Posts Tagged ‘Collaboration’

“This Is The Wisdom I Have Learned”: The Power of Memory

William Goyen’s House of Breath: Black White opened on November 4, 1969 at Trinity Square Repertory in Providence, Rhode Island. Every year I celebrate this play on this date. Why? Two reasons: it was a theatrical production ahead of its time, and it marks the occasion I fell in love with Roger Morgan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directed by the brilliant Adrian Hall, with sets by Eugene Lee, and lighting by the above-mentioned Roger, House of Breath was a powerful, poetic piece about an East Texas family in the early twentieth century. The production pioneered non-traditional casting before the term even existed, and explored trans-gender issues in flamboyant Adrian-Hall-style. The late great Ethyl Eichelberger (known at the time as Jim) played the role of a sexually repressed young man whose imagination transforms him into a black showgirl. I played Jim’s dead sister Jessie, brought to life through the memories of her family. We knew the play was groundbreaking, but Roger and I were caught completely off-guard by the depth of our connection (each of us thought it must have been the high of the production that swept us off our feet!) What we now know, having celebrated decades of November Fourths, is that the collaborative experience of that project provided the foundation upon which we subsequently built our lives. 
There was one particular moment in the play Roger always loved: young Jessie (my character) remembers her brother BerryBen dressed up as a King in a pageant, and Jessie declares with great wonder: “This is the wisdom I have learned!” referring to the power of memory.  “This is the wisdom I have learned” is one of those code phrases that pops up in our marital dialogue as a sort of  “duh” realization; and recently, the phrase has come to represent the collaboration, risk, and belief that we’re doing something that matters: three of the Principles of Theatrical Intelligence. The spirit of the work at Trinity quickened the pace of our courtship… of course we fell in love that night! What we didn’t know at the time was that it marked the beginning of a collaborative, creative and frequently improvised life. I shall be forever-grateful that Roger and I fell in love in the middle of the wonder that inhabited House of Breath and Trinity, because within that context our lives changed forever.
House of Breath photo by William Smith

Theatrical Intelligence: What Does It Mean And Why Does It Matter?

Summary

A dear friend asked me recently, while looking oh-so-confused:  “What IS Theatrical Intelligence, anyway?”

I was mortified. 

I thought to myself, I’d better write A SUMMARY to explain what it means and why it matters.

So here goes:

Theatrical Intelligence is a system that identifies and captures your unique area of talent in order to bring it into your work and your workplace. It’s based on the theatrical production model, which is built on the foundation of all theatre: COLLABORATION.

Why does this matter? 

51% of Americans describe themselves as not engaged or actively disengaged at work1. This is disturbing!

I’m convinced that we all come into the world with multiple intelligences2., and as we morph into grownups, somehow it disappears. Theatrical Intelligence is a system that can bring it back to life; it re-defines the way we engage in our work and in our workplace. I call it “the fun part of being smart”.

The system consists of EIGHT ROLES, SIX PRINCIPLES and EIGHT PHASES.

A. THE EIGHT ROLES are the professionals required for a commercial, theatrical production. ONE (or more) role probably describes you:
1. PLAYWRIGHT
2. PRODUCER
3. ACTOR
4. DIRECTOR
5. DESIGNER
6. MANAGER
7. TECHNICIAN
8. CRITIC
 
B. THE SIX PRINCIPLES are shared by every person working on the production:
 
1. EVERYONE SHARES THE SAME GOAL 
The success of the show is top priority for every stakeholder. 
2. EVERYONE SHARES AN EQUIVALENT RISK 
If the show is a bust, if tickets don’t sell, the show closes and payroll stops.
3. COLLABORATION RULES!
Everyone knows what everyone else does, and respects it.
4. THE WORK MATTERS
The show has some personal meaning to every professional working on it. 
5. FAILURE IS YOUR FRIEND
It’s the quickest way to learn.      
6. SUCCESS REQUIRES THE COURAGE TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN
Entering unexplored territory leads to defining tomorrow’s standard.  
 
