Archive for the ‘The Eight Roles’ Category

My Friend John Wulp: A Man of Many Roles

My friend John and I have known each other for 44 years. He is 88, I am 69, and when I recently told him for the first time that I love him, he laughed and said “OK”.

My friend John Wulp, in 1977

My friend John Wulp in 1977 

In 1973, my husband, Roger Morgan, introduced me to John as a Photographer, Scenic Designer, Painter, Playwright, Lyricist, Broadway Producer, Chef, Professor and Entrepreneur; I thought he was joking.  Over the years, however, I watched as this exceptional man collected Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Tony Awards, while somehow managing to found the Playwrights Horizons Theatre School along the way.

As John Guare wrote in the introduction to John’s 2003 autobiography, John Wulp: ”Wouldn’t a bewildering array of identities imply no identity at all? Maybe, but in Wulp’s case that elusoriness of identity, its very multiples, become part of his intriguing and powerful persona.”

John is a solitary fellow; he’s never married or sustained a longterm relationship. Over the decades I’ve watched him listen to his muse (though he never called it that) as he seemingly stumbled into his next project. His unflagging spirit was inspiring. 

About a year ago John began to phone me from his home in Vinalhaven, Maine, to read me poems he’d written. Poems, John?  I’m not a poetry person!  Maybe that’s what appealed to him, because he kept calling for weeks, and I listened to not just a few poems, but hundreds… he said he just couldn’t stop. 

In fact, a collection of his poems was released a few weeks ago: 

Cormorant Time – A Madman’s Journal – Poems Written in a Time of Fever

So John has added yet another role to his life. 


Cormorant time
Is devouring me
Each day it eats
A part of me
The very heart and soul of me
And yet I feel
More alive
Than I’ve ever felt before 

Published by Hugh Martin, edited by Philip Conkling: ISBN 978-0-692-80513-8 © 2016  

John with his portrait of neighbor (Name) Crossfield

John with his portrait of Foy Brown, a neighbor in Maine  


Recently I was compelled to call John to let him know how important he’s been to me over the years, and that he was my model for an artistic life.

It was when I told him I loved him and he laughed and said “OK”.

It meant so much to me.


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.

The Actor Is What We See, But Only 1/8 Of What Is There

Two earlier versions of this post were published in 2010 and 2012. Several colleagues asked me to re-post it, so here it is.

When I work with individuals or groups on ways Theatrical Intelligence can make a difference in their lives, my goal is to stimulate an exploration into their creative core.

The term Theatrical Intelligence evokes responses such as: “Yes! It’ll help me when I have to give a presentation” to “Not my kind of thing – don’t like being in the spotlight” or “No way. Acting? Yuck!” There is an assumption that Theatrical Intelligence = Actor.

What we see

In a theatrical production model, the Actor is what we see, but only 1/8 of what is there. She/he wouldn’t be on the stage if it weren’t for the Writer, Producer, Director, Designer, Manager, Technician and Critic. The talent and skill contained in each of these roles is interdependent, and without them, the Actor wouldn’t be seen at all!

What's Really There

What’s Really There

Creative collaboration requires that each person within a group takes on his/her most comfortable role, and everyone contributes to the creative potential of the collective. It is built on the premise that all collaborators’ talents and skills complement one another. In other words if I don’t have a particular strength, one of my cohorts will.

Recently I worked with a young woman who told me “I don’t have one creative bone in my body. It’s just the way I’ve always been and I’m fine with it.” She was politely annoyed that I didn’t accept her “non-creativity”. What became abundantly clear during a quick writing exercise, is that she was a born technician (the only one who could get the electronic hook-up to work); and a gifted manager (she organised a group photo while keeping large egos satisfied, and everyone ended up grateful that she was there).

When I pointed out her strengths in those roles, she explained “But that’s the easy stuff!” which gave us our biggest laugh of the day. Everyone admitted their techno-ignorance, impatience with managing differing personalities; the combination of her geeky-gift and people-management-savvy was something they longed for in their employees.

