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  • Suffusing Entrepreneurship Education throughout the Theatre Curriculum
  • Linda Essig (bio)

Entrepreneurship has been a topic of academic inquiry in business schools since at least the 1960s, evolving from how-to courses on starting a small business (Drucker 21). But business schools still consider entrepreneurship to be an emerging—or to be less kind, unrigorous—discipline. Business schools tend not to value entrepreneurship as highly as the more traditional business-school disciplines such as marketing, accountancy, and management when it comes to the ranking of business journals and the tenure reviews such rankings are meant to inform (Kuratko). Perhaps, then, entrepreneurship should not be taught in business schools, but rather within individual disciplines. Engineering schools embraced this intra-disciplinary approach two or more decades ago. Engineering schools develop inventions, and inventors should learn to bring those inventions to market, so engineering schools often teach entrepreneurship. They tend to do so in a way that focuses on the mechanics of entrepreneurship, how to start a business to bring an invention to market. Like inventors in the engineering school, future theatre arts leaders can be educated about entrepreneurship within their theatre curriculum. Theatre artists, be they playwrights, designers, directors, or actors, develop creative products in the form of performances and plays, so they also can be taught—within their disciplines—to bring their creative products to their audiences, and be provided with opportunities to do so while students. Like the "writing across the curriculum" movement of the 1980s, theatre schools can teach theatre entrepreneurship across their curricula. Yet, there are significant challenges.

As new as entrepreneurship is to business schools, "arts entrepreneurship" is a much newer academic discipline, and one even less clearly defined. In this essay, I will offer several definitions of entrepreneurship, look broadly at academic offerings in the field and how they relate to teaching entrepreneurship within the theatre curriculum, discuss the potential for entrepreneurship education in a theatre arts curriculum, and share some current practices in theatre entrepreneurship education.

One reason that entrepreneurship has not yet matured as a discipline is that the very definition of entrepreneurship is a moving target. French economist Jean-Baptiste Say coined the term entrepreneur in his 1803 A Treatise on Political Economy as "the person who takes upon himself the immediate responsibility, risk, and conduct of a concern of industry, whether upon his own or a borrowed capital." In other words, an entrepreneur, according to Say, is someone who starts a business. Say's term was translated into the English version of the text as "adventurer." In Say's time, "adventurer" may have been taken to mean someone who attends to business, or plays the markets, but for our purposes, the modern connotation of the term, even with its "Indiana Jones" mystique, is more fitting. What are theatre artists if not adventurers? Key to our understanding of the term entrepreneur, and adventurer, is the notion of risk. When one undertakes a "venture," one undertakes risk in the hope of gaining reward. For the MBA, that reward is measured via the financial balance sheet, but for the MFA, the reward is often the opportunity to practice one's art.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, which proclaims itself "the foundation of entrepreneurship" and has provided funding to my institution to further entrepreneurship research and education, recognizes the need to define entrepreneurship. It notes in its 2005 "Lessons Learned" white paper that in order to teach entrepreneurship, "[i]t is important to develop a [End Page 117] common definition and understanding of entrepreneurship that is reflective of the school, its goals, and remains true to the nature of entrepreneurship" (Kauffman Foundation 2005). The foundation defines entrepreneurship and related fields as "a set of disciplines interested in the creation, management, and growth of firms in societies" (Kauffman Foundation 2004). The notion of the creation of a "going concern" is popular in the engineering school version of entrepreneurship education. Peter Drucker links entrepreneurship with innovation, writing that "[i]nnovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth" (30). If you substitute "creativity" for "innovation" and "value" for "wealth," Drucker's statement becomes both...


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