Teaching the "Art of Business" through Performance Art

When the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN was gearing up to move into its new, Jean Nouvel-designed building earlier this year, the directors realized that the new space afforded greater educational opportunities than ever before.

"Like many theaters, we have a long tradition of educational programs," explains Beth Burns, director of the Guthrie Learning Center at the Guthrie Theater. "As were we preparing to move into our new building, one of the things we kept coming back to was how much cross over there was between theater skills and skills necessary in business. Good performance is good performance."

Rather than just react to the occasional request from the corporate community, Burns and the rest of the theater staff created the "Art of Business" program. The "Art of Business" is a set of performance-art-based educational sessions designed to enable executive participants to be better communicators.

Programming falls into two categories. The first is continuing legal education, which the Guthrie is certified by the state to offer and focuses on ethics-based programs using scripted plays as well as performance-based courtroom skills. The other is performance for the corporate stage, which looks at how people present themselves.

Topics include: "Telling the Whole Truth: Theater Strategy for Attorneys," "Ethics—Edgardo Mine and Issues of Personal Faith," "The Art of Persuasion,” and "Think on the Spot." "It's business skill development in a new and fun way," says Burns.

In addition to established seminars, the Guthrie will develop customized programs. Burns says that she has received numerous calls along the lines of, " 'The Art of Persuasion' sounds really interesting; can you do it for 13 of my general counsel next Wednesday?," which led to the development of customized sessions.

"We will to go a group as well. Even though coming to the Guthrie is really exciting, we absolutely understand that business is business and efficiency might override the excitement of the Guthrie," she continues.

Students have varied widely, according to Burns, who says previous participants have ranged from 125 CPAs to hotel front-line staff—"It's really all over the place." Burns mentioned that the "Art of Business" is particularly well suited for advertising agencies where she says that "account executives creative directors are really recognizing that the skill set they have to create products may be obstructed if the presentation to the client is not spectacular."

Typically seminars are three-hour, one-time workshops, though a few last a full day.

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