Archive for the ‘Theatrical Intelligence’ Category


My spam folder was full this morning (neglected by me over the holidays) and just as I was about to delete the ubiquitous penile enhancement posts, I was tickled to see a couple of messages from Santa…

 “Your article really did turn the light on for me personally as far as this specific subject matter goes.” Signed: Santa Claus Calls

“In the grand scheme of things you actually get an A for effort and hard work. For right now I shall subscribe to your position.” Signed: SClauswerks

 Santa’s style sure reflects his spirit, unlike the other 98%:

“I was wondering how to cure acne naturally, and then I found your blog.” Signed: Rickets (Yuck!)


“1st, you wish a 3-season sleeping bag with the casket and the semi-rectangular style; the added amore due to the abridgement of autogenous space.” Signed “Polo Outlet Online”. 

(WHY NOT “Casket Sleeping Bags”?) Go figure.

Asian language spam is on the rise: 


And… *blush*… I actually used Google Translate: “Even though a little higher at the surface that could hurt excessive force to account for, and the effect of hair care reached three times greater risk of burden.” Signed: Luxury-Brand-something. 

OK – enough! But then I saw one of Santa’s comments that seemed rather sleep-deprived, or even delusional:

“I like this information and it has given me some sort of desire to succeed for some reason.”

Unless… d’you suppose Santa struggles with self-esteem,  just like the rest of us?

Guess I’ll check my Santa-Spam next December.

And now… (She presses DELETE.) On with 2013.


Illustration: 123RF (Royalty Free) Stock Photos


Conflict in the Workplace? Follow Your Fear!

(Revised from a piece published September 30, 2009)

A Theatrical Intelligence blog reader posted a question a while ago about everyday conflict in the workplace, wondering if theatrical intelligence can help. Depending on the conflict of course, the answer is yes. As long as one is open to alternative ways of facing the challenge!

Conflicts at work are often reminiscent of family quarrels and hierarchies from our past: we feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, powerless, and usually that familiar 4-letter-word rears its ugly head: FEAR.

One of the great secrets in improvisation is to “follow your fear”, an expression coined 50 years ago at Second City by the late great Del Close.  Using this technique (even though it may seem counterintuitive) can yield surprising results.

Professional actors follow their fear in rehearsal and performance by looking for obstacles to overcome.  This creates dramatic tension, and requires them to step into unknown territory, which results in emotionally unpredictable, sometimes humorous behavior. When this behavior happens in places other than improvisation, we can laugh about it and learn from it – when it’s over!

The only way to really screw up in improvisation, is to deny “reality”. In this case “imaginary circumstances” = “reality”. This is another little jewel we can steal from improv.

For example, when two actors are on stage and one of them puts her jacket over her head to protect her from… no one knows what, yet… the reality of those imaginary circumstances are a GIFT to the other actor. (Is it raining? Are there pigeons above? Is there an enemy overhead?) One of the actors establishes what the jacket is protecting them from, the other actor accepts it as a gift, and that’s the reality upon which they build their story. 

In many workplaces a denial of reality is the norm: it’s “the elephant in the room” or “the dead moose on the table”, meaning no one dares mention the thing everyone knows is going on. Here’s the common wisdom: 

Denial of reality breaks down trust and builds up fear

Acceptance of reality opens up worlds of possibility

So, imagine this: the next time the current-conflict-at-hand happens yet again at work…  what if you follow your fear?  Accept the reality and have the courage to say “That dead moose on the table stinks – what are we going to do about it?” Or, to mimic a possible workplace scenario: “Is that another of your witty insults – again at my expense?”

Opportunities will leap out of nowhere for you and your colleagues. Why?  Because you’ve broken through the denial, acknowledged what is real, and cracked the conflict wide open. Can’t you just hear it? Try it! FOLLOW YOUR FEAR.

And please let us all know where your courage takes you – I suspect is worthy of acknowledegment. 


Twitter Lists!

When Twitter offered its Lists Function a couple of years ago (see my lists on the left) I instantly loved the idea. My free time tends to be in 5-to-10-minute-chunks, and I figured that within each chunk I could catch up with at least one category of people I follow: my fellow theatre passionistas (two-am-theatre) for instance, or my WPO colleagues (women-presidents-organization: my very first list).

I’ve gotten to know my expanded network thanks to my handy lists. And recently my lists began to – um – sort of talk to me; that is, they became reminiscent of audience feedback during previews of new plays. Somewhere midst the unfiltered responses to new work there’s a collective wisdom waiting to be identified. This little idea led me to wonder what I might learn by surveying the lists on which my name appears.

Could I quantify whether or not my Twitter strategy is working, by using my lists?