The talented young Technician/Manager took all this in, and with just the hint of a grin, said: “Well, maybe I have a couple of creative bones…” 

Understanding her Theatrical Intelligence that day, she fully experienced “the fun part of being smart”. Yes, it was easy. And the smartness was all her own.

What’s “the easy stuff” for you? How much do you use it every day? Are you giving it the respect it deserves? 




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



To survive, theatre artists must be really good at what they do, though sometimes they’re not-so-good at speaking about what they do. These directors are superb at both.

“Truth in theatre is always on the move. As you read this book [The Empty Space] it is already moving out of date. It is for me an exercise, now frozen on the page. But unlike a book, the theatre has one special characteristic. It is always possible to start again. In life this is myth, we ourselves can never go back on anything. New leaves never turn, clocks never go back, we can never have a second chance. In the theatre, the slate is wiped clean all the time.”

Peter Brook by Colm HoganPeter Brook (Born 1925)

I love it when people say ‘What a horrible, lousy idea.’ I think that’s great… I hate the comfort zone. I don’t think that anything that’s really creative can be done without danger and risk.”

Julie TaymorJulie Taymor (Born 1952)


“I never think about putting my stamp on anything… If someone watches a play and they don’t see the hand of the director in it, if it’s seamless and seems effortless, then I will have achieved what I’m after.”

Kenny LeonKenny Leon (Born 1956)


“Bob Fosse told me if you open a musical script and there’s more than a page or a page-and-a-half of text, you better tear off the paper there and stick in a number, because that’s as long as people want to wait before you show them something.”

Graciela DanieleGraciela Daniele (Born 1939) 


“The simple idea is that the theater is a medium… We need new theatrical forms, we need new ways of expressing our ideas. We still have so much work to do in trying to freely figure out how theater speaks, so, to me, this play [33 Variations] is an exercise in that. It’s a play with music, it’s a play with dancing, it’s a play with singing, it’s a play with video… It really tries to redefine how the theatrical space is used.”

Moises KaufmanMoisés Kaufman (Born 1963)  


“I think in our culture there’s been a tendency for people to blame the audience. There is a tendency in our industry to say, ‘The audience has left the building. People don’t want culture anymore. We’re a depraved civilization. All this technology, all the computer games and the iPhones… nobody will sit for art anymore. What a dismaying state of humanity.’ I feel as a theater creator, and now as a producer, that this is the wrong way to think about it. We must ask: What are we doing? How are we responsible? How can we create experiences that will bring audiences back?”

Tony Watch Diane PaulusDiane Paulus (Born 1966)


“The only difference between a play and a musical is that there are more parts to a musical, more things for a director to concern himself or herself with. There is no mystique in directing a musical. The essential task is the same: telling a story that will transport an audience to a place that is hopefully, religious.”

jerryJerry Zaks (Born 1946)

“I’ve always noticed how the men in orchestras struggle with tails … It’s a lot of clothing, and it’s quite constricting, and it can get hot. And for the women, it’s hard for them to know what to wear. I was thinking, ‘Where are we headed with an orchestra in the 21st century?’ I don’t want to change the music, but the trappings? We’re wearing the same clothes we were wearing 200 years ago. It might be time for an update.”

Marin AlsopMarin Alsop (Born 1956)


“For me, the challenge is to make the stage a forum that allows universal themes to shine and refract through the humanity of my cultural lenses. That, I believe, does more than several hundred pieces of race-relations legislation. It makes us all part of the human family. Equally. That’s political!”

Kwame Kwei-ArmahKwame Kwei-Armah (Born 1967)


“On the director’s role: You are the obstetrician. You are not the parent of this child we call the play. You are present at its birth for clinical reasons, like a doctor or midwife. Your job most of the time is simply to do no harm. When something does go wrong, however, your awareness that something is awry – and your clinical intervention to correct it – can determine whether the child will thrive or suffer, live or die.”

