In September 2012, C. Michael-jon Pease became Park Square Theatre’s second Executive Director after the retirement of his predecessor, Steven Kent Lockwood. Prior to his promotion, Michael-jon had been the theatre’s first Development Director from January 2000 to January 2003 and rejoined Park Square in September 2007 as part of its senior leadership team, becoming its first Director of External Affairs.
Running a theatre is intricately complex, especially with its built-in paradox of requiring both utmost control and the free fall of letting go. It’s tricky to do, requiring the firm-soft touch of a leader who is an idealist that respects the counter pull of practicality to get things done or, one may instead say, a realist that trusts enough in dreams to even consider reaching for the impossible. Michael-jon is able to effectively bring those tensions into balance within himself and, by extension, within the organization. The result has been an organization that has managed to significantly grow in size and vision within the past decade.
“How has C. Michael-jon Pease so effectively led Park Square Theatre?” I wondered. “What made him the unifying leader that he is today?”
The first time I met Michael-jon, he had a hammer in his hand, pitching in to help open the Boss Thrust Stage on time. This willingness to roll up his sleeves and “go into the trenches” comes directly from his own theatre background, which spanned from the time his grandmother enrolled him in a children’s theatre program as a painfully shy boy of eight until he graduated from college with a double major in French and Theatre Arts.
“I learned a great deal about team leadership and communication as an actor during my many years on stage,” he told me. “On stage, you’re all in it together whatever happens. I remember one of my early productions was the musical Tom Sawyer. At the start of the picnic scene, we were supposed to enter in the blackout and the lights would come up on the party in process. During one performance, the lights came up early, before any of us had started to go on stage. After a beat, I grabbed the hands of the kids on either side of me and yelled ‘Hey everybody, it’s time for the picnic!’ and rushed on stage yelling.”
Michael-jon’s upbringing also strongly influenced his leadership style–namely, how he treats others. One cannot miss what he calls his “formal, and in many ways very old fashioned, sense of etiquette,” all learned under his parents’ roof. But his parents were also powerful role models of inclusivity and “champions for the rights of all.”
“My father was a Scout leader and my older brothers were in his troop,” Michael-jon recalled. “When the family was transferred to Illinois from Colorado for papa’s job, there wasn’t a troop in need of a leader, and all the troops were white (this was 1968). He and my brothers started a troop for the African American kids from the other side of town; and to this day, there are families who haven’t forgiven them for ‘bringing those people into our neighborhood.’ Suffice to say, the themes in A Raisin in the Sun really resonated with me.”
When asked to articulate his beliefs and values, Michael-jon replied, “I believe that everyone has a place at the table and that it should be beautifully set to honor everyone at it. I believe in working hard, helping others and pitching in on what needs to get done to move a project forward, whether it’s your job or not. I value quiet, good manners and beauty. I believe in love rather than tolerance; in empathy rather than acceptance. Always a dreamer, I’m still more and more a pragmatist. ‘Good enough’ done on time is often better than perfect and late. That’s where I’m different than my parents – I have left perfectionism behind.”
With his dapper dress and genteel manners, Michael-jon is perfectly cast as the Executive Director, the public face of Park Square Theatre. He could so easily use his rank to set himself apart. But Michael-jon defies typecasting. His is an open door and, I would dare say, an open heart. He stays accessible and engaged throughout the organization. Because we are all in this together.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams
September 1989: Michael-jon earns a BA in French and Theatre Arts from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.
September 1993: Michael-jon earns a MA in Arts Administration from Saint Mary’s University in Winona.
July 1994: Michael-Jon is the founding Executive Director of Cornucopia Arts Center in Lanesboro.
December 1999: Michael-jon is recognized by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council as its Arts Administrator of the Year.
January 2000: Michael-jon leaves the Cornucopia Arts Center to become Park Square Theatre’s first Development Director.
January 2003: Michael-jon leaves Park Square to become the Director of Development for the Des Moines Playhouse.
August 2004: Michael-jon returns to the Cornucopia Arts Center as Executive Director.
December 2004: Park Square Artistic Director Richard Cook recruits Michael-jon to facilitate the 2005 Board retreat.
November 2005: Michael-jon leads the visioning process for a ten-year plan at the Board retreat, the first step toward a Strategic Plan that would evolve into what would ultimately be dubbed “The Next Stage.”
December 2006: Michael-jon returns to facilitate the 2006 Board retreat on the “RE-reimagining of Park Square Theatre.”
September 2007: Michael-jon becomes Park Square’s first Director of External Relations–now a part of the senior leadership team–to oversee development, branding, marketing and public relations.
September 2012: Park Square Executive Director Steven Kent Lockwood retires, and Michael-jon is promoted as the new Executive Director.
October 2014: Park Square’s new Andy Boss Stage opens.