C. THE EIGHT PHASES One (or more) role “takes the lead” in each of the phases, supported by other roles as required. The remaining roles fade into the background, active if necessary, according to the phase of production. 
 
1. CREATION  
Leader: PLAYWRIGHT 
Support (if the work is commissioned): Producer
2. DEVELOPMENT 
Leader: PLAYWRIGHT 
Support: Actor/Director
3. PRE-PRODUCTION
Leader: PRODUCER 
Support: Director/Designer/Manager/Technician
4. REHEARSAL
Leaders: DIRECTOR/ACTOR
Support: Producer/ Playwright/Manager
5. PRODUCTION* 
Leaders: MANAGER/TECHNICIAN
Support: Producer/Director/Designer
6. TECHNICAL REHEARSALS/PREVIEWS* 
Leaders: DIRECTOR/DESIGNER
Support: Manager/Technician
7. OPENING 
Leader: CRITIC
Support: Playwright/Director/Actor/Designer 
8. RUN OF PLAY
Leader: PRODUCER
Support: Critic/Playwright/Director/Actor/Designer/Manager/Technician
 
*5 and *6 are concurrent phases

It’s a great gift to have spent almost 50 years in the theatre industry. It has given me the opportunity to observe the impact of theatre on a wide range of non-theatre folks. It’s fascinating and fun. I’ve led Theatrical Intelligence workshops that have opened new perspectives and exciting possibilities to many who begin in that 73%, and then happily join the 27-percenters.

So I’m continuing to define (and refine) the concept. Please let me know if you’re intrigued by this, or if you have any questions. And thanks in advance for helping me spread the word about Theatrical Intelligence… it really is the fun part of being smart!

 

1. Gallup Inc., State of the American Workplace: Copyright © 2017 
2. Multiple Intelligences: Harvard Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences differentiates it into specific  “modalities”, rather than seeing intelligence as dominated by a single general ability. Gardner introduced the theory in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
 

A Theatrical Love Story

 
I’d like to introduce you to a great love of mine. Mind you, I’m not alone: hundreds of other theatre professionals continue to participate in our love circle of 33 years, including my husband.
 
Please meet THE ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE (EST). 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been a member of EST since 1978. My husband and business partner, Roger Morgan, is a founding member who signed the original articles of incorporation in 1968, alongside EST’s Founder, the late Curt Dempster

EST is a safe haven for several hundred theatre professionals who apply for free membership based on:

1) the quality of their work

2) their commitment to collaboration. 

Actors, writers, producers, directors, designers, managers, technicians and critics (the 8 Roles of Theatrical Intelligence I write about on this blog), become “Ensemble Artists”.

THE ENSEMBLE in the theatre’s name = its members.

STUDIO = a “theatre gym”, where members gather for vigorous workouts and candid de-briefs from fellow members and the artistic staff.

THEATRE = Place: 549 West 52nd Street, Hell’s Kitchen. In spite of its grit and an occasional mouse, it is passionately loved by its users.

These three elements = THE ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE, which provides a lifeline to creativity throughout the best (as well as the worst) years in the lives of its artists.

Since its inception, EST has developed an astonishing 6,000+ plays. More importantly, it continues to nurture its artists for as long as they care to be nurtured, using its own collaborative technique.

With a current annual budget of $1.3 million, EST has been recognized by the American Theater Wing, the NY Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk Awards and Village Voice Obies; collectively, its members have won Pulitzers, Oscars, Tonys, Golden Globes… the list goes on.

So why does this trashy little place matter so much to its members?

To use myself as an example, I dared to write, direct, produce, and spread my wings as an artist at EST. I had never stepped into any of these roles before.

In 1987, EST actress Christine Farrell asked if I’d join a group of leading ladies in an evening of our own making. She knew that we’d never be cast in the same play, and she simply wanted to be onstage together for a change, instead of competing for the same roles. EST member Pamela Berlin joined us as DIrector.