Frank HauserFrank Hauser (1922 – 2007)

Photo Credits: Alsop: Grant Leighton; Brook: Colm Hogan; Daniele: Joseph Marzullo/Retna; Hauser: Oxford Playhouse; Kaufman: James Edstrom; Kwei-Armah: Matt Roth/The New York Times; Leon: PR-Web; Paulus: Susan Lapides; Taymor: papptimi/Fidelio; Zaks: Cartazes e Fotografias

Words. Words. Words: Actors On Acting

The Theatrical Quotations series continues with 10 world class performers…

“Acting is not about dressing up. Acting is about stripping bare. The whole essence of learning lines is to forget them so you can make them sound like you thought of them that instant.”

Glenda JacksonGlenda Jackson (Born 1936) 


“…by the time I got to Michigan I was a stutterer. I couldn’t talk. So my first year of school was my first mute year and then those mute years continued until I got to high school... One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”

James Earl JonesJames Earl Jones (Born 1931


“I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.

meryl-streepMeryl Streep  (Born 1949)  


“Comedy is all I ever wanted. I can never tell when something is funny… I just have to do it onstage and find out.”

Margaret ChoMargaret Cho (Born 1968)

For an actress to be a success she must have the face of Venus, the brains of Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros.”

Ethel BarrymoreEthel Barrymore (1879 – 1959)


“I can’t deal with actors! I can’t deal with myself. We’re neurotic and miserable… I love doing what I’m doing, but while I’m doing it, I’m miserable.” 

Viola DavisViola Davis (Born 1965) 


“I knew at an early age I wanted to act – acting was always easy for me. Once you’ve gotten the job, there’s nothing to it… Doing it is not the hard part. The hard part is getting to do it.”  

Morgan FreemanMorgan Freeman (Born 1937)


“The thing about performance, even if it’s only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities.”

Daniel Day LewisDaniel Day Lewis (Born 1957)


“Ossie was working as stage manager and he began making notes. Something about the sense of humor instilled in Eastern European Jewish culture appealed to him. The message was profound but the delivery was hilarious. Through that he saw that humor could turn racism on its ear, too.”

Ruby DeeRuby Dee (Born 1924)



“An actor is a sculptor who carves in snow.”

Edwin BoothEdwin Booth (1893 – 1933)

 Booth may have borrowed this phrase from his friend Lawrence Barrett.


PHOTO CREDITS: Barrymore: University of Kentucky Photographic Collection, Booth: Public Domain, Cho: Jamie McCarthy/Getty, Davis: Michael Beckner/Getty, Day Lewis: Indigo/Getty, Dee: Frederick M. Brown/Getty, Freeman: The Ace Black Blog, Jackson: Courtesy of Glenda Jackson MP, House of Commons, Jones: Stathis Orphanos, Streep: Cathal McNaughton, 

Words. Words. Words: Playwrights On Playwrighting

Thanks, Theatrical Intelligence readers, for your responses to Words. Words. Words: 10 Beloved Quotations.
Your comments on Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog (those I love the most!) have been the catalyst for this second round.  So, I hereby launch an ongoing series of theatrical quotations from my collection.

Jean KerrJean Kerr (July 10, 1922 – January 5, 2003)

”I think if you can write a play, or produce a play, the first step toward success [is] if people don’t want to kill themselves in the lobby. Now there must be four or five other steps, but that’s the first.”


Suzan-Lori ParksSuzan-Lori Parks (Born May 10, 1963)

“People ask me when I decided to become a playwright; I tell them I decide to do it every day. Most days it’s very hard because I’m frightened — not frightened of writing a bad play, although that happens often with me. I’m frightened of encountering the wilderness of my own spirit, which is always, no matter how many plays I write, a new and uncharted place. Every day when I sit down to write, I can’t remember how it’s done.”


Wendy by Retna LtdWendy Wasserstein (October 18, 1950 – January 30, 2006)

“The trick… is to find the balance between the bright colors of humor and the serious issues of identity, self-loathing, and the possibility for intimacy and love when it seems no longer possible or, sadder yet, no longer necessary.”


