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Things to Think About #4: Theater

Because audiences are often small, because no tickets are sold, because sometimes the stage is just the part of the conference room nearest the screen, because standing ovations are few and far between, it can be easy to forget that what you do is theater.

Part of what makes theater exciting is never knowing exactly what’s going to happen during any given performance. Sometime theater can be magic, sometimes not so much

Audience members at a West End play starring Keira Knightley were left baffled when an onstage mishap interrupted a performance.

Stagehands at the Comedy Theatre had to pull down the safety curtain after a chair was crushed as a pillar descended for a new scene in The Children’s Hour on Monday.

. . . .

“Ten or 15 minutes later there was still no announcement but then the curtain went up, there was a different chair and the column had been put back.”

. . . .

A spokeswoman for the play said the chair had been moved slightly off its marked position as cast members exited.

She said: “The nature of live theatre means that occasionally unexpected things happen on stage and need to be sorted as quickly as possible to ensure the smooth running of a show.”

Words to live by.

Getting knocked slightly off your mark (figuratively as well as literally) might get you crushed. Be prepared to get sorted as quickly as possible.

I guess we’re all really lucky that Keira wasn’t sitting in the chair at the time.

There is no magic button…

In a recent blog post, Pat Ahaesy used three scenarios to illustrate the idea that a lot of production disasters can be avoided through good communication.

Things that sound so simple, but done on the fly due to poor communication can be costly. Things that sound so simple, and done without communicating  in advance to your producer can either not happen as you envision or not happen at all

Some examples of “simple” that could be a disaster, but can be avoided with good communication:

  1. Planner wants stage set for 4 person panel with all panelists center stage on high stools and moderator at a lectern, stage right.¬† During chats with another planner, the decision is for the panelists to be seated on two couches on a diagonal. They will omit the lectern and have moderator seated on a chair. The lighting designer and your producer haven’t been told of this change. Of course, the different seating needs to be sourced quickly and the lighting designer has to re-focus his lighting. Much stress and potential errors could occur.

I think we’d all agree completely that good, early communication is crucial to avoid disaster. Why it’s so difficult?

Ahaesy attributes it to budget concerns:

Sometimes management and/or procurement feel that contracting production early in the planning stages can cost more money.

I’m not sure that there’s really that much thought being put into. My guess is that a profound lack of communication is often caused by what I like to think of as the Magic Button Assumption. Professionals that inhabit one area of expertise often assume professionals that inhabit another have a magic button that allows them to make anything that needs to happen happen with no fuss, no muss and no preparation or planning. The funny part is that any they would find any suggestion that they possess a magic button of their own too ridiculous for words.

The reasons a client might be making this assumption are many and it might be interesting to talk about them in future posts. The most obvious is that clients often don’t really understand what it is we do and how the tools we use work.

The more I think about it the more it seems that this phenomenon needs to be part The Principles. It also needs to be explored through the discussion of real life examples. I’ll be tracking some down from my own experience and I would really appreciate it of you would be willing to share your own stories. Feel free to put them in a comment to this post or let me know if you would like to do a guest post.

Or maybe it’s so mundane and ubiquitous it’s not worth discussing at all. One way or the other please weigh in and let us know what you think.