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How the arts can benefit business


The Theatreworks training programme connects the private sector with local community. Working with actors and directors can help professionals build confidence and improve communication and leadership skills. It proves time and again that businesses have a lot to gain from supporting and working with the arts.

The private sector is no stranger to supporting the arts. It understands the benefits of engaging audiences for the enrichment of society.

Microsoft co-founder and entrepreneur Paul Allen summed this up nicely:

In my own philanthropy and business endeavours, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities …the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement…

As budgets tighten and shareholder pressures mount, engaging audiences may no longer be enough to justify business sponsorships. There needs to be a closer link to ‘the bottom line’. The arts are being called upon to contribute more tangible benefits to stay on top of the boardroom’s priority list. It’s a tall order, but not an impossible one. Arts organisations like the National Theatre have a lot to teach businesses about creative thinking, innovation and the art of communication.

A person standing and smiling, wearing a dark cardigan

Immersive training with a unique perspective

Penguin Random House has been working with Theatreworks for several years. They initially engaged us to support on their new performance review programme. The first session, with senior leaders, focused on delivering feedback. After the success of this session, we conducted a second focused on having great conversations. We opened this second session up to team members at all levels.

Nicola Halsall, Learning and Development manager from Penguin Random House, said:

The team really enjoyed working in a creative space with people from a different industry. They found the onstage approach offered a unique and valuable perspective. Participants in both sessions noted how the training pushed them outside their comfort zones, while still providing a safe and motivational space for them to put their new skills into practice. Our leadership team appreciated working with a director for whom giving feedback is a huge part of their job. They learned valuable skills.

Theatreworks facilitator, Al Nedjari, is a huge proponent of Theatreworks’ immersive, experiential approach:

“The National Theatre is totally different from a business venue. I’ve found it makes participants more receptive to taking a journey. It gives them a sense that they can reinvent themselves outside the office.”

Theatreworks borrows ideas from rehearsing. It gets people up and experimenting to discover new behaviours. This environment also means that participants get feedback from their peers, giving them a sense of what they are saying or doing looks like from the outside. It’s not just cerebral or theoretical. Theatreworks is all about the doing and experiencing, which is why it works!”

Keeping it relevant

Businesses are often surprised how relevant theatre can be to the corporate world. Theatreworks draws parallels between directing performances and running a business.

Our approach is grounded in theatre. But no matter the focus of the course, our facilitators are skilled in the art of business – many even run their own. Practical business applications run through all our sessions. Our facilitators work closely with clients in advance to ensure the sessions deliver what they need.

Suzy McAllister works in Marketing and Communications at Accenture. She noted:

Some of our team can be a little cynical and not easily impressed when it comes to outside training. Their feedback after taking part in Theatreworks was overwhelmingly positive. They were especially impressed with how the facilitator drew parallels between theatre and business, making the training relevant and applicable to them.

Building effective teams

Cultivating trust is an essential part of any effective team in business, the arts or any other area of life. Working collaboratively through problems is a great way to build rapport. Something Theatreworks has at its core. Team building is a distinct advantage and result of our approach.

Paul Gentle, Programme Director at Advance HE, has built Theatreworks training into their top-level management programme. He is consistently impressed with how our facilitators respond to the needs of each group.

Theatreworks is in tune with the mindset of its participants. The facilitators adapt their language and respond to the needs of their audience each time. The programme also makes a huge impact in the area of emotional intelligence. Something many training offerings shy away from. It engages participants in a courageous way and encourages people to open up. It never disappoints in bringing people together. Participants are still making connections with each other six months after the course has finished.

Delivering value and ‘magic’ to businesses

Kate Beales has been working with us since 1996. When asked why she continues to work with Theatreworks, she said:

Being at the National Theatre, the quality bar is set very high. Theatreworks meets this and delivers. I really enjoy the application of arts to the corporate sector and truly believe in the credibility of arts-based training. Participants always want to know what it’s like to work in the arts. Our training gives them a taste of this – weaving it into the way we teach them valuable skills. I love that ‘ker-ching moment’ when the people I’m training just ‘get it’. It’s magical.

It is that ‘magic’ that keeps clients coming back and signing up for more. Whether they take part in a Theatreworks open course, a course onsite at the National Theatre, or on their own premises. Participants are immersed in a theatrical environment similar to actors in a rehearsal. They are asked to apply various skills and take on immediate feedback.

Enter Theatreworks

So what’s the secret to Theatreworks’ ongoing success? Participants experience a bit of what it’s like to be on stage and learn how they present themselves to others. They develop skills such as voice projection, how to move confidently, and giving and taking feedback.

Theatreworks can be a great employee benefit, or an activity on a team building day. But it’s by no means a ‘jolly’! It is challenging, hard work and very effective. Each workshop is led by reputable actors or directors who encourage participants to ‘dig deep’ and step outside their comfort zones. It applies techniques designed for actors in the rehearsal room to challenge everyone from new recruits to top managers. We sharpen business-critical skills and effectiveness in communication, presentation and negotiation.

Our professional facilitators have worked with team members from more than 200 organisations since Theatreworks was established in 1997. Last year, Theatreworks conducted 149 workshops, training over 2,100 professionals. The income from the programme contributed more than £130,000 to the National Theatre’s Learning programmes. It plays a vital role in inspiring people of all ages to develop new skills and discover the joy of theatre.

If you’re interested in learning more about Theatreworks and what we can do for your business, please get in touch:

Author: Sheila Chawla, Theatreworks Programme Manager

All photographs by Ellie Kurttz.