samuels, who was NBT’s producer at the time, nurtured my growth. Tunde would find your gift and challenge you to hone it. I had volunteered to manage the props for one of their shows and Tunde noticed how detailed and thorough I was. Before I knew it, I was Assistant Stage Manager and then Production Stage Manager (PSM). Eventually, he nudged me out of the nest and encouraged me to fly, and I soared for 25 years. I am blessed to have seen the world as a PSM and I will always be grateful for those beginnings. NBT wasn’t just a theatre; they were about transforming how we African American’s saw ourselves.
Donna: What was your reaction when you learned that you were being promoted to Executive Director of Operations?
Stacy: I must admit I was excited and afraid; both at once. I was humbled and intrigued by the idea of leading the organization with such a tremendous legacy. Legacy, to me, is a huge deal! So, I had lots of chatter going on in my head about all of that.
Donna: You received the promotion just as the arts community nationwide was shutting down due to COVID-19. What have been some of the challenges leading an arts organization as a woman of color and also as a leader during this time?
Stacy: I was announced as ED a week before the lockdown. It was such a difficult entry because we were facing existential uncertainties, along with the rest of the industry. There was no rule book and, every day, I felt like I was failing in some way. It was and is a difficult time for any leader navigating through this crisis and we are still only at the beginning. There is a long, unknown road ahead.
Donna: What steps are you taking now to keep your team moving forward?
Stacy: Our team is a tight-knit group, so we have been supporting one another through this period. Because we are transitioning, it has required an incredible amount of flexibility from our staff and at times things got really tough. We have had to downsize due to COVID-19. But I think the entire company sees the need for our organization to sustain during this period. We are all focused on making sure we are a better organization for our artists. Keeping that in the forefront is how we stay centered in what we are all here for.
Donna: Are you currently doing virtual work with the playwrights in your program?
Stacy: We decided to put on hiatus all of this season’s public-facing programs and global programs. We actually are lucky to be able to do this because we are a developmental organization, rather than a producing one. We do have a production program called BareBones, which is free to the public, but it’s purely for developmental purposes. That is on hold as well.
Donna: The Lark previously has been engaged in Equity, Diversity & Inclusion work. As the new ED, what does that look like going forward?
Stacy: The global focus on anti-racism has made it possible for me to connect with staff, board and donors in ways I couldn’t have six months ago. Being able to have the conversations we are having in our organization with the kind of clarity and vulnerability that is evolving is powerful, rigorous, and healing. We also have an awesome team of folks who are fiercely committed to anti-racism. Our staff has been on this path for a few years and they are my compass.
Donna: What are your priorities in this area?
Stacy: We have prioritized the creation of anti-racism practices and policies throughout our organization. Our board has prioritized the recruitment of more BIPOC artists and philanthropists for the board so that it reflects the community we serve. This will involve education and analysis-building capacities on the part of the board, which is all a part of the recruitment process.
My vision also includes being able to restore our staff team to integrity and bring back our Apprentice Program, which trains arts administrators, so that we can continue to groom the next generation of arts leaders who are instilled with antiracist values.
Donna: How will you measure success in your role?
Stacy: Our artist community will be able to say, without a doubt, that The Lark is an antiracist organization. We would be able to expand our portfolio of fellowships to ensure that each community we serve has one they can apply for and the amounts would increase year over year. This would indicate a shift in the values that foundations are making in recognition of the importance of giving BIPOCs a voice. There also will be an uptick in the numbers of our playwrights who go on to have full careers in theatre, film and television. This would be a field-proven indicator that the industry is shifting.
Donna: What do you need to be successful?
Stacy: We need an anti-racist board that reflects the community we serve. This means our Trustees understand and respect the needs of our staff; the nuances of our communities, and the Trustees’ actions and decisions reflect their belief in the need for investment in their wholeness and expansion.
Donna: Have you been able to discuss what “re-opening” will look like for your organization and, if so, what is the timeline?
Stacy: Our space and building are COVID-compliant and our staff is in the office on a rotating business twice a week. We will see how things go this fall with COVID-19 before inviting playwrights back into the space. Spring may offer opportunities to bring certain programs back into the space, but right now we have no plans to bring artists into our space this season.
Donna: Do you have any words of advice for aspiring leaders of color in the arts?
Stacy: Yes. Be true to yourselves; trust you heart and do whatever it takes to honor it. No one has to validate what you feel is right for you, or you feel is the right thing to do.
Donna: Thank you, Stacy.
I hope the readers of Arts & Culture Connections will join me in saluting Stacy Waring, a Champion of the Arts, who is leading a major arts organization in this new era forged by COVID-19 and movements for racial and social justice. It’s important for all of us to provide ongoing support for newly appointed leadership and for leaders of color, it is critical. This addresses the issue of mentorship as well, which is needed to ensure the path to success. I am happy Stacy is receiving that support on multiple levels.
Changing the leadership landscape is part of this new era in the arts forged by COVID-19 and the movements for racial and social justice. As always, I would like to hear what you’re thinking—what do you believe should be the priorities of arts administrators during this time? Please share your thoughts below.