Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

“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!) 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?


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”.


A. THE EIGHT ROLES are the professionals required for a commercial, theatrical production. ONE (or more) role probably describes you:
B. THE SIX PRINCIPLES are shared by every person working on the production:
The success of the show is top priority for every stakeholder. 
If the show is a bust, if tickets don’t sell, the show closes and payroll stops.
Everyone knows what everyone else does, and respects it.
The show has some personal meaning to every professional working on it. 
It’s the quickest way to learn.      
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. 
Support (if the work is commissioned): Producer
Support: Actor/Director
Support: Director/Designer/Manager/Technician
Support: Producer/ Playwright/Manager
Support: Producer/Director/Designer
Support: Manager/Technician
Leader: CRITIC
Support: Playwright/Director/Actor/Designer 
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.


Love-in-sandI’ve been thinking a lot about love. 

It may be an age thing. I’m in my mid-60s and loving it, my husband Roger and I just celebrated our 43rd anniversary, and our love for each other and our work has grown exponentially over the decades. When we were blessed with grandchildren 3 and 5 years ago, I thought the level of love in our family might actually burst. It didn’t, of course. In fact, it has expanded into a three-generation-love-fest.

And everywhere I look these days, I see love. 

Can it be that love really belongs in this theatrical quotations series?  Absolutely. Why? Because for those of us who spend our lives in the theatre, a passionate love of what we do is the common denominator within the  Six Principles of Theatrical Intelligence.

Let’s take a moment to review those principles, based on the theatrical production model (as is the whole concept of Theatrical Intelligence).

1. Collaborating on a project to make it work for everyone, is number one: EVERYONE SHARES THE SAME GOAL.

2. If the show is a bust, if tickets don’t sell, no one gets paid. That’s the reality: EVERYONE SHARES AN EQUIVALENT RISK.

3. If a play is sustainable, its next steps are defined within the 3rd principle: COLLABORATION RULES.

4. Given: throughout every phase of every project, THE WORK MATTERS.

5. If part of a production’s infrastructure isn’t working (often the case) everyone understands that FAILURE IS YOUR FRIEND AND THE QUICKEST WAY TO LEARN.

6. And finally, a reflection of the commitment to innovation and acceptance of high risk: SUCCESS COMES WITH THE COURAGE TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN.

Those who work consistently in the professional theatre simply love what they do; if they didn’t, the ever-changing conditions of the creation, development, rehearsal and run of a show, would be intolerable.

I’ve chosen my favorite quotes on love from my collection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

zelda-balletZelda Fitzgerald (1900 – 1948)
 “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”


Zora Neale Hurston, Class of 1928, Chicago, Ill., November 9, 1934Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960)
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”


NerudaPablo Neruda (1904 – 1973) née Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto
“I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”


Shel Larry Moyer Shel Silverstein (1930 – 1999)
How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em.
How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.


George EliotGeorge Eliot (1819 – 1880) Née Mary Ann (Marian) Evans

“I like not only to be loved, but to be told that I am loved; the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.”


Nelle Harper LeeHarper Lee (Born 1926) 
“With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable.”
(From TO KILL  MOCKINGBIRD, Chapter 12)


Jarod KintzJarod Kintz (Born 1982)
 “With my last breath, I’ll exhale my love for you. I hope it’s a cold day, so you can see what you meant to me.


Dorothy ParkerDorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)
“By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Infinite, undying.
Lady make a note of this –
One of you is lying.”


Ingrid BergmanIngrid Bergman (1915 – 1982)
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”  

If you’d like to share your favorites, please do. This love thing is positively contagious. Let’s keep it going.


Picture Credits
Fitzgerald: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Hurston: The Estate of Zora Neale Hurston
Neruda: Pablo Neruda – Poemas Originais Traduzidos
Silverstein: Larry Moyer/Evil Eye LLC
Eliot: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
Lee: The Birmingham News
Kintz: Jarod
Bergman: LIFE Magazine



The definition of the word CRITIC, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, seems simple and sensible. To me, however, it’s the most complicated of the 8 roles of Theatrical Intelligence.

CRITIC:  from the Greek κριτικός (kri-ti-kós), Latin criticus (noun) “able to discern”.
1: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
2: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances
3: one given to harsh or captious judgment
CRITICISM: ˈkri-təˌsi-zə(noun) the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature:
1. expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes: “he ignored the criticisms of his friends”.
2. analysis and judgment of a literary or artistic work: “methods of criticism supported by literary theories”.

When I speak about the roles of Theatrical Intelligence, I always introduce the Critic last. Why?  It’s the final role in the collaborative sequence, and… well, I want to delay the inevitable groans: “No-o-o! How could you? Critics? What do they know?!”   

It’s tricky to think of critics as part of the collaborative art form that is the theatre. They are in a position to champion or kill a play, a performance, or an entire production. They don’t work directly with the other 7 roles, so it doesn’t feel like collaborators. But they are. In fact (depending on the phase of development) their objectivity is essential to the success of the project. 

