Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Sep 14, 2010

All the World’s a Stage

Guest Blogger Mary O'Donnell, Fundraiser, Performer...MBA

 Following up a recent Business Women’s Finishing School article about the work of a performer, I have expanded on some of the lessons from the theater world that can be applied in the corporate world.

1.      Be prepared.
Like a job interview, an audition is all about research and preparation.  I always read the play before I audition, and if it’s a musical, I familiarize myself with the score. I had the opportunity to audition for (name drop) Ben Affleck for the first movie he directed.  I got a call the day before the audition, bought the book and read it before the audition the next morning.  Although I did not get the part, he was impressed that I had read the book on such short notice so that I could better understand what he was looking for in the on-camera audition.

2.      Know the players and their expectations.
You often have one or two minutes to do a “cold reading” for a director or casting agent, so you’d better know as much about the client as you do about the characters before the audition.  On-camera auditions involve clients who have clear expectations about the age, hair color, etc. for their characters.  If they say memorize the script and wear a business suit, do it.

3.      Establish clear goals.
Theaters projects have short time frames and lots of moving parts in various stages at any point in time.  If the goals and timelines are not clear for all of the participants onstage and backstage, the project can grind to a halt.

4.      Focus on your own goals.
When you are onstage acting, singing and dancing, there is no room in your brain to think about anything else but executing the script, your own staging, props and costume changes. There is no point in worrying about what everyone else is doing or not doing. If everyone focuses on achieving their own prescribed goals, it all comes together like a quilt—a crazy quilt, but an integrated whole nonetheless. 

5.      Rally the troops around a single shared vision
In any theatrical production, there is a specific script, but each actor uses his or her unique skills and perspective to interpret that script to bring it to life. The director’s job is to bring out the best in every performer through a process of respecting the actors’ instincts and interpretations, having a solid vision for the end product, and helping all the actors achieve that shared vision.

6.      Don’t take feedback personally
In the theater world, rejection is constant, and you can’t take it personally.  I go into every audition doing my best, but I know that there are too many elements of the audition outside my control.  The local theater circuit is a very small world with a smaller number of directors who have their friends, and cliques reign. A director may have very strong ideas about the physical “type” required for a role.  Sometimes you’re just not the vision the director has in his or her brain, and it’s more about your build and hair color than how well you read in an audition.  Accept it, and move on to the next project. 

7.      “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
Everyone is essential to success of a theatrical production.  Period.  See #8, #9 and #10.

8.      It takes a village
The people the audience never sees usually outnumber the performers onstage and are vital to the success of a show:  the guy backstage who built and moves the set pieces, the person who figures out a special effect, the lighting designer, the prop person who creates the 1959 newspaper, the costume designer, the stage manager who runs the show, and the volunteers who do the publicity.  This is a team effort, and everyone needs to pitch in on some less glamorous parts of the project to get the job done. 

9.      With concerted effort by all, today’s chaos can be tomorrow’s success.
“Tech week” is the week just before a theatrical production opens.  The set is onstage for the first time, the technical people are setting light cues, the orchestra is suddenly there, actors have quick costume changes to figure out, and everyone’s patience is tested.  Tech week is a very compressed version of a product launch where what looks like a looming disaster on Sunday becomes Friday’s successful opening night.

10.  It’s a small world
Your reputation can be broken in an instant.  One false step, diva moment or negative remark will be transmitted cryptically through Facebook status and backstage conversations, reaching everyone in the theater microcosm.  As Heidi Klum says on Project Runway, “One minute you’re in , and the next you’re out!”  If you have a reputation for being difficult to work with or unable to be a team player, you will not get the part.

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