OMG. Lotta laughs. Lotta lists with funny names. As of today, I am listed on 140 of them. See the sampler below:

These lists are NOT cold, hard data, yet they ARE lots of fun: @Sailert‘s (Tim Sailert) Alas, Poor Yorick list is a puzzler in spite of the Hamlet quote, as is @OhDoctah‘s Bench and @JoeMull‘s Not Spectators (Ideas? Please post comments!)

So is there anything to be learned about the value of my name on 140 people’s lists? Yes. My non-scientific survey concludes:

Influential (non-theatrical) writers and bloggers such as @WillMarlowe, @GoInluence (Maddy Dichtwald) and @ValueIntoWords (JacPointdexter) are consistently engaged, which I find deeply flattering.

I’ve acquired an international following! I’m a Creative American according to @DramaGirl (Kate Foy, from Australia). And have discovered a brilliant Blogger from the Netherlands: @DERagsdale (Diane Ragsdale).

Many followers don’t know what category to put me in (List for Those Who Need a List from @BostonCourt) but we continue our Twitter exchanges. I welcome getting to know their networks.

I am honored by the number of powerful women of all ages with whom I’ve developed relationships: @AnneMessenger, @AndieArthur, @_plainKate_, @devonvsmith.

@Deifell (Tony Deifell) started the social-media meme #wdydwyd (why do you do what you do?) based on a passionate curiosity he has no idea that we share: wdydwyd? I simply adore it.

The biggest surprise is that 3 decades after I stopped performing, my acting career is still with me. “…you can take the girl out of the theatre, but you can’t take the theatre out of the girl”.

I’m encouraged that my Twitter Lists are steadily expanding (as I get back to work on my book!) Please send your peeps my way if any of ’em might have an interest in Theatrical Intelligence.

I’ll be happy to return the favor.

Theatrical Lingo

Theatrical lingo, much like theatrical logic, works sort of like a secret code. “BREAK A LEG” in theatre jargon, for instance, means “Good Luck!” The term refers to the “break or bend of the leg” while taking a bow or curtsy. It’s as if the felicitation says “Great success tonight, with many curtain calls!”

A few favorite examples of this imaginative (sometimes loony) lingo are listed below:

Frank Rich and I share a laugh...

GHOST LIGHT: Theatrical superstition says that if an empty theatre is left completely dark, a ghost will take up residence. That’s the reason a single ghost light is left burning center stage in every theatre in America, after everyone has gone home. I’ve often wondered if the light is to keep the ghosts out, or to welcome them in. Probably both.

The light also serves as a practical safety measure in case someone wanders near the edge of the stage without knowing that an orchestra pit looms below, awaiting their potentially hazardous fall.

The fact that I cherish most about ghost lights, however, is that each one is carefully crafted by a stagehand. And like snowflakes, no two are alike. 

Frank Rich’s memoir, Ghost Light, is required reading for anyone serious about the theatre. (Is it necessary to disclose that Mr. Rich modeled the definitions of Writer and Critic for me decades ago? Well, anyway, he did. And he continues to inspire me with his Theatrical Intelligence in our changing world.)  He and I had a good laugh recently on the stage of Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre (see photo above): the usual clear filament bulb had been exchanged for a CFL – a compact fluorescent, or “green” bulb!  Less traditional perhaps, but a good superstition is hard to kill.

GEORGE SPELVIN: A fictitious theatrical name. Actors use this pseudonym to remain anonymous or to avoid their name appearing twice in the program if they’re playing more than one role. Sometimes the name is used when a character mentioned in the text never appears onstage; by crediting the role to “George (or Giorgio, Georgina, Georgette) Spelvin”, the audience isn’t tipped off that the character never shows up. Occasionally Actors Equity members working under a Non-Union contract (alas!) use the name to avoid penalties associated with Non-Union work.

VOMITORY: In a thrust or arena theatre, a vomitory is a ramped or stepped tunnel, giving performers access to the stage from beneath the seating area (see photo, right, of Arena Stage in Washington, DC). The term probably originated from the days of Roman amphitheatres, when those who were thrown to the lions managed to escape to tunnels under the arena, vomiting along the way. (Gross enough for you?)

Arena Stage's Fichandler © Nic Lehoux

Theatrical lingo includes hundreds of colorful terms, and just as many off-color ones. Please share your favorite in the Comment section above.

If you’re the first to come up with one I’ve never heard of, you’ll be my guest at a Broadway show!


Words Frozen Until Spring? (It’s All In The Timing)

I am in bed with pneumonia, taking an unplanned vacation from my life during a New York City blizzard.

With impeccable timing, a friend posted a quote on Facebook from Plutarch, which appealed to my pneumonia-induced-thinking:

Frozen“Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time [they] thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer.”

These ancient words make me think that pneumonia might not be so bad. As long as I don’t die from it. (Thank you, O science-world, for antibiotics!)

