Archive for January, 2013

Are You Listening?

Posted in A Note to Directors, Quotes, Thoughts on Leadership on January 30, 2013 by RobALott

“There’s a big difference between letting someone have their say, and making sure someone is heard.” -Jim Collins

Are you just letting people talk, or are you listening?

Separation of Talent and Ego

Posted in A Note to Directors, Thoughts on Leadership on January 25, 2013 by RobALott

I think egos have gotten a bad rap.

I don’t know that we will ever be able to separate talent from ego.  Not when we are asking people to put their heart, soul, and every emotion they’ve ever had on display for our entertainment and enjoyment.  An ego is the required tool for the artist that plans to command attention.

We all have egos.  It’s not a bad thing.

Your ego is what made you step into the audition room.

(Is this making you uncomfortable?  Relax.  It’ll be over soon.)

Of course we’ve all witnessed the ego that got out of control.  The ego that wrote checks the talent couldn’t cash.  We all know that guy.  But, I’m not talking about that guy.

I’m talking about you.  You, with the healthy ego masquerading as confidence.  The ego that gets things done.  The ego that took you years to build.  The ego that makes others pay attention when you walk into the room.  That ego.  Your ego.

It’s not all bad.  A lot of it is good.  You need it.  Keep it in check, and you’ll be fine.

Why am I so pro ego?

Because ego makes art.  Without an ego, no one would have the confidence to believe their art is important enough to put out there.

Protect your ego, and protect the egos of the artists around you.

A Note to Directors (and this is just my opinion, but it’s true): We all want the best show possible. And within that show, we want the best performances possible. So yes, give all the direction, and feedback, and notes that you feel you need to give. But at some point in the rehearsal process, you need to give your performers back their confidence. Give them back their confidence so they can step onto the stage and deliver the performance you’ve asked and led them to give.

Your Energy

Posted in A Note to Directors, Disentangling Thoughts on Theatre, Thoughts on Leadership on January 18, 2013 by RobALott

I sat in a few separate rehearsals recently where the directors and the stage managers gave lengthy opening speeches about how much fun their rehearsals were going to be. They droned on and on about how important it was to them that their rehearsals be both productive and fun. On and on they went. While the cast and crew became less and less interested and excited.

Oh, you were there too?

If you’re the leader, it’s up to you to create and maintain a rehearsal worth your cast’s interest and engagement. If you are having trouble with your cast or production team staying focused in your rehearsals or meetings, I hate to tell you this, but if you’re the leader, it’s your fault.

Don’t ever forget, the best and most important thing you bring to the process is your energy.

Don’t get too caught up in the rules. Let mistakes happen.

Yes, and… whenever possible.

Take breaks. The charge we get from leading the process is helpful to maintaining our energy. But it does not create an endless transfer of energy to our cast.

Drink coffee.

Drink water.

Get plenty of rest.

Plan.

Clean and quick transitions from scene to scene are not only the key to maintaining energy on stage, but they are also the key to maintaining energy in rehearsals and the creative process.

Also, keep in mind, it’s not just the director or the stage manager or any other important sounding titled person that gets to be the leader.

Who Cares?

Posted in Quotes, Thoughts on Leadership on January 16, 2013 by RobALott

“Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.” -Seth Godin

In your art, what does caring look like?

Information Vs. Insight

Posted in A Note to Directors, Disentangling Thoughts on Theatre, Got Me Thinkin', Thoughts on Leadership on January 11, 2013 by RobALott

A child has no choice but to learn.  The world around them is a giant classroom.  Everywhere they turn, like it or not, they are learning something.  Absorbing as much as they can.  Exploring.  Curious about everything and everyone.  Unable to ask enough questions, appropriate or not.

Then something happens.   I think for most of us, it was around age thirteen.  The moment when we realized, we got this.  It all makes sense.  There’s really no more need for learning.

It usually takes a couple of years, but each of us is brought back, and with quite a bit of harshness, to a reality that tells us, “No. No you don’t got this.  You don’t have this all figured out.  Not even a little.”  And we begin the slow process of learning how to learn and learning once again.  Desperately trying to make up for lost time.

But here’s what we’ve lost, and I believe it’s next to impossible to get it back.  We’ve lost the ability to learn without a filter.  Sure, we know that we don’t know it all.  But we do know a little.  And in a lot of cases, we know enough.  Life experience, job experience, relationship experience, all of this experience keeps us from learning without a filter.  So now we are left with learning on a need-to-know basis.

Sure, we have interests of our own.  But when it comes to what others think we should know, we learn on a need-to-know basis.

Adults learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it.

It’s no wonder then why there’s a shift that happens for artists when we cross over from rehearsal to performance.  We are all guilty of it.  The final dress rehearsal is the finish line, the moment when we stop working ON our craft, and rather begin working IN our craft.  We know what we need to know to get the job done.  We know what we need to do to make it happen every night.

