ARTISTIC DIRECTOR | UNICORN THEATRE
Unicorn Theatre (Unicorn) seeks a visionary and energetic Artistic Director to lead the organization to an exciting next chapter with creativity, an expansive approach to inclusion, and a passion for nurturing a welcoming home for artists and patrons. This position reports directly to the Board of Directors and serves as the company’s co-leader, working in close collaboration with the Managing Director. Firmly committed to presenting “Bold New Plays,” Unicorn has forged a strong identity as a home for regional and world premieres of new work by some of the country’s leading writers and newest voices. This work is interpreted and brought to life by Kansas City’s rich and deep pool of local and regional talent. The new Artistic Director will enter an organization eager for ambitious thoughts on the evolution of the company that are grounded in how to deepen Unicorn’s relationship with the Kansas City community while extending its influence throughout the greater theatre field.
For 50 years, Unicorn Theatre has played a vital role in Kansas City and the region. The new Artistic Director will join Unicorn during an exciting period of change and opportunity. The departing Producing Artistic Director Cynthia Levin is stepping down after 45 years, and will leave behind an organization strongly associated with her enormously successful tenure but prepared for fresh ideas from a new leader. Thoughtfully and artfully expanding on this legacy, while realizing a compelling and unique vision for the next chapter, will be a key part of the new Artistic Director’s role. The engaged constituencies that value Unicorn are excited for the possibilities of a new Artistic Director, and are eager to work with someone that brings imagination, entrepreneurialism, and compassion to the work of charting the organization’s future.
Unicorn Theatre enhances the Kansas City community by developing and producing high-quality, thought-provoking plays that have never been seen in the region. It illuminates social issues by shining a light on diversity and inclusive stories which include race, religion and gender identity. Unicorn creates opportunities for the advancement of emerging and established actors, directors, playwrights, designers, technicians and administrative staff.
By producing provocative new plays, Unicorn Theatre fosters the next generation of great American writers and artists, creating innovative and intimate theatrical experiences that transcend the ordinary. It inspires the community to think and feel deeply; to see the world in new and different ways. Unicorn strives to be one of the preeminent homes for new plays in the country.
With a firm commitment to “Bold New Plays,” and a special focus on regional and world premieres by contemporary writers, Unicorn has produced more than 360 plays, including 71 World Premieres, and 52 Pulitzer Prize winners, finalists, and Tony Award winners. The company produces plays that tell diverse stories and represent multiple communities, and it works to elevate voices that have historically been silenced, especially the voices of women, non-white persons, LGBTQ+ persons, gender non-conforming persons, religious and ethnic minorities, and individuals with physical disability or mental illness. A sample of representative productions includes: The Inheritance; Sweat; The Whale; Vietgone; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical; God of Carnage; My Name is Asher Lev; Clybourne Park; The Exonerated; Expiring Minds Want to Know; Angels in America; Wit; Proof; and Bond.
From its two-theatre complex in Kansas City’s Midtown-Westport neighborhood, Unicorn typically presents 6-7 plays and musicals each year in the Levin Stage (a 152-seat thrust proscenium) and the Jerome Stage (a 110-130-seat flexible blackbox). Unicorn owns this space – which also includes administrative, rehearsal, and production spaces – outright without debt.
Unicorn is a founding core member of the National New Play Network, a nationwide cohort of leading theatres committed to supporting groundbreaking new work. Through this important affiliation, Unicorn has participated in the rolling world premieres of several productions of new plays such as Grounded and Refuge. Equally important is Unicorn’s deep service to local Kansas City actors, directors, and designers, who form the core of the theatre’s artistic community. The company operates under an SPT-5 Agreement with Actors’ Equity Association.
Unicorn is currently engaged in its “Fund Our Future” Campaign, intended to raise $1.1 million to support staff and artist compensation increases as well as to fund needed renovations to its building and theatres. These initiatives, collectively, will empower Unicorn Theatre to continue its mission of enriching the community through thought-provoking, socially-relevant, and diverse plays while fostering the next generation of American writers and artists.
COMMITMENT TO ACCESS, ENGAGEMENT, AND ANTI-RACISM
Unicorn prioritizes engaging with a wide range of people and organizations in the Kansas City region. Its popular Pay What U Can (PWUC) program is available for the majority of performances, and more than one-third of single ticket buyers took advantage of the program in the most recent season. Unicorn offers paid apprenticeships for young theatre artists from historically marginalized communities, as well as internships and performance opportunities for students from local universities and other early career theatre professionals from around the world. It also partners with fellow organizations to engage with new communities, raise funds for the partners’ constituents, and provide access to the theatre’s work. Recently, these partners have included the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; AIDS Walk Kansas City; El Centro, an organization that provides educational, social, and economic services for Hispanic families in Kansas City; and First Call, which offers a wide array of resources to those affected by substance use disorder. Unicorn has also prioritized uplifting marginalized voices in the work that it presents, and its commitment to anti-racism and operating practices that seek to break down barriers to inclusion and access is a vital part of its values and an enduring component of how programming is determined.
Unicorn is governed by an eight-member Board of Directors; it has a modest staff of full-time and part-time administrators and artisans, and a yearly budget of approximately $1 million. More information can be found at https://unicorntheatre.org/.
ABOUT KANSAS CITY
The Greater Kansas City Area, embracing adjacent communities in both Missouri and Kansas, is currently just over 2 million in population, having grown by 50% over the past two decades. The 5 largest ethnic groups in Kansas City, MO-KS are White (Non-Hispanic) (70%), Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) (12%), Hispanic (10%), Two+ (Non-Hispanic) (5%), and Asian (Non-Hispanic) (3%).
