Bringing Theater Skills to New Roles
When Ms. Meilinda was placed at Valparaiso University for several months in 2014, as a United Board Fellow, she had the opportunity to interview the university president, Mark Heckler. To her surprise, she learned that Dr. Heckler had earned a master in fine arts degree, with a concentration in directing, before changing his career focus to higher education leadership. This was a revelation to Ms. Meilinda, who was then the head of the Bureau for Cooperation and Institutional Development at Petra Christian University in Indonesia and who also had a degree in theater. “President Heckler shared how his background in theater helps him to be a better leader, to understand characters, and to be human in facing problems that he needs to solve,” she recalled. “He told me that leading a university is like leading a theater performance, with visioning, planning, implementing, and evaluating.”
Upon reflection, Ms. Meilinda realized her own theater-based skills were useful in her work at Petra. “Analyzing situations quickly, creating a strategy, listening, and paying attention to details, not to mention creativity and improvisation – all of these I learned from theater,” she said. She needed these skills in her work at the Bureau for Cooperation and Institutional Development, which was taking steps to build up its internationalization efforts. “Petra received six different grants from the government to help its internationalization agenda,” Ms. Meilinda recalled. “For me, this is an achievement because in Indonesia there is a clear dichotomy between public and private universities and the possibilities we can get.” Fundraising was new to her, so she applied her theater talents in new ways. “Dealing with the people in the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, understanding their agenda while also pushing our agenda – those skills came from theater,” she realized.
While heading the bureau, Ms. Meilinda had stepped aside from the Petra Little Theatre (PLT), a theater group under Petra’s English Department. But her experience at Valparaiso University inspired her to return to PLT, as its artistic director, and take the group in new directions. “We started a movement to nurture young talents to write plays based on social situations in Indonesia,” she said. “Up to this point, we have had seven productions of our students’ creative work. In April, one of the plays will be performed in Yogyakarta.”
The Yogyakarta performance will be PLT’s first touring performance since 2002. It also represents a milestone in Ms. Meilinda’s work as a fundraiser. Getting funding for the Yogyakarta production was one of her first exercises in her new role as director of Petra’s Office of Institutional Advancement. “After two months of hard work and heartbreak – since rejection is also part of fundraising – we finally got the money to send 25 students to perform in Yogyakarta,” she said. “Theater skills helped again, this time by reminding me to use perseverance.”