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