It’s about finding like-minded people and being resourceful in connecting – joining committees, boards, organizations and saying ‘yes’ to any opportunity in order to build your community and bring your ideas to life.
Kristen van Ginhoven is the Artistic Director of WAM Theatre, which she co-founded in 2010. Based in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, WAM Theatre is Where Arts and Activism Meet. WAM’s vision is to create opportunity for women and girls through a mission of theatre as philanthropy. In eight years, WAM has produced twelve mainstage productions, provided paid work for more than 200 theatre professionals, and donated more than $41,500 to local and global organizations taking action for women and girls in areas such as girls education, teen pregnancy prevention, sexual trafficking awareness, midwife training, and more. In addition to the main stage productions and special events, WAM Theatre’s activities include a comprehensive educational outreach program and the Fresh Takes Play Reading Series. Kristen is a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and Canadian Actor’s Equity Association, and is a theatre artist for the International Schools Theatre Association. She was a member of the 2013 Lincoln Center Director’s Lab and is a member of the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction at the Stratford Festival of Canada. She has a BA from Dalhousie University, BEd from Queen’s University and an MA from Emerson College, where she received the Presidential Fellowship.
Where did the idea for WAM Theatre come from?
In 2009, I was a Canadian living in the Berkshires of Western MA, with a Master’s Degree but no green card so therefore no ability to work. I was surrounded by culture and yet, as a theatre artist, was unable to work. I felt really low and without opportunity. I then read the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book inspired me to find a way to use what I do in theatre to create opportunity for women and girls. I figured if the incredible women featured in the book could find a way to create opportunity, then surely, I could do the same. Maybe I could even create opportunity for other women in the process. I knew I couldn’t write big checks to the amazing organizations featured in the book, but I did have the skills to put on an entertaining evening in the theatre so maybe I could use that as my philanthropy. Which is exactly what WAM does – we call it double philanthropy. WAM’s unique mission means we donate a portion of the proceeds from our productions to organizations that benefit women and girls. Since 2010, WAM has donated more than $41,500 to 13 nonprofit organizations and provided paid work to more than 475 theatre artists.
I often say that WAM’s early success is because we live in a county and a state that truly values arts and activism. WAM is proud to be a place in Berkshire County Where Arts and Activism Meet. In 2017, we were recognized for our work by being awarded the prestigious Larry Murray Award for Community Outreach and Support by the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association. I am very proud of our mission to create opportunity for women and girls through our vision of art as philanthropy.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I live in the beautiful Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, so often my day starts with a workout by doing an outdoor activity. The Berkshires is full of amazing outdoor adventure, so in the summer I’ll hike, bike or canoe and in the winter, I’ll cross- country ski or downhill ski or simply walk in the snow. This gives me time to think and get my body moving. If I start my day with some thinking and exercising in nature, the rest of my day is always more productive.
I then go into the WAM office, which is in Lenox, MA, a really quaint, cozy town and a lovely place to go to work. I usually have an overarching todo list in my notebook and will star the things I want to get done that day, in order of priority. I aim to do at least three things each day – depending on the length of time each one needs. Some tasks are easy to cross off, some items require more creative or strategic thinking time. I’ll often have a meeting or two with team members, donors, or artists.
Sometimes I’ll have lunch or dinner meetings and luckily, the Berkshires is full of amazing restaurants, so there’s never a lack of choice, whether it’s the yummy kale and goat cheese salad at the hip Haven cafe in Lenox or a delicious burger at Rouge in West Stockbridge.
If necessary, I’ll complete my starred todo items in the evening after dinner. I was a freelance artist for a long time before starting WAM Theatre so it is instilled in me that I am my own boss. I have to be the one that ensures stuff gets done.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s about finding like-minded people and being resourceful in connecting – joining committees, boards, organizations and saying ‘yes’ to any opportunity in order to build your community and bring your ideas to life. I focus on perseverance, consistency, and building authentic relationships. Success in making ideas come to life isn’t about when things are going good – it’s about what I do when things aren’t going well. Resilience. Persistence. Connection. One foot in front of the other. And be super-clear on why I am doing what I am doing.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Abundance. Recently philanthropic advisor Alyssa Wright wrote a Forbes.com article where she said the following about me, WAM, and abundance which sums this up perfectly:
“A few years ago, van Ginhoven decided it was now or never to grow WAM into the organization she knew it could become. With a shift in how she viewed resources and a powerful connection to a grander vision, van Ginhoven began to fearlessly ask for what her mission needed to succeed. She and her team started to generate a dynamic movement throughout WAM’s entire community. Their energy was so magnetic that funders began to gravitate to WAM’s work with barely any solicitation. This included a moment in early 2016 when a significant sized anonymous check arrived. Van Ginhoven recalls the moment, ‘I was crying and my hands were trembling. It was so unbelievable. I knew it was a testament to the good work we were doing. I’ll never forget standing in the hallway, looking down at that big check.’ Embracing an abundance mindset means that, like van Ginhoven, you believe THERE is enough and YOU are enough. It means that you will walk into rooms and ASK for what you need, believing that there are resources there that can flow to your enterprise’s mission.”
