Management Lessons from the Stage: Competition

For those of you who don’t know, every two years the American Association of Community Theatre (aka AACT) hosts a competitive play cycle (AACTFest). This cycle begins at the state level, moves to regional, and finally on to national competition where the 10 “best” community theatre productions will go head to head. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of participating this past weekend in the Michigan State AACTFest, hosted by Bay City Players on behalf of the Community Theatre Association of Michigan (CTAM) and I took away a few observations that I feel may apply to enterprises everywhere.

  • Deadlines are crucial: each group performing in an AACTFest works under the same rules. 10 minutes to set up your production, 60 minutes to perform, and 10 minutes to strike (take down). Exceed any of these deadlines and you are disqualified regardless of how brilliant the show is. LESSON: it doesn’t matter how good you are. Get your work in on time. There may be an opportunity to fix or update something later – but miss the deadline and the sale/project/etc. is gone forever.
  • You will be judged on your work regardless of resources: all groups at AACTFest are judged by the same criteria. Obviously, some groups had more resources to work with than others, but the goals remained the same. LESSON: do your best no matter what resources you have (or lack thereof).
  • Innovate: don’t come into a project trying the same old thing that others have done before. The shows at AACTFest which do the best, with judges and audiences, are the ones that literally bring something new to the stage. Hamlet is a hard sell to most audiences. Give it a steam punk look and a fresh techno hip-hop vibe and you’ve just blown peoples’ minds. LESSON: you can start with the same old service or product, but be sure to freshen it up often. Don’t be afraid to dust off an idea that’s been sitting around a while and see if you can make it new again.
  • Celebrate excellence: only two groups move on to the next level of competition at the state AACTFest (plus an alternate) but many groups are recognized for smaller outstanding contributions. LESSON: find the good in everything you do. Maybe the whole project isn’t a winner – but there are things you can still take away and celebrate. Maybe even learn from!
  • A little competition never hurt anyone: win or lose it the groups who participate in AACTFest come away with a better understanding of how they compare to others in the same field. They better know their strengths and their weaknesses and become better groups in the process. LESSON: you don’t know how good you are until you compare yourself to someone better or, at least, just as good.
  • Someone is always watching and judging: I don’t think this needs to be explained any further.
  • Popular opinion does not always carry the day: occasionally, a play that everyone seems to like won’t win. This is because the judges have their own ideas and criteria that differ in critical ways from the audiences experience. LESSON: remember who you are really selling your product to. Just because you and your team likes it, doesn’t mean that the customer will.

These are just a few thoughts I had. I’d love to hear yours regarding mine.

Onward!

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Christmas 2015

What a difference a year makes!

Last year at this time I had just resolved a year long “crisis of faith” started by the passing of my father on Christmas day 2014. I had recommitted myself to a new fitness regimen by simply walking more and I had been re-diagnosed with Crohn’s.  And, this blog was less than a month old. So much has happened since then…

First, and most importantly, I still have my faith. This has and continues to be sorely tested given all the horrible events that we have witnessed in 2015 both world wide and at home. But, I have an understanding that God provides us with the tools to be better human beings. It is not up to him to solve all our problems we are not his pets. We are his children and the best way sometimes for children to learn is to allow them to figure things out for themselves. I firmly believe that if we truly commit to our faith – without perverting it for our own selfish desires and the principles of faith, hope and charity – the world would be a better place, regardless of your religion.

Second, my health is pretty darn good thank you. I started Humira as my only treatment for Crohn’s and this, along with watching my diet better, has proven to be a very good move. I have not had a major flare up since starting the treatment (there have been very brief “upsets”) and my energy is better than it has been for years. I’m stronger in middle age than I was in my thirties and that’s a bit of a miracle right there!

Third, I may not have achieved all my fitness goals but I’ve clearly made progress. I’m back in the weight room and rebuilding some muscle that I lost in 2014 (the tape measure and my lifts prove it) and I now not only walk but actually run. I’m even planning on doing some mountain climbing this coming June (Long’s Peak). A feat I don’t think I could have even considered a year ago. Old age isn’t for sissies as they used to say and it isn’t for being bound to a bed or a wheel chair. Stay active, stay strong, and I’ll show those tight skinned whipper snappers that a few aches and pains aren’t going to keep me down. Heck, I don’t even miss the hair on the top of my head anymore…okay, maybe a little.

Fourthly, I’ve committed to expressing my creative side in different ways. I continue with tap dancing, I’m working on my play writing again (slowly but surely), and I find time to audition for plays that I want to act in.

