Mark Chalfant

Artistic and Executive Director
Washington Improv Theater

After helping re-energize and rebuild WIT as an all-volunteer, ensemble-led collective, Mark stepped in to become the company’s first full-time staff member in 2004. Since then, he has led the organization to realize tremendous growth in WIT’s programming breadth, in the community of players, teachers, patrons and students, and in staff. He feels extremely fortunate to work with a team of wonderful people promoting an art form and ideas he’s passionate about. Mark is a member of Leadership Greater Washington’s Class of 2017.

Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.

My job is somewhat bipolar – moving between my role as executive director (pragmatic planner and problem solver) and artistic director (visionary dreamer and rebel) – and I think it has shaped my leadership style. It has cemented my understanding that these two sides feed one another. The pragmatic side has kept our organization on solid financial footing, with a community that deeply values the consistent quality of our programming. The dreamy side has given WIT’s staff and our community of artists the freedom and support to experiment wildly in pursuit of lofty program goals and an immensely wide range of artistic visions.

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?

Be human. Don’t try to be a superhero, and don’t martyr yourself for your organization or its cause. I had to work through both of those mindsets earlier in my career, and even today these impulses still arise from time to time. But now I am confident that sharing all of myself – including my vulnerabilities and my limitations – gains me better relationships with my team. It also encourages the same kind of sharing reciprocally. When we have empathy and compassion for one another we value one another more and ultimately we all do better work.

What does this award mean for you and your organization?

Many folks think running an arts nonprofit is just nonstop fun and creative expression. This award acknowledges that there’s a lot of assessment, analysis, planning and management required to make that fun and creative expression possible. Folks also think that improvisation is just about cracking jokes, but the self-discovery, joy, and connection improv helps people find are powerful, life-changing stuff. This award honors the value of that. Covid has made the last two years immensely challenging in specific ways for live convening organizations, and this award validates the years of responsible stewardship that positioned Washington Improv Theater to make it through a pandemic and come out in some ways even stronger than before.