Every now and then someone asks me what I get out of theatre. I usually give some sort of glib answer like “attention” or “standing ovations.” But the answer is really more complex than that. For example, it occurs to me that many of the methods used to put on a show can be directly related to any business project. Don’t believe me? See below the steps that a director goes through to “manage” a successful production and see if they don’t fit your next project.
Set the Goal
A show starts, like any business project, at the beginning. The first thing a director needs to determine is “what show are we doing?” In some cases this is determined by an outside force (i.e. board of directors, committee, or producer – a.k.a the “supervisor”). The director starts with the script, which is in essence the bare bones of the play. Just words on paper waiting to be brought to life. Read and study the script. Understand what the playwright was trying to achieve. Research, research, research. You need to know the script (plan) better than anyone else on the team. You can’t guide people to a goal if you don’t know the way.
Determine Your Needs
How many characters are in the play? Male? Female? Is it a comedy, drama or musical? What are the ages of the characters? How many sets do you need? Costumes? The questions are numerous but like any project these basic facts need to be known and understood before you can fully determine your needs.
Block Your Movements
In theatre blocking is the process of mapping out the movements that an actor will take during the show. In business, this is similar to the strategic steps or tasks which need to be done to complete the project. In a play the blocking may be basic (go from stage left to stage right) but should always have a purpose such as to make the scene seem more natural or to place focus on a specific characters actions or to set a “tableau” demonstrating relationships of characters to each other or evoke a mood or feeling from the audience. A show that is not well blocked becomes chaotic and random often devolving into a random mess of motion without meaning or, worse yet, a stagnant grouping of people on stage (the audience “sees” first and “hears” second). In business, if there are no set plans or tasks the project can grind to a halt as the team each goes their own way without clear direction.
Set the Budget
Now that you know the requirements to start the project, you have to assemble the resources. As so often with any project you need to know what will it cost. Then you most likely need to look at what you are provided as very few of us get unlimited funds to do anything. Do the two match? Probably not so you need to go through your needs line by line and prioritize to determine which items get the most money and which items you may need to be more “creative” with (theatres may have fund raising abilities which your business will not – but let’s presume you have enough funding to continue with your project).
Assemble Your Cast and Crew
Now you need to find the best people to help you complete the production. You hold auditions (interviews) and determine who best suits each role. Like the hiring process in business you may not have all the information you need to make the perfect choice so you go with your gut and make the best choice you can at that moment (anyone who tells you they’ve never made a mistake casting or hiring probably doesn’t have much experience with either or are dangerously oblivious to their surroundings).
Set the Schedule – how long do you need to get the production finished? How many hours a day can you devote to the show? Like most workplaces, those involved in theatre – especially amateur theatre – have other things that they need to continue doing along with the show or project. Can everyone make each rehearsal (meeting)? Will they have sufficient time to work outside rehearsals on their specific task?
Know Your Role and Theirs
A director (manager) is a guide to the cast and crew. He or she needs to show the way and understand how each member of the production contributes to the overall success of the show. Likewise, the director needs to understand that he or she cannot do it all alone. This is the same in business, if you don’t know what your purpose is in the project you can fall into the micro-management trap or end up doing all the work yourself.
Rehearsal in show is the same as training in business. The cast cannot perform if they do not have the skills needed. Likewise, your team cannot do their jobs if they are untrained and unskilled. Professional development is a must!
Follow the Script
The script is your guide. In theatre you usually do not have the option to change this. However, in business, you may be able to make adjustments to your plan as you go along. But even with the play your understanding of the script will likely change during the rehearsal process and you may make adjustments with the actors (blocking, inflection, timing) as you go along to better fulfill the “vision.”
Support, Support, Support
Give your cast feed back. Are they on the right track with their character? Are they learning their lines early enough? Are they doing a good job? Tell them! A cast, or team, who only hears negative feedback will quickly become under-performers. But be careful of praising indiscriminately. They need to trust you to tell them the truth – good or bad. Check in often to make sure that they have the tools and equipment necessary to get the job done.
Re-Cast When Needed
Sometimes it just isn’t working out. It’s the toughest part of a directors, or manager’s, job but you need to know when it’s time for different personnel. But not until you’ve done all you can to support and be sure that the person who is underperforming had everything he or she needed to get the job done.
Know When To Quit
In theatre there comes a point where you need to realize it (the scene, dance, whatever) just isn’t going to get any better and that more rehearsal may only make things worse. Sometimes this point is not where you hoped it would be and maybe instead of a great show you’ll only have a good show but you have to be realistic. Remember that budget item above? You can’t do Broadway on a Andy Hardy (you young ones may want to Google him) “let’s put on a show” budget.
Take a Bow – Or Not
When it’s all over, celebrate. Let your team members take a bow and share in the spotlight. Everyone from the leading lady to the stage hand who opened the curtain made an important contribution regardless of size. When do you take your bow? Probably not until later and not in public. In the theatre the director does not take a bow with the cast but watches everything from the back of the house with a satisfied smile and the knowledge that it all came together as planned. And then the director moves on to the next project!
I hope this little primer gave you some ideas to be successful with your next project. On with the show!
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr