For the love of the theatre

They fight really well.

At least that's what Jack Grinhaus, artistic director at Theatre Northwest, said about his working relationship with general manager Marnie Hamagami and about how they make it work as they strive to ensure the Prince George professional theatre company thrives.

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"It's the same in any great relationship," Grinhaus said. "We don't take it personally - when it's a business decision - whether it be the artistic business or the administrative business, which are the two sides of the coin here - we both respect that in each person's department they have that final say. One of us might say 'I feel strongly about this thing' but it's your world and you make that decision.'"

Grinhaus said that was the way it was between him and Hamagami even before the working relationship saw Hamagami take on the GM role, when she sat on the Theatre Northwest board.

"I knew then I could just be honest," Grinhaus said, who has been with Theatre Northwest for the last five years.

And when it comes to differing opinions, it's worked out.

"We both say 'you know what? I don't necessarily agree with this' and the other says 'great, thank you for your feedback' and..."

"I'm doing it anyway," Hamagami finished Grinhaus's statement with a laugh.

Other times Grinhaus said one of them will think about it and call the other up the next day and admit the other one was right in the first place and carry on.

"That's what really works," Grinhaus said. "We have worked together for three or four years and we haven't had a fight - like a fight fight."

Even if one of them has to walk away, it's not out of frustration but rather to think about what was discussed, Grinhaus said.

Even if they don't agree completely, they always come together when they need to report to their board of directors, as Theatre Northwest is a non-profit society.

Hamagami, who has been general manager for the last two-and-a-half years, wanted to emphasize one thing.

"To be clear, our fighting is the exception - I shouldn't even say 'our fighting', when we disagree - it's the exception," she said. "Ninety-nine per cent of the time we're lockstep and another thing I think is really important for Jack and I and the way that we operate is that publicly we have each other's back. It's only when we're making decisions and we're in the process of working out our business that we can disagree about things."

Grinhaus thinks it's a good thing they can disagree because he certainly doesn't want to work with someone who is always doing what he says, he added.

"We have very complementary skill sets," Hamagami said. "There's no overlap - we don't have two artistic directors here, which makes it a lot easier for both of us."

And that means between the two of them they cover all the bases, Grinhaus added.

"Like in any good relationship the key is communication," Hamagami said. "We communicate often, we communicate easily and when we do disagree it's both professional and respectful of each other."

As with many non-profits, the organization offers many tasks under one job title.

"This is a two-person operation that really is a six-person job," Grinhaus said. "We're each doing many jobs. I think what we both know is that we both give everything we have."

Hamagami said when she was first hired, she and Grinhaus spent time defining the two roles as Theatre Northwest's artistic director and general manager.

What makes TNW unique is that it is the only professional theatre company for about 700 kilometres, Grinhaus said.

"When you're one of the top cultural institutions in the vicinity, and I say 'one of' because there are different aspects, there's a responsibility there," Grinhaus said. "There's a responsibility to community. There's a responsibility to 15 to 100 people you're feeding, depending on how the year is going. That's a big responsibility and you need to have trust there."

Grinhaus said Hamagami brought a trust-based system into the building.

"We don't micromanage," Grinhaus said. "We hire people we believe can do the job. We don't want to be looking over people's shoulders."

The business has an ebb and flow to it, Grinhaus explained.

"Some weeks you can come in three, four, five hours a day, some weeks you can come in for 10, 12 or 14 hours and it's still not enough to get it all done," he said.

Grinhaus said they've figured out when the busiest times happen, but surprises pop up all the time.

"But we know the ebb and flow and that's when we can best help each other," Grinhaus said. "For example, Marnie's most difficult period is late August to early December."

For Grinhaus it's February, March and April.

"That's when I'm building the season, writing the big grants, when I'm starting casting and sometimes directing, so that's great too, because hers is more fall and mine is more spring, so then we can help each other," Grinhaus said.

There are three keys for Hamagami. OK, there's definitely four.

"Communication, communication, communication, and a sense of humour," Hamagami laughed.

As a preventive measure and getting in front of the #metoo movement that continues to be part of the entertainment headlines in 2018, Hamagami and Grinhaus developed some policies around intimate choreography that are now being used on a national level.

Inovations like that make Theatre Northwest a continued success.

"When I first got here I had to focus on both the art and the administration side and they both suffered," Grinhaus said. "Now I can focus and the art has raised itself in the last few years."

Grinhaus credits Hamagami with the outstanding ticket sales TNW has enjoyed recently.

"It only works because Marnie sees to it that word gets out and while I'm making sure the art on stage is at its highest level."

-- Theatre Northwest's next production of its 25th season is The Occupation of Heather Rose, which runs Feb. 7 to 24.

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