Yes, the pneumonia has jiggled my system; it has rendered reality ridiculous; it has produced middle-of-the-night-hallucinatory-conversations with long forgotten relationships. Weird. Scary. Kinda like drugs in the 60’s. (Though I was never a druggie, my friends always got a kick out of the fact that my vicarious high made me seem more stoned than anyone in the room.)

Which brings me back to the frozen words. I am staring at the 2011 calendar, on which “one month plus” of bed rest has been prescribed by my doctor. In pneumonia-zone, time is slower than the clock by far. So it is comforting that my thoughts and words might freeze for a while – it seems perfect, in fact – that they are frozen as we are snowbound in the city.

Come spring, when I am ready to venture back into the world, my words will have melted. And I will be ready to hear them.

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!”



A Theatrical Intelligence Workshop


130 West 46th (6th & 7th)

$195. (lunch included)



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 Foreword For My Book… Or A Backward?

(A Loony Moment of Escape)

An eminent person is sometimes said to be helpful...

For weeks I’ve been obsessed with whom I might ask to write the Foreword to my book. Tonight, my husband offered to write a “Backward”.

Granted, this was probably a gesture intended to shut me up. My husband, however, is a guy with wild ideas that often work, so I listened. A “Backward” would be the opposite of a Foreword, he explained; instead of laying out why the book matters, it would summarize what people will remember. He went on to persuade me that “Backwards” will be a forward trend in publishing.

I ignored the fact that his idea reminded me of Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University because I was convinced. We all know that people don’t read any more – I mean books are written about the fact that nobody reads them!  Who cares that I have spent this year consumed with writing, re-writing, cutting, purging, drilling down, down, down into this concept I am passionately committed to? Chances are that nobody will read the damned book anyway! A “Backward” sounds reassuring to me – a momentary escape from the thought that maybe no one cares.

So I’ll finish writing the book. I’ll find an eminent person to write the Foreword. And Roger will explain in his “Backward” exactly what readers would remember if they had actually read the book.

Um – do you suppose I should spell it “Backword”?

On Writing: “A Deep-Sea Dive…”

This week I’ve been immersed in another solo writing marathon in New Hampshire, cast in my current favorite Theatrical Intelligence role: Writer.  When Studio projects required my input, I stepped out of Baker Library and into my role as Producer or Manager. I have a quick-change-agility at jumping from Performer to Producer to Director and back.

I am not, however, agile enough to change roles when I’m writing. So it’s been a challenging week.

Dave Eggers. (Photograph © Maria Laura Antonelli)

Writer Dave Eggers was recently quoted in a newspaper article : “Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you’re called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can’t ever get back down.”

It’s the “…you can’t ever get back down” part that’s been killing me all week. On one of several breaks today to see if I could recover from “Studio Surfacing” as I’ve come to think of it, I chanced upon a slim volume of quotes from literary women.

The mighty Virginia Woolf came to my rescue: “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” Her words stirred my soul.

How fortunate am I that millions of pieces have come my way!

Whether or not I can take a plunge into an Eggers-like-dive after surfacing to answer a phone call or an email, I can arrange my pieces. Every single day I’m aware of one little theatrically intelligent moment or another, from an early decade or a more recent one. So that’s what I did today: began to arrange my pieces.

As I pondered and reflected, more pieces kept coming at me and it was harder and harder to pay attention to the phone. The emails are still waiting.

What a wonderful day.

My Blog-o-logical* Clock: To blog, or not to blog, that is the question…

*blog-o-logical: (ADJ) 2009 term coined by Ann Sachs; often paired with ‘clock’ (N). Refers to psychological stress due to time-lapse between Theatrical Intelligence blogposts.

On Mothers Day this year I birthed my blog. My blog-o-logical clock had been ticking for months, and I thought that after publishing the first couple of posts, the tick-tick-tocking would go away. Ha! That is the equivalent of saying that a mother’s work is complete after childbirth.

I have an idea for a book called Theatrical Intelligence. It’s a concept that uses the theatre production model to impact business performance. My blog is also called Theatrical Intelligence; its purpose is to send my ideas about this new concept out into the world to see what comes back to me. It isn’t working.

Aye, there’s the rub.

Nothing is coming back. Why?

FIRST: I don’t blog enough. Responsibilities to my company get top priority. Make no mistake: this is my choice. I co-own the business with my husband and no one is tying me to my desk.

SECOND: I have been uncharacteristically shy about “sending my ideas out into the world.” I’ve hinted. I’ve joined Twitter, and tweeted as @TheatreSmart. I’ve asked my kids what they think. But I haven’t launched, in the sense of sending my own theatrical rocket into space. 

THIRD: Twitter has an irresistible little feature called a Posterous Page. It is, essentially, a mini blog that is as easy to use as picking up the phone. I gave in to this preposterous temptation and have posted 28 little pieces since November, on what I call my (Pre)Posterous Page.