 Tina HoweTina Howe (Born November 21, 1937)

“…the cruel part is that, to let the play live, you have to surrender control and let your characters go. You have to let them stumble, fall into walls and be mute, let them drift and be lost. If you hold the reins too tight, they won’t spring to life.”


Kushner-ReutersTony Kushner (Born July 16, 1956)

“I love reading; it’s a great way to avoid writing.” 


Katori-Hall-Playbill-VaultKatori Hall (Born May 10, 1981)

“I’ve had frank conversations with theaters who say, ‘We love your play, but we’ve already done a play by another black person this year,’ or ‘I don’t think the kind of people you write about are the ones our audience wants to see’…  Up and coming young black female writers are still struggling to have their voices heard and have their plays produced.”


Theresa Rebeck by Sara KrulwichTheresa Rebeck  (Born Feb 19, 1958)

“Plays written by women are not being produced.  In 2007, the one year I opened a play on Broadway*, I was the only woman playwright who did so.  That year, nationwide, 12 per cent of the new plays produced all over the country were by women. That means 88 percent of the new plays produced were written by men. (Back in 1918 before women had the right to vote, the percentage of new plays in New York, written by women, was higher.  It was higher before we had the vote.) Generally, over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women seems to have vacillated between 12 and 17 percent. This is a disastrous statistic…”

*Rebeck’s plays SEMINAR and DEAD ACCOUNTS opened on Broadway in 2011 and 2012, respectively. 


la–ca–0909–lynn–nottage          Lynn Nottage (Born 1964)           

“I feel it’s my social responsibility to shine a light on areas that don’t get seen. My personal feeling is that it’s an artist’s responsibility to be engaged with the culture. And when the culture is going through turmoil, I think an artist can’t ignore that. I don’t feel that every artist has to be politically engaged, but I can’t imagine that you can be an active participant of this culture and not in some way reflect that in the work you are creating.”


Hansberry by CorbisLorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965)

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”


 Hellman Sam Falk-The NYTimesLillian Hellman (June 20, 1905 – June 30, 1984)

“If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say don’t listen to writers talk about writing.”


Selecting from my quotations collection for this post, I found myself  drawn to the playwrights above. I admire each one of them for having the courage to find the way to “say it like it is” in a personal and distinctive voice. BRAVO, PLAYWRIGHTS.

Next up: ACTORS

Hall: Playbill Vault
Hansberry: Corbis 
Hellman: Sam Falk/The New York Times
Howe: New York University
Kerr: Playbill Vault
Kushner: Reuters
Nottage: Al Seid/Los Angeles Times
Parks: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Rebeck: Sara Krulwich/The NewYork Times
Wasserstein: Retna, LTD


When You’re Feeling Creatively Stuck…

An earlier version of this post was published as “What Role Were You Born to Play?” in June 2009.

Behind the stage door, great wisdom lives...

When you’re feeling creatively stuck, it’s time to identify those inborn talents of your youth – the ones that went into hiding as you morphed into an adult – and rediscover your Theatrical Intelligence. 

Try this:

Think back to your childhood. Remember the neighborhood where you grew up? 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and inhale the smell of that long ago place. If the neighborhood isn’t quite clear for some reason, or if you moved around a lot, breathe in a moment or two of shared secrets with your closest friend…

As you’re breathing, ask yourself: Was there a time when you and your friends decided to put together an event of some kind?  A gymnastics demonstration? A neighborhood circus with performances by your pets? Maybe a swimming show with a lemonade stand? Whatever it was, your part in this event made you really proud.

Write down what you remember. I’m willing to bet that your actions resemble one or more of The 8 Roles of Theatrical Intelligence, listed below:

1.    The WRITER: You had an idea and wrote it down. You understood the concept: tell the audience, tell them again, and tell them that you told them; with humor, drama and clarity.

2.    The ACTOR: You performed. You lived moment-to-moment. You understood that timing is everything, and that theatre isn’t larger than life – it is AS LARGE as life!

3.    The DIRECTOR: You “saw” the ideas as if they already existed, then staged it to please the audience. Your friends placed their trust in you because you gave them positive feedback about their strengths, and you made them feel good about themselves.

