Diane Quinn's global domination

Diane QuinnThe new A.R.T. executive director has a powerful goal for the theater.

By Jake Stepansky '17

American Repertory Theater has done well on the “Diane” front these past few years, helmed by artistic director Diane Paulus and bolstered by producer Diane Borger. Now, there’s a new Diane in town – Diane Quinn, formerly a lead executive at Cirque du Soleil and the new A.R.T. executive director. I spoke with Quinn about her background in arts administration, her vision for the future of the A.R.T. and the unique arrangement of her Mondays. An edited version of our conversation follows.

Let's start with your background in the arts.
I’ve been involved in the arts my whole life. I was a theater producer in Toronto, Canada, for a long time; I started three theater companies, one of which is still operational and one of the largest English-speaking theater companies in the country. I was also the executive director of Women in Film and Television (Toronto Chapter), which is a global organization with chapters all over the world. Most Diane Quinnrecently before coming to the ART, I was at Cirque du Soleil. I was there for 11 years almost to the day in a variety of capacities; most recently I was senior vice president of creative and artistic operations – responsible for everything that was on the stage for all of the 19 shows that were going on around the world. Sleep was in short supply then, because everywhere is a different time zone and they operate six-seven days a week. It was nice to get a little sleep after leaving Cirque.

What vision do you have for the ART? What do you hope to accomplish here?
When I first was here for the interview process sometime in August, Diane Borger and I were sitting in the theater and I was telling her about part of the reasons I had come and gone from other jobs. I was telling her about the goal that I had for Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto. One night, we were drinking – as all good theater people do – at a bar as we were starting to get ready to launch this company, and we wrote on a napkin after several drinks “Global Domination.” I mentioned this to Diane Borger because it’s also the goal I have for the A.R.T. – to bring the best and most provocative and riveting and important theater to this stage here in Cambridge and to any stage where we might present our work. And I think it’s totally achievable. That’s the cool part. If it was a pipe dream, I wouldn’t have stated it out loud at Soulpepper, and I wouldn’t have restated it here.

I’ve heard a little about the very cool way you structure your Mondays. Can you tell me more about that?
At Cirque, I really felt there was a disconnect between the frontline staff and the management. I always have a real love for the people who are on the front lines, who are usually not getting paid the most in an organization but who have to deal with a lot of the nonsense; some of the tough questions come their way. As I started to see the disconnect, I thought: There’s got to be a way for me to do something. So I started to put my desk in the hallways on Mondays until I was told by the facility staff one day that I was a fire hazard. I started to ask people all around Cirque if they had space in their office for me on Mondays. I wanted to continue that here for a different reason. Here, I thought it would be the fastest way for me to get to know every body and to understand what people were doing. One of those Mondays, I was in the scene shop, and that was amazing because after I got my little tests I was working on the wet saw. Next time I go, I’m going to do some welding.

What advice do you have for students looking to pursue careers in the arts?
I wouldn’t have a different answer whether somebody was in the arts or in another discipline. Never have a Plan B – because then you’re going to use it. Someone told me that years ago, and I thought: My God, they’re absolutely right. I’ve probably never had a Plan A, to be honest, but I’ve never really had a Plan B. It was a super hard decision to leave Cirque. They have amazing shows, they can secure great talent, money is rarely an issue, the working conditions are very, very good. But it was time to do something that kind of scared me. And this was a good scare. I think that’s very cool, and the older you get you get into a situation where you don’t want to do things that scare you. You don’t maybe want to go downhill skiing as much as you used to because you’re afraid you’re going to break your arm, but you have to keep yourself a bit afraid.