Fifthly, I did have some challenges and disappointments professionally this past year. But, by staying true to my work ethic and with some good fortune I’m still happily employed. The reality is that none of us is guaranteed work in this day and age regardless of how well you do your job and sometimes you are viewed as just a number on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t help to worry about it, but be smart. Keep the resume up to date and keep sharpening your skills!

And lastly, I’m talking to more people. Which has turned out to be good for me (I don’t know how the people I’ve talked to feel about it). I made a goal to not be the wall flower anymore. This has lead me to some interesting conversations with strangers and to even adding a few new friends. And thanks to social media I’ve even reconnected with people who I thought were long in my past. The only difficult part of social media is learning to ignore the negative and argumentative people…of which there seems to be an endless supply.

So, to sum up, I’m looking forward to 2016. If it’s like the past year it will be a wild ride, but I’ll be better for it. I hope you will be better for it as well.

Onward!

 

Management Lessons from the Stage: Applause not Necessary

I saw a meme on Facebook recently which stated, “I do it for the fame…said no stage manager ever” and this got me to thinking about how this could apply in any workplace.

For those that don’t know, the stage manager is usually considered the second most important person in the production of a play right after the director. And when the play opens, he or she becomes the most important person to the show. Not because this person is a great actor, set designer, choreographer, lighting technician, costumer, dancer, etc., etc. No because the stage manager makes sure that each show starts on time, runs smoothly, and ends as planned. The stage manager is responsible for the literally hundreds of details that go into making a play succeed – and has to make sure that the actors get on stage when they are supposed to as well.

And how much credit does the stage manager get when the show is done for a job well done? Though he or she might hear the applause the stage manager knows none of it is for him/her. Sure other members of the production may say “nice job” but when they walk down the street no one is going to say “hey, great job stage managing last night!” Nope, it’s not about fame for these people – it’s about being part of a team and the satisfaction of a job well done.

How does this apply in your workplace? I’m willing to bet that in your organization you have someone who is working tirelessly to make sure that every project goes right. Who doesn’t make sure that s/he is noticed in a staff meeting, who doesn’t stand up to ask yet another useless question in organizational meetings just so everyone knows that they were there. Nope, I bet you have someone who is working for the satisfaction of being part of a team and the satisfaction of a job well done.

So what am I getting at? Simple:

Be sure to thank that person – often.

They don’t need applause but they do need encouragement and to know that someone notices.

Onward!

AACT Fest Weekend

Those that know me know that one of my passions is theatre. I’m not a professional actor so I get my “fix” through community theatre and this weekend I experienced one of the community theatre’s biggest events – an AACT Fest.

For those who don’t know, AACT Fest is a theatre competition among community theatres held every two years. The competition starts at the state level (this past weekend in Owosso, Michigan) then the winner moves on to a regional competition (in a couple weeks in Midland, MI), and finally the winner of the regional goes onto national competition (this June in Grand Rapids, MI).

Now, astute readers will notice that all three levels of competition are in Michigan this year – a rare opportunity for theatre goers in Michigan to see some of the best community theatre around. This year’s Michigan competition was won by Players de Noc (Escanabe) and their production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape and Holland Civic Theatre’s, Revival at Possum Kingdom Community Church by Michigan playwrite Linda LaRoque.

My personal favorite, which came in third and will be the alternate entry to the regional was The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey presented by the Farmington Players. This was an extremely moving drama based on the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shootings in 2006. There was not a dry eye in the house when this show was finished. A total of eight groups competed (Monroe had submitted but was the ninth entry and the organizers limited the field to eight for reasons I don’t completely understand but were well within their rights to do.  So we have to wait until the next festival to enter again).

By now you may be wondering what this has to do with my quest for fitness. Not much except that I went completely off the diet wagon this weekend! I traveled with my good friend Bob and unfortunately, I think we are both enablers of each others bad eating habits! We passed a Ponderosa Steakhouse on the way into town, a fading restaurant chain that has a great buffet, and that’s where we went for lunch on Saturday. Well, it was a good thing that we were limited on time because three platefuls and several desserts later I was still ready for more! Plus our hosts, Owosso Community Players feed us well at the afterglows – oh and did I mention Roma’s Back Door? A great Italian restaurant steps from the theatre…

Interestingly enough, the damage may be controllable as I don’t appear to have gained weight yet and I’ve upped my cardio and strength workouts this week so I’m burning more calories. Also interesting, to me at least, is that I could put away so much food this weekend. My Crohn’s usually limits my intake. There has been many a meal eaten out that came home with me because I started hurting – but not this weekend. My guess is that this is because the Humira is doing its job and my insides can take more because they hurt less.

So, I need to be even more careful with my food intake than I used to be…I can’t imagine how fat I could get if the brakes are now off my digestive system (so to speak). Time will tell!

Onward!