We wrote, workshopped, disagreed, re-wrote, disagreed better, re-wrote better, learned to trust, performed, published and produced MAMA DRAMA, a collaborative piece that is still performed in academic and community theatres nationwide.

My development as a leader is directly attributable to EST. By the late-80’s I was sick of performing, but I wasn’t trained to do anything else. I wanted to work ON a play instead of IN it. Because EST members are able to initiate their own projects, I did. I wrote. Directed. Managed. Experimented. Convinced people to work with me for free.

It became clear to me that I could bring a project to life by identifying strengths in my collaborators that they didn’t necessarily know they had. The trick was to reflect them back so they were somehow quantifiable.  Each time this happened, a profound level of trust was established in the group and we often believed that together we could do anything! (This was frequently followed by a spectacular and unforgettable failure.)

Immediately after the experience of writing, directing and producing, I shifted my career, a direct result of exploring these roles. Writing is now one of my great passions and part of my daily life, and it would never have happened without EST. It’s where I discovered my “CEO shoes”, and they fit so comfortably I never wanted to take them off.

Curt, Christine, Leslie, Rita, Annie, Donna, Marianna and Pam changed my life.

There are many EST stories just like mine. Why? Because this theatre is the place to try out new stuff and know that it’s OK to fail. In fact, absence of failure is a bit suspect, and falling flat on your face is certainly the quickest way to learn: check out the 6 Principles of Theatrical Intelligence.

And at EST, once a member always a member, so we get to fail again and again!

These days I’m back at EST experimenting in yet another role: Vice Chair of the Board of Directors. 

I believe it’s essential to spread the word about this model of creativity, and work to ensure that it builds a financial foundation for its future. Because EST is not only a theatre that is deeply loved – it is a theatre that knows how to love back.

What could be better than that?

 

Photo above left: The Ensemble Studio Theatre by Christopher Cayaba

Photo above right: MAMA DRAMA, clockwise from left: Leslie Ayvazian, Christine Farrell, Rita Nachtmann, Anne O’Sullivan, Ann Sachs (seated, center). Not pictured: Director Pamela Berlin, Donna Daley and Marianna Houston.

If you’d like to see what’s going on at EST: please join us!

 

Theatrical Intelligence Workshop: NYC

There is more to what you do than meets the eye.

And it cannot be seen through a regular lens...

Learn to look through another lens: use Theatrical Intelligence.

What is Theatrical Intelligence? It’s a process that uses theatre concepts to impact work performance. In this workshop you’ll identify the role(s) you were born to play by tapping into one or more of its 8 roles as your own creative strength.

Join us in a supportive, collaborative environment, and discover “the fun part of being smart!”


The ACADEMi of LIFE

presents

A Theatrical Intelligence Workshop

THE MUSE HOTEL

130 West 46th (6th & 7th)

$195. (lunch included)

REGISTER HERE (Click CLASSES)


WORKSHOP LEADER:

ANN SACHS: President and CEO of Sachs Morgan Studio, former leading actress on Broadway; award winning entrepreneur and founder of Theatrical Intelligence.

“There is no joy in living without joy in work.” Thomas Aquinas


A “Twipping Point”?

Twitter-Theatre Alliance

Theatre people hug. We get kidded about it a lot.

Recently, I ran into a stage manager I hadn’t seen for years.  Our hello hug was a prolonged, emotional, jumping-up-and-down-squeeze, sort of like Hillary and Tipper at the 1992 Democratic convention. Our shared history returned in an instant as we laughed, cried and reminisced about toiling “in the trenches” on a new play that died too young, and a theatre family that disbanded too soon. We made a date for lunch. Anyone who witnessed our greeting on the street might have concluded that we were long lost sisters.