Many years ago when I worked as an actor, I remembered every bad review I ever received. Verbatim. Everyone did. It seemed to be an occupational hazard to remember the awful ones and forget the raves. My theory for this (and I’m not alone) is that no one can be as harsh a critic about me as I am about myself, so whatever is written by a critic is already imprinted on my brain.

Once, a notoriously mean-spirited critic compared a performance of mine to an electric blender. Yes, you read that right. My friends thought it was a hilarious achievement and therefore a wonderful notice, but I thought I’d never get over it. 

Recently I decided to re-read my theatrical notices, figuring that 20 years would give me enough distance to gain some objectivity. It did. I admit that the blender paragraph still stung a bit, but most revealing was that I had no memory of the good reviews. It was as if  I was reading love letters that I’d never received, yet I knew I’d read every one of them. Selective amnesia. A theatrical phenomenon.

The insightful quotations below are from ten stellar theatre critics who reflect on their profession:  

Brooks AtkinsonBrooks Atkinson (1894 – 1984)

1. “There is no joy so great as that of reporting that a good play has come to town.”



Pauline Kael (Chris Carroll)Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001)

2. “In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.”



Walter KerrWalter Kerr (1919 – 1996)

3. “It is not a reviewer’s business to “sell” plays, but surely it is a playwright’s business not to write plays in such a way that the barest, most gingerly mention of the plot material in a review will kill the play dead on the spot.”




KennethTynanKenneth Tynan (1927 – 1980)

4. “A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening.




Wendy RosenfieldWendy Rosenfield  (Born 1969)

5. “I don’t believe arts criticism is itself art. But that doesn’t mean it is without its own merits… criticism (and even reviews, if you choose to make that distinction) offers a record of how our civilization responded to the arts. Theater critics are not theater artists, but we are recorded proof that theater mattered, and for me, that’s more than enough.”




Jason Zinoman 2Jason Zinoman (Born 1975)

6. “To be a good critic, you need to hustle and be curious and scrap and think harder in a short period of time than anyone else about these plays. You need to be stubborn in your convictions and firm in the idea that the crowd is not always right.”




Robert HurwittRobert Hurwitt (Born 1942)

7. I subscribe strongly to the idea that all criticism should be constructive. You’re not in the business of tearing people down. Part of your responsibility as a critic is being a consumer advocate. You have to make judgments as to whether a show is something people want to spend their money on.”




Oscar WildeOscar Wilde (1854 –1900)

8. “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.”




Andy WarholAndy Warhol (1928 – 1987)

9. “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”




Frank RichFrank Rich (Born 1949)

10. “The most wonderful street in the universe is Broadway. It is a world within itself. High and low, rich and poor, pass along at a rate peculiar to New York, and positively bewildering to a stranger.” 


These critics are collaborators. And I think I may just love every one of them.



Photo Credits: Thumbs Up/Down: USA Today Design; Atkinson:ONB/Wein; Kael: Chris Carroll; Kerr: The New York Times; Tynan: Stuart Heydinger/The Observer; Rosenfield: Ms. Rosenfield;  Hurwitt: San Francisco Chronicle; Zinoman: Splitsider; Wilde: Napoleon Sarony; Warhol: Susan Greenwood/Getty Images; Rich: CNBC


A Chat With Tony Award Winning Designer Roger Morgan

An earlier version of this piece was published in Theatre By Design, the Studio’s Newsletter. It is based on my interview with Roger Morgan, Tony Award winning Lighting Designer, and (full disclosure) my husband. Roger is my business partner at Sachs Morgan Studio -Theatre Design Specialists; I’ve written about him in this blog. I asked Roger about his toughest work challenge – he talked, I listened, and these are his words:

Well, you know I love a challenge. The toughest? Probably when I’m short on the three basic ingredients required to plan theatre spaces, TSM: Time. Space. Money.

Keeping TSM in balance makes a happy owner and a successful project.  So the first challenge is to convince the owner to invest some T. This is a tough sell. Why?

A comprehensive Architectural Program is necessary to predict TSM, and a Program is hard to grasp.

ARCHITECTURAL PROGRAM: ar•chi•tec•tur•al (adj) pro•gram (n)

Quantified list(s) of rooms, spaces, floor areas,

expressed in net square footage and/or diagrams;

prose descriptions of qualities that

can’t be characterized in data. 

I think of the Program as the RECIPE for the design and construction of the project. Here’s the catch: an owner often expects to begin the project with the design. With no Program. And within a budget.

Our job is to communicate the value of the Program to the decision makers, who are not usually in the business of building buildings. It can be tricky: we’re designers and we love to draw! Owners are bottom-line-driven and want results. So it’s tempting for all of us to rush. Discipline is required. Otherwise the project gets out of hand, costs more than it should and doesn’t meet anybody’s expectations. That’s not the way we like it.

