A Eulogy, a Foil, and a Rebuke: To Whom, in Which Order, and Why?

By Alves, Fernando M. Pereira | Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry, March 2009 | Go to article overview

A Eulogy, a Foil, and a Rebuke: To Whom, in Which Order, and Why?


Alves, Fernando M. Pereira, Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry


The author wants to thank S. Parker and S. Meisiek for their useful comments. Had the time granted been longer, the integration of their comments would have been ever larger. If some mistakes still persist, the author asks forgiveness, because none of them has been committed intentionally.

Meisiek and Barry's (2007) "Through the looking glass of Organization Theater" article deserves a eulogy.51 Published in the Organizational Studies (OS), this article produced an "analogically mediated inquiry in organizations." In other words, it analyzed the impact of theater, whenever it happened inside organizations. For their work, theatrically speaking, I applaud both authors and say: "Go up and take a curtain call." Naturally, thunderous applauses also came from most Aacorners52-and-OS subscribing readers. Bluntly, I had wanted to be the first to praise.

Even so, I praise them now for their defense of theater, as a managerial tool. For my warm note, let me use the theatrical appreciation signs of contentment, common on reporting such events: most Aacorn people whistled, stamped their feet, and clapped their hands. To make this allegory even more radiant, let me state: applauses toppled the shaky Aacorn-and-OS Theater. To use the ultimate theatrical compliment, let me shout: this theatrical article brought down the Aacornand-OS House.

Had I alone a critique to make, however, it would be the following: this article brought down the house, but it did not raise the roof. To be sure, the paper stops short of presenting, as a foil, the various and vicarious53 theatrical experiments that some Aacorners had tried, for the best part of six years, at the annual conferences of the Academy of Management (AOM). Though a collective work, a few amateur writers and actors (Boje, Ferris, Hansen, Taylor, just to mention a few), all Management and Organization professors who met at the Fringe Café, tried to make theater accepted by the relatively "boring" Academy of Management. Among the participants, boring was a commonly heard adjective. To this little group, theater could be a catalyst or a change agent, by bringing in joy and pleasure.

Poulson, the head figure, usually applied camel case to write AcademyArts", though Bartunek's (2007) preferred "Academy Arts." Suggested in 1995, born in 2000, a few AOM professors used to present art, poetry, theater, paintings, photography, performances, in that "village square." Bartunek described several "learnings" from the experience. In what ways, could have this experience implications for others, interested in the implementation of novel ideas? To her, there were six: (1) how an initial idea evolved over time; (2) how excitement became real; (3) how participants became "too attached" to the idea; (4) how ideas needed appropriate structures to develop; (5) how the original impetus for an idea could eventually be forgotten; and (6) how an innovation might be assessed based on different criteria from the original purpose. Differently from Bartunek' article, I am more interested to cover terra incognita.

Despite their good efforts, as you now know, the experiment unfortunately failed to attain that positive changing purpose at the Academy of Management. Apparently, the argument used by the AOM commissary was: "You had your start, now form a special interest group." Much painstaking and soul-searching then followed. Now, while taking a Southern Comfort sip, let me put the following question: had the same trial happened elsewhere, would the same results recur? Apparently, as the praised article documents, the same unhappy ending happened at least in their similar story: indeed, Meisiek and Barry described a related case study of Organizational Theater in a Northern European hospital. As a foil, as a contrast, however, the same experiment done at the biennial conferences of the Art of Management and Organization has been a success, since its inception. Last year, theater has thrived again during the Fourth Conference at Banff Center, AB, Canada. …

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