4.    The PRODUCER: You thought up the whole event, assigned your buddies the tasks that matched their strengths, sold the idea to everyone in the neighborhood and got them to pay for tickets. You invited everyone you saw, and one restaurant owner was so enthusiastic he threw an after-show party at your request.

5.   The DESIGNER: You envisioned the environment for the event. You drew it with vivid strokes and it took on a life of its own. You told your friends what to build, what to wear and why they had to wear it in spite of their objections (and they thanked you for it afterwards!)

6.    The STAGE MANAGER: You knew that your best buddy’s vision could be built. You crafted the schedule as to what had to be done by when, so your friends would have a chance to practice. You arranged parking places for bikes, strollers, cars, and managed the traffic and access to rest rooms.

7.   The TECHNICIAN: You made calculations from your friend’s drawings, found the right person to donate materials and stayed up all night building the set. You finished on time, and with no budget. When people got nervous and asked “What’s happening?” you replied “Workin’ on it!”

8.    The CRITIC: You recognized problems from the get-go, and knew that if the project had been approached from a different perspective it would have worked better. But heck, it was fun, and set the precedent for the next time. You wrote a flattering article for the Neighborhood News, in which you had instigated the “Kids’ Column”.

Do any of these roles sound familiar?

As kids, chances are that we played at least two roles with complete abandon. And as we morphed into grown-ups, many of us ended up playing a role that didn’t quite fit.

  1. What was the role (or roles) that you played?
  2. Are you currently playing one of them in your daily life?
  3. If not, when did it (or they) go underground?
  4. What was it about the event that made it so unforgettable?
  5. Can you imagine experiencing it again?

The goal of Theatrical Intelligence is to IDENTIFY the roles that gave you such joy and freedom as a child, TAP INTO that creative pulse you’ve been craving, and USE IT in your daily life.

Once you’ve experienced that pulse, it will keep on beating. Hold it close to you. Unexpected opportunity awaits.


Occupational Hazard: REJECTION!

Rejection = A Fact of Life. Rejection in the Theatre = The Daily Reality.

Assuming a high level of talent and skill, the way a theatre professional handles rejection can determine the rate of success or failure in his or her career.

It took me too long to learn that I had a choice as to whether or not I responded personally to rejection. As a young actress in New York in the early 70’s, my fear of being rejected could be paralyzing; on occasion I would actually not show up for an audition. Knowing I didn’t want to sabotage my lifelong dream, and not wanting to piss of my agent any more than necessary, I gritted my teeth and “followed my fear” as if I was in an improv class.

“What do I gain from being terrified?” I asked myself.  It seemed that certain auditions didn’t scare me a bit and I wondered why they were different. After one such (rare) occurrence it struck me that I just didn’t care: the theatre was too far away, I couldn’t stand the director, and I got the offer. In contrast, when I coveted the role or adored the play or longed to work in a particular theatre, my fear of rejection kicked right in. I was afraid I might actually get the job. Bingo! Fear of success.

When I embraced my fear (one of the Six Principles of Theatrical Intelligence) I made friends with it as if we were partners venturing into unknown territory. More offers came my way, and I actually began to enjoy auditioning.

The fact is that there is no foolproof way to win a role in the theatre, or a production if you’re a playwright or a gig if you’re a director.  If my theatrical cohorts and I had known about my friend Mary Cantando’s “Five Approaches to Handling Rejection” back then it would’ve helped!  Of course she hadn’t written them yet – she was in North Carolina, accumulating the expertise to become the growth expert for women entrepreneurs she is today.

Here are Mary’s gems of wisdom:

Where Mary has written “sales call” or “sales meeting”, substitute the word(s) of your choice: interview, play submittal, backers’ audition, pitch, preview… the list goes on.

Just as Rejection = Reality, No Sales = No Career.

Thanks, Mary. Many of us could’ve used your handy tips way back when. Which is exactly why I’m passing them along today.


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.

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!


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