CHARLES McFARLAND, founder of Theatre of Commerce, is an award-winning theatre director and producer of over sixty professional productions across Canada, including for the Stratford Festival’s Young Company, and as the Canadian Opera Company’s first COC Ensemble Stage Director. With an M.A. from the University of Cambridge, and moving from arts policy and funding (Canada Council for the Arts) to management certification from the Canadian Advanced Technology Association, Charles has raised millions in capital fundraising, project directed three new performing arts centre facilities over ten years, and has practised as a Certified FocalPoint Executive/ Business Coach for the past four years. His Theatre of Commerce has worked with leaders and teams at clients including Amec Foster Wheeler (now, Wood), Windmill Development Group, Eigenworks, Thorpe Benefits and the Better Business Bureau of Central Ontario.
A Brief Interview:
Who or what inspires you?
Most of all, Shakespeare. Or, should we say, what made Shakespeare “Shakespeare”? I asked the question, why did he emerge (of all his contemporaries, or even his great antecedents or those who came after him) as the greatest writer of the human condition, still performed four hundred years later? And the answer came to me, because he was uniquely connected to his audience, his market, more precisely as one of the very few writers who was indeed a businessman. One of the ‘sharers’ in his theatre company, he produced, wrote, acted, and directed, driving an incredibly successful commercial model. So there’s an interesting connection between what we term ‘artistic excellence’ (at its zenith) and being an unashamedly for-profit enterprise.
What’s your take on ‘business in the arts and the arts in business’?
As I went from leadership in the arts world into the business community I was struck not by their supposed differences but their similarities. Remembering Stephen Covey’s principle of ‘the two creations’, imaginative and practical, I realized that entrepreneurship and corporate leadership are essentially creative endeavours, imagining and bringing into being that which did not previously exist.
I reconnected with The Corporate Theatre after many years and rediscovered that the conversation about the reinvention of the organization, and the inspiration of true leadership – and its implementation in ‘the new now’ of business, is indeed situated in the application of the humanities and performing arts practice in what we call Inspirational Engagement. I have, from my own particular area of experience and craft, brought this philosophy into even sharper focus as theatre craft and production processes applied to business models.
What do your decades of experience as a theatre director bring?
I always say that what a Cambridge English Literature degree gave me was the ability to truly read a play, in all its social, political, and historical contexts. The relationship between the writer, his/ her age and what he/ she have inherited and create in terms of form. What I do as a stage director is work both with writers (what’s the dramatic arc of the script? of each character? what’s their unimagined potential?) and actors (how are we sharing the story with the audience? how does collaboration and co-creation take us beyond our own individual capacities?) and then of course in “project managing” diverse and complex teams in design, production and marketing. You can see that works in parallel to and as a paradigm for discovery, vision, strategy and communication in business and indeed in sales.
What’s in it for business?
This connection between creativity and business goes even further. There’s a lot out there, these days, in the ‘creativity’ space, in terms of research and writing. For instance, I’ve found Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘system’ idea very helpful, that creativity results from the interaction between three things: an ‘individual’ in relation to the ‘domain’ (which is the area of the creative endeavour, whether it be a science, business or art form) and also the ‘field’ of ‘experts’ or gatekeepers who decide what’s admitted to the ‘domain’ and by what measure.
So if we look at creativity and the organization, which is my particular interest, you can see how this works when you develop the purpose, values and principles of the corporation with visionary leaders who empower their teams to go out into the market with inspirational stories. And to feed back into the work what the 'market' has to say of its experience.
Tell me something about you that nobody knows.
The first show I was actually paid to direct – a play the Cambridge Footlights took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – had Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie in the cast. We knew they were stars in the making even then.