So here’s the way we do it:


Interviews + Observation + Comparisons + Documentation =


How many?

How big?


For whom?

For what purposes?

Near what?


+   How often

Sq Ft, Ht + adjacencies



Net Sq Ft to Gross Sq Ft

Apply $psf cost values

Synchronize with local construction costs

RESULT: a prediction of project cost

In 40 years, no one has ever said “We’ve gotta spend more…”. And a preliminary cost estimate has never met with contentment. It’s another challenge of my job.

This is often the most intense time of a project because its very life is threatened. Assumptions are challenged: “What can you live without?” Soul searching begins and programmed spaces may be reduced. Difficult decisions are made. Eventually the Program is brought into alignment with the budget, TSM is clear, and you know what’s amazing? 

90% of the most important decisions for the project have been made, and NO ONE HAS DRAWN A LINE.

Now comes the fun part: after agreeing to the recipe, we’re ready to cook.  That’s when everything begins to sizzle.


Ensemble Studio Theatre Gala

Ann and JerryScene: Caroline’s Comedy Club, NYC, May 3, 2010.

Event: Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Gala

Picture: EST member (and teenage friend) Jerry Zaks, who presented the “Distinguished Member” Award to me. He recalled that I was in the first play he ever did, and thus was his first leading lady.

My husband Roger got the Award too (what are the chances of that? See photo below) as well as esteemed actor Dominic Chianese. We were told the awards honored our outstanding achievements over the past 40 years. Flattering. Not to mention the real reason: survival!

Dominic’s band, the New York Sidewalkers got the entire audience to sing along in a rousing rendition of That’s Amore! and many attendees said the whole thing felt like a family reunion. I was glad that I threw away my impassioned but oh-so-serious acceptance speech before the event, and (as is my tradition) expressed my thoughts in rhyme:

I stand here tonight with the clear sensation
That I am just one in the 4th generation
Of Irish Catholics and German Jews
Who arrived in our country and paid their dues
In order to plant the roots of a tree
Whose branches have grown into my family.

Roger Morgan, you’re part of my tale
And Sam, with your bright-bellied sis: Abigail!

The Morgan family is so far-reaching

It’s hard to fathom the depth of their teaching.

I could list the Sachs-Morgans, one by one
With their spouses and children: for me, t’would be fun

For all of YOU tho, t’would be mighty boring

(And it would be awful to cause all that snoring!)

So I’ll NOT list family names at this time

Though tempting it is to make it all rhyme.

My roots are my backbone and why I stand proud
In front of this highly distinctive crowd.

Agnes and John and Ernest and Maisie

(Good lord I’m listing them – I must be crazy!)

Julius and Rosa – Dad, Mom – and Jim

I carry your love and wisdom within.

What is it I’ve learned that makes me stand tall?
My children and friends often ask, when they call.

I think it’s BELIEF, or so it would seem
You gave me this gift: whatever my dream
Belief it could happen, BELIEF with true ZEAL
Would often make my vision turn REAL.

Then, the Theatre’s dose of daily rejection
Developed my armor: mighty protection

Through sadness and failure, all part of the deal

The standard, in fact, I expected to feel.

We all know, in theatre, that things DO go wrong

And staying the course tends to make us real strong.

So what was the dream I clung to these years?
That thing that kept growing in spite of my tears?
It’s really quite simple, though not to say easy

And sometimes I must say it made me quite queasy:
To merge my life and my work into one

Which included my husband and daughter and son

To create a safe place where all is OK

No matter the obstacles during the day

Has been my passion, my quest to feel free

In fact, it’s rather like – yup – EST!

And Denny, two Jerry’s and – yes – to you ALL!

Marianna and Les, two Mindy’s and Chris:
Abigail, Dave, Sam-Jamie-Nancy-Art-Peter- BetsyPollyMelodieJackSusanAnnieDonnaRita….


Thank you. I’m honored. In my tux and my boa.

Roger Morgan with Jim Boese, VP of the Nederlander Organization, who presented the Award after a humorous introduction about representing the FOR-profit theatre world. (Note: Roger’s Award is a beautiful, useable decanter from Tiffany’s.) Roger recalled the first play he was in at age 12, in a community theatre; he was mortified that people might think he was 10, the age of the character.

The Roches (Terre, Left, and Suzzy) who sang their hilarious song from MAMA DRAMA, I’d Like Her To Be Rich. Beginning in 1987, EST member Christine Farrell initiated MAMA DRAMA as an Octoberfest project; it grew into a full length play over several years at EST. Published by Samuel French, it’s produced all over the country, 20+ years later.

Four MAMA DRAMA writers. From Left: Christine Farrell, Leslie Ayvayzian, me, and Marianna Houston. Missing: Donna Daley, Anne O’Sullivan and the late Rita Nachtmann.

There was a lot of laughter that night (and too many suggestions of a GRAND-MAMA DRAMA!)

Me and Tony Soprano?  Go figure!

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

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