Last week I had an Ah-Ha moment at a Tweet-Up* here in NYC.  (*Tweet-Up: A gathering of people who follow each other on Twitter, meeting in person, often for the first time.) It is the third such event I’ve attended in as many months, and I simply love them. One Twitter pal after another shared their discovery that “…there is a person at the end of each tweet”, and with childlike wonder described their in-person meetings: “We hugged each other!”  The virtual had become a reality; the theoretical had become personal. The “hug culture” was so new and exciting for them, and we take it for granted in the theatre; it’s an everyday occurrence for us.

Many of the early adopters of Twitter are self-described geeks; brainy kids, inevitably the last ones to be chosen for sports teams. Their thrill has always been using technology to communicate, not sports or academia.  Likewise, those of us in the theatre were not usually the captains of soccer or basketball teams. We discovered a primal form of communication through our school plays.

Twitter and other forms of social media provide a natural alliance between technology and art. My mind reels at all the ways we can help each other navigate this new terrain as we explore its possibilities.

The hug is just the beginning of what could be – please forgive me, Malcolm Gladwell  – a “Twipping Point”. I can’t wait! What about you?


Theatrical Intelligence: The Chaos of Collaboration

I’ve spent 40 years working in the theatre industry, experiencing the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in a hazardous profession that chews people up and spits them out every day.  I’ve reached the age where I can profess wisdom simply because I have survived. This wisdom is based upon the age-old principle of the theatre as a collaborative art form, where people work together effectively, each in a particular niche that they have mastered, and that they love.

When I shifted careers about 20 years ago, transitioning from performer to small business owner within the same industry, my workplace changed from a theatrical environment to a regular old office; a serious place of business. During my first few years I made every effort to create a “corporate business atmosphere” with little success.  No matter how many businesses I observed and business books I read, none of them embodied the kind of workplace I was looking for.

It was during this search that I took a non-theatre business-owner friend of mine to a stop-go tech-dress rehearsal of a Broadway musical. As I had hoped, she was awestruck. We sat in the theatre balcony – quiet as little mice – and she barraged me with questions about who the hundreds of workers were, and what they were actually doing as they hustled and bustled down below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who is the woman who leaps onto the stage every few minutes? (The choreographer.)

What is that disembodied voice from above? (The stage manager on the god-mike.)

Why are the actors having trouble walking on the stairs? (The stairs are on an electronic revolve; stagehands are working out the speed.)

Who is in charge? Then she stopped, and said: No, no, no – don’t tell me!

First, she guessed that the person in charge must be the balding man seated at the table smack in the middle of the auditorium. Then she thought it must be the woman with the sassy haircut sitting next to him, talking over the headphones to the guy with the god-voice.  Next, she wondered if both of them were in charge.  We watched as the choreographer kept landing lightly in the row directly in back of them and something struck them as hilarious… Meanwhile a scrawny guy and a blonde kid kept appearing and disappearing on the staircase revolve and we listened to hundreds of bizarre sound cues.

My friend continued to ponder in silence until finally she whispered to me: There is NO ONE running the show. The theatre really IS magic!

That moment will forever be etched in my mind. Not so much that my friend thought the theatre was magic, but rather that the organization within the chaos was so clear to me, and so bewildering to her.

I proceeded to identify with certainty for my friend that the man and the woman at the table were the lighting and costume designers, the scrawny guy and the kid were the director and set designer; then I pointed out the company manager, spotlight operator, dance captain and two producers sitting in the back of the house. Mind you I didn’t KNOW anyone associated with the production except for one producer and the choreographer, yet my recitation amounted to a veritable org chart of a Broadway musical.

That day in the theatre when my friend “experienced the magic”, I recognized that the oh-so-familiar creative-chaos of a Broadway show was exactly what I was looking for in the work environment at the Studio, yet I had closed the door on my own professional experience because I didn’t think it “fit” – yet there it was, hidden in plain view.  I decided immediately to give up the feeble attempt to create my own little version of a Wall Street firm, and to lay claim to the collaborative art form I knew so well.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the idea for Theatrical Intelligence had been born.


Photograph © Samuel Morgan