I know we all preach the importance to never stop working on it.  That’s what makes us professionals.  But, if I could press a little, when was the last time you pulled out that script for the play you’ve been in for the last two months?  When was the last time you went over your notes from rehearsal?

Yeah, thought so.

Me too.

So, we need a shift.  A shift in our thinking as we make the celebratory leap from rehearsal to performance.  The actor, the director, the choreographer, the dancer, the composer, the fourth trumpet player, the conductor, all of us.  We all need an intentional shift in our process.

During rehearsal we drown ourselves in information.  We study.  We study hard.  Because that’s what it takes.  But then once we open, once we start, once we have a few performances under our belt, there’s no need to continue the search for new information.  We got this.  We know what it takes to get it done.  We’ve learned what we needed to learn, and now we know what we need to know.

This is the quickest way to a stale, boring, and uninspired performance.  We’ve all seen it, and some of us would even admit to having experienced it on stage ourselves.

So, the never ending quest to keep it fresh continues.

Might I suggest this.

Actors, you have all the information you need.

Directors, you’ve given all the information the actors need.

What’s needed now, is insight.

Information is useless to someone who already knows how to do it.  Insight is what’s needed.  More light.  More time.

Actually, insight only comes in time.

Talk to the people you are working with.  Let them talk about their process to find their performance, and in doing so, you’ll bring new insight to your performance and force them to discover insights of their own.  It happens every time.

When you feel the pressure, be it from others or from yourself, to keep your performance fresh.  Don’t go searching for more information.  More information often leads to confusion and messiness.  Instead, search for more insight into what you already know.  Insight, more often than not, leads to clarity and simplicity.

Is There Room for Both?

Posted in Creativity, Quotes on January 9, 2013 by RobALott

“There’s a difference between being a performer and being an artist.  A performer entertains.  A performer, in many ways, makes the decision based on what will move the audience.  But an artist is actually trying to communicate, and makes the decision of what is the genuine expression of who they are as a human being, and allows others to interact with that creative form and expression.”  -Erwin McManus

Who’ll Take the Credit?

Posted in Disentangling Thoughts on Theatre, Got Me Thinkin', Thoughts on Leadership on January 4, 2013 by RobALott

I spent a good amount of time in shopping malls last month.  There never seemed to be a shortage of performers vying for my attention, certain they were what was missing from my holiday cheer.  Most of the choirs, and dance troupes, and hand bell choirs were fine.  A few were good.  A smaller few were very good.

But one was absolutely, how do I say this…awful.  Just terrible.  It was clear that being in the dance troupe that season was more about a trip to Orlando than it was about dedication to the art.

Now, I come from a smallish town.  A town that, while it certainly appreciated the arts, wasn’t always all that good at it.  So, I have a soft spot for small town performing arts groups.  I was taught, “the smaller the band, the louder you cheer.”  But this, well…I was having a hard time with this one.

When faced with these situations I try to ask myself:  If I liked something about this, what would I like?

The few of us standing around all knew there wasn’t much redeeming about this.  But, even if only for myself, I was going to try and find a thing to like.

So, I asked myself the question.

If I liked something about this, what would I like?

If I liked something about this…what would I like?

What would I like…

That “if” in the question was quickly becoming a helpful out…

Wait.

What would I like.

Him.  That kid just left of center.  Him.

He got scooped up with everything else and labeled “bad”, but he’s actually pretty good.  Not great, but pretty good.  He’s giving 100% of what he knows to give.  He not only knows the choreography, but he’s performing it.  This is clearly an important show to him.  To him, this show is an opportunity.  It’s the beginning of something.  I don’t know where his resume will go from here, but I do know he has plans to add to it.

As I watched him, I got a little choked up (as those that know me know I do).  I started thinking about how we all started somewhere.

Think back for a bit on where you started.

When was the first time you stepped onto a stage and you were not only allowed to be there, but requested to be there?  When was the first time you wrote a line of dialogue that got the desired response from your audience?  When was the first time you drew something and it was shown for a larger audience than that of your mother’s refrigerator?

Now think about the people that surrounded you as you were first learning.  The adults that let you get the line right, in your own time.  The people that laughed with you, not because it was funny, but because they knew what you meant.  The music teacher that insisted on all twelve scales.  The director that didn’t hold a grudge from your outburst the night before.

We all started somewhere, and we were all surrounded by people who helped us move beyond starting.

So, who are you helping to move beyond starting?  Who are you being patient with?  Who are you emptying your cup of know-how and experience into?

Because, here’s the thing.  You are very good at what you do.  And lots of people want to work with you.  And after they do, they’ll add you to their resume.

Will you want to take credit for them?

I fear the leader of the confused holiday dance troupe will only want to take credit for one of his students.  However, that leader’s name will be on the resumes of each member of his troupe.  And for each of them, he’ll have to take the credit.

We don’t always get to choose who we perform with.  But we can choose what they learn from us.

Make your line on their resume worth something of which both of you will be proud to take credit for.