With a thriving economy and low cost-of-living, the Greater Kansas City Area is enviable among U.S. locales. The rich arts and cultural community includes entities such as the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Ballet, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the American Jazz Museum, and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In addition, there is a vibrant theatre community including Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Kansas City Actors Theatre, Spinning Tree, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Musical Theatre Heritage, Coterie Theatre, and UMKC Department of Theatre. The city and region also offers superb shopping, innumerable restaurants, great music venues, and several professional sports teams.
There is a robust business environment and Kansas City is the home to many corporate headquarters, including Oracle Cerner, H&R Block, Hallmark, Andrews McMeel Universal, Farmland Foods, and Garmin International, among many others. More information on this exciting community can be found at www.visitkc.com.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The next Artistic Director will find at Unicorn a dedicated staff and board that are eager to facilitate a successful transition to a new chapter for the organization. They are joined by Unicorn’s diverse community of artistic collaborators and an adventurous audience base, who collectively consider the company an indispensable resource for Kansas City and the region. The next Artistic Director will have several opportunities to pursue:
- Building on a successful, decades-long track-record and a clear identity in the community and theatre industry for challenging, groundbreaking, and vital new work
- Reinvigorating the Unicorn’s theatres and administrative building – which it owns without any debt – to make them vibrantly accessible to the community and technically up-to-date
- Leveraging the continued growth of Unicorn’s Westport neighborhood, including taking advantage of an expanded streetcar line opening in 2025 that will connect Unicorn to Kansas City’s downtown and University neighborhoods
- An ever-evolving focus on engagement with community groups, educational institutions, and civic organizations
Along with these opportunities, there are challenges the next Artistic Director will need to address, in concert with the Managing Director and Board, including:
- Audiences and ticket revenue have not rebounded following the COVID pandemic, and patron purchasing patterns have shifted to more decision-making closer to performance time
- The need to move the organization forward artistically and forge new paths while honoring the long and successful legacy of the previous leader, who enjoys near-founder status
- Demonstrated need to increase staff and artist compensation and grow institutional capacity including staff size, despite a shrinking fundraising base
- Building new financial resources to secure a strong and resilient future for the company
POSITION AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The Artistic Director will serve in close partnership with the Managing Director to lead the organization, reporting directly to the board. The responsibilities of the position include:
- Responsible for season planning, with input from staff and board
- Oversee artistic producing and program execution, serving as a leader and supporter to the staff and artists as they execute the work
- Lead artistic staff reporting to this position including setting goals, providing professional development opportunities, giving performance evaluations, and coaching on improvements
- Actively foster Unicorn’s articulated commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout all parts of the organization
- Maintain and expand relationships with existing and new donors, unions, artists, and partner organizations
- Develop new programs with focus on revenue generation and audience development
- Shape the public voice and messaging of the theatre in collaboration with the Managing Director and other leaders
- Serve as a dynamic ambassador to community organizations, local artists, and the national theatre industry, and Kansas City’s vibrant arts and culture sector
- Act as a key fundraiser for Unicorn with individual, foundation, corporate, and government supporters
QUALIFICATIONS AND SPECIAL TRAITS
While no one person will necessarily possess all of these qualifications, Unicorn hopes to find candidates with a robust combination of these qualities and skills:
- Extensive experience developing and producing high quality theatre, with a deep understanding of the landscape of contemporary plays and musicals
- Adventurous artistic palette in keeping with Unicorn Theatre’s desire to produce Bold New Plays
- An entrepreneurial spirit, eager to try new approaches to foster sustained vitality and growth for the Unicorn through new relationships, programming, and revenue streams
- Ability to work with a variety of artists, supporters, board, staff, and the general public to extend and evolve Unicorn’s influence as a cultural and civic leader throughout Kansas City
- Experience working productively with a Board of Directors including creation and execution of strategic change
- An inclusive and enthusiastic collaborator, willing to listen to multiple points of view, synthesize input, and make decisions taking into account other points of view
- An authentic and demonstrated commitment to furthering equity, diversity, and inclusion of staff, artists, supporters, audiences, and other community constituents, and of the work produced
- Experience with capital projects, including fundraising, design, and execution
- Appreciation for the Kansas City arts community and a desire to be a key contributor to it
COMPENSATION AND START DATE
The annual salary range for the Artistic Director starts at $90,000 and includes a full benefit package including medical, vision, and dental insurance, AD&D and life insurance, and a simple IRA plan with an up to 3% match. Unicorn plans to make a hiring decision by late spring of 2024 with the chosen candidate starting as soon as possible thereafter. Unicorn Theatre is committed to fostering a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all areas of its operations, therefore we strongly encourage applications from populations underrepresented in the theatre field.
HOW TO APPLY
Thomas Pearson and Jonathan West make up the team from Management Consultants for the Arts leading this important search. To be considered for this position, you must submit pertinent information including name, contact information, and salary requirement and attach a current résumé, a cover letter (no more than 1½ pages describing why this post and organization is attractive to you and what about you and your work makes you a potentially strong contributor as a leader of Unicorn Theatre), and four professional references (name, work relationship, email, phone) using the online application system. Once all materials have been submitted online, the applicant will receive a confirmation of their submission via the email address provided in the application. For clarification on any of this information, please contact Christy Wall at email@example.com.