That puts me exactly 3 distractions away from writing the book. Or are they distractions? My partner Roger Morgan believes that so-called-distractions are part of the gestation period of creativity; natural and inevitable, given that the muse does not descend on demand. (I have encouraged Roger to write a book on innovative procrastination techniques. He informs me that the idea is in the gestation phase.)

Writing the book is the goal, I remind myself. Yet my blog-o-logical clock keeps ticking, an incessant reminder that I am committing blog-abuse.  My blog is hungry and wants to be fleshed out, to grow, to become the catalyst for getting the book out in the world.  Every day my inner critic (the 8th role of Theatrical Intelligence, by the way) prevents me from posting deeply shallow articles.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.

HOWEVER… cowardice doesn’t seem to fit comfortably. Therefore, I proclaim that in 2010 I will:

FIRST:  L-A-U-N-C-H the blog, such as it is, into the world.

SECOND:  Work on T-H-E  B-O-O-K

‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.

Please join me as a conversation partner in this quest, and subscribe to my blog. Pass it along to friends and colleagues. And most important: share your feedback; one of the 6 Principles of Theatrical Intelligence is that “Failure is the quickest way to learn.” If I’m off the mark in your opinion, please let me know. That’s the way this dream will take flight.

Thank you. And may the new decade see your dreams come true.

Rocco at TCG: Back From Peoria

Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman had just gotten off the plane from Peoria on Saturday when he arrived at the Theatre Communications Group Fall Forum. We were a group of about 120 TCG theatre members and board chairs, gathered at the Desmond Tutu Center in Chelsea. (Full disclosure: I am neither a theatre member nor a board chair; I had received special permission to attend.*) Everyone in the room was honored that Rocco had carved out the time to meet with us so early in his tenure at NEA, and we were eager to hear what he had to say.

I don’t know Rocco well, although he was our Studio landlord for a few years. As he walked in I didn’t so much assault him as take the opportunity to congratulate him on his provocative entrance into his new role, and to express my hope that he wasn’t discouraged by his critics. His response: “Ann, I’m 62. I’m not about to change now.” I don’t know why I expected anything different, but it was so reassuring to hear those words I almost threw my arms around him and kissed him on the lips. I tend to be a little over-the-top in situations like this, so decided against it.

Rocco opened his talk by telling us about a “gruesome meeting on the Hill” recently, after which he told his wife Debby it reminded him of a favorite old country song: Joe South’s These Are Not My People. Then he told us that he was relieved to be here, because “…you ARE my people!” Vigorous applause. It  felt good to be included.

He drew a parallel between the theatre as “the most aspirational of activities” and the Obama administration as driven by aspiration. In his no-nonsense-get-to-the-bottom-line style, he respectfully referred to our President as an artist “…who has faced the blank page” and succeeded in that perilous journey. And he spoke passionately about the theatre as “…the most essential, the most basic and primal of all human activities; the activity that appeals to our deepest needs and impulses.” It was stirring. “I mean it’s gossip – we’re overhearing people talk when we go to a play!” Impeccable timing.

He went on to explain that if we hadn’t heard about “Art Works” yet, we would soon, with its triplicate meaning :

1. Art works on the wall, as in “a piece of art”.

2. Art works to transform lives, as in his case, he was changed forever when he saw Long Days Journey…

3. Art IS work!  As in: there are 5.7 million arts related jobs in our country.

Rocco spoke from his heart, and didn’t refer much to his scribbled notes on a yellow pad. He admitted that the Chairmanship is still so new to him he hasn’t figured out how it works. He is comfortable in his discomfort, however, and is not afraid to fail. It is one of the reasons I’m so excited about his arrival in Washington; he is living proof of the Theatrical Intelligence principle: failure is the quickest way to learn.

He was a good sport and answered a few questions we had submitted earlier in the day. His lack of endorsement for ‘No Child Left Behind’ was palpable: “It leaves too many children behind who could be saved by arts programs.” He spoke of a charter school in New Orleans which gave him a glimpse into an inspired program, as he watched young children start the day singing Fats Domino songs.

And he answered my question (don’t even ask how thrilled I was) which was “By what measure will you define your success at NEA?” His answer was to tell of the crusty old New Englander who was asked his advice about what makes a happy life. His answer: faster horses, younger women, better whiskey, and more money.

Rocco: I’ll let the first three go, but without a doubt the way I’ll be judged is by how much money I can bring into the NEA. What can I say? I am optimistic. And with apologies to Mel Brooks – perhaps my optimism is delusional –  I can’t help it, I’m a broadway producer.

Applause. Standing ovation. Exit.

My opinion? Perfect casting.

*I was meeting Futurist Jack Uldrich, a Twitter pal, who had presented a stimulating talk on “unlearning” earlier in the day.

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