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m insatiably curious about people. I always have a zillion questions about people when I meet them. I want to know who they are, what makes them tick, what their feelings are about things. I can do small talk well, but I prefer meaningful conversations about feelings, hopes and dreams, challenges and failures. Connection with people in that authentic way serves my work as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The same advice I give my current self: take good care of yourself, trust it will all work out, play the long game while living mindfully in the now, find a way to believe in your goals even when they seem super out of reach, and try to be happy. When the negative stuff hits, find ways to remember the blessings. As Maria Sirois, a Berkshire based psychologist who works in the field of positive psychology and who I admire greatly, says, “No matter what happens, there’s always a greatest moment in every day.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
People work best when they set their own hours. Some people thrive by having a 9-5 routine. Some people thrive by working only when inspiration hits. Some people, like me, thrive by being in control of their own time. Some are morning people, some work best late at night. Some like to have a different schedule every day. Everyone has their own best way to work. If companies can think outside the box and figure out when their employees do their best work and how that can dovetail with getting stuff done together at the company, then, great things happen.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be authentic, build authentic relationships, and do what you say you are going to do. I arrived in the Berkshires and didn’t know a soul. I knew that people had to get to know me and vice versa. I had to build connections and relationships. I had to build a reputation. I knew that would take time. And I knew they had to be authentic. Slowly and steadily, we have happily built what we now call our WAMily, a wonderful, supportive community of people who love and support our mission and are proud to be part of our work. I am also the kind of person who, if I say something out loud, that means I have to do it. And that makes an impression. Follow-through. Too often people say they will do something but they never follow-through. So, build authentic relationships and if you say you are going to do something, do it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
As I build WAM Theatre, I continually work to be clear on why I am doing what I’m doing, how my actions fit with my overall life goals and the goal of the company to create opportunity for women and girls. The team and I always make very detailed plans for everything, from strategic plans for the future of the company to plans for each theatre production or annual appeal. We make the plan, then break it down and then break it down more – tasks, timeline, who will do what, when – and then we make it as detailed as possible. We often write it out as bullet points on large yellow post-it note paper and stick it up on the office walls so we can see it. Then – and this is the hard part – stick to the plan.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Starting a business is all-consuming. It was for me at least. In the first few years I had a really hard time finding balance with my personal life and building the company which ultimately affected my mental health and family life. It felt like the company consumed me 24/7. I am not someone who has a strong ability to ‘turn off’ at the end of the work day so I’ve had to work really hard to find balance in both my personal and professional work. It’s a constant challenge and has required putting effort into learning how to live mindfully and schedule quality time for myself and with my family.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone should build an old age home that also has a nursery in it with a theatre thrown in for good measure. WIth all the people working their way to 65+, we will need more old age homes. With all the families struggling to work and raise a family, we need more affordable day care. If we could combine the two, maybe there’s a way to make older people’s last years more fun and help families deal with the work/life balance. And selfishly, I’d love a theatre to be in there so that I could run a theatre that I knew had a built in audience!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I created a care package for a friend who is going through a hard time. She has been an incredible and generous friend to me through challenging times, so being able to give back to her felt really great.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Does Google Calendar count? I couldn’t live without it! I also love Wunderlist, which helps me and the WAM Team keep organized with our ToDo’s.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Half the Sky, of course! It was on the NY Times bestseller list for a long time and it’s the book that inspired me to found WAM Theatre. It’s not often a book inspires people to action, but this book has energized people all over the world to take action for women and girls. The stories in the book are so inspiring. Storytelling is always the quickest way to my heart and this book tells those stories brilliantly. Highly recommend it.
What is your favorite quote?
I have two:
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Theodore Roosevelt
Happiness is having the time and space to wonder. Lauren Gunderson, playwright, from the play Emilie, La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight.
- Make a detailed plan and stick to it. Long term and short term. In the day to day, create a todo list for the day and, to stay on track with the larger plan, ensure those todo’s get done.
- Be curious. Ask questions. Be authentic in your curiosity. Be interested in people. Those authentic connections pay off in so many ways – both personally and professionally.
- Start your day with some self-care and exercise. it helps you be more productive for the rest of your day, and helps you balance your personal and professional life.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.