Leadership Skills I Learned from Producing Musicals
Who knew I would learn so many leadership skills from producing musicals. I was fairly naive when I started writing musicals, looking to expand my composing skills as well as story-telling abilities. It was fun, very creative and extremely time-intensive.
My naiveté became more pronounced when it came time to actually produce the musicals. For some silly reason, I thought after multiple staged readings, networking and advertising that venues would come knocking on my door to do my work. I was wrong! (Does that sound like a Build it and They’ll Come attitude?) Today, it doesn’t matter how good your work is. There is still the gut-wrenching work of launching a run, getting great reviews and recording a good video. By doing all of that, I obtained more leadership skills than any course could offer!
STILTZ the Musical
The first World Premiere theatre run we did was for STILTZ the Musical, a Modern Rumpelstiltskin. I rented a theatre in Los Angeles for twelve performances, then hired two wonderful directors and a choreographer. We also cast seven wonderful actors who all demonstrated not only great acting skills, but vocal chops. I was shocked at the number of actors coming out to audition for the $9 a night payment in a small theatre.
Challenges of Leadership
One of the first challenges I faced with STILTZ was facing script rewrites. My book (script) writer was teaching in Indonesia at the time so I ended up doing many overnight revisions with a cast that became increasingly disgruntled. I spoke to everyone individually and basically told them to major on the majors(using a baseball metaphor) and let go of anything else getting in the way. I also gave huge rah-rah speeches at the beginning and end of each rehearsal with the promise that rewrites would be done on time and accurately. We were all going to fulfill our agreement and put on a great show!
Union rules are that you have six weeks to rehearse actors for shows.That’s it. If there are revisions to be made, extra songs to be written or revised, sets and costumes to create, it’s all done in those weeks. The show STILTZ did go on, not without several more blips and bumps. But we filled the small theatre each night, got great reviews and great videos. Mission accomplished!
TSARINA the Musical
Little did I realize the mountain I would face with TSARINA the Musical. Again, we had a great cast-yet much larger. Seventeen (mostly) young cast members gathered from a 300-mile radius. Again, I was shocked at the interest. I hired wonderful directors, one also the choreographer. One of the main challenges was again cutting and revising the script and music. When you actually put actors on a stage, the unexpected happens. If a scene is too long, a song key doesn’t work or you need extra transitions, you rewrite; many times overnight. As I wrote both music and book in TSARINA I was responsible for both and did the gut-work.
A local 400-seat theatre actually believed in TSARINA so much that they put it on their regular season, which made it feasible to produce cost-wise with no rental fees. But there were many other costs and issues. Large staging, extra lighting, sound reinforcement and many, many costumes. Yet again, after many blips and bumps, we were ready!
Summer Stock at My House
Our house became like summer stock on the weekends. Actors in every room, sprawled across the living room floor in sleeping bags and on couches. The Jacuzzi was hot until 3AM while I was still up doing overnight rewrites. It was actually a very special time of bonding. But leading a large cast and directors with the addition of several unexpected legal issues, I started feeling pressure and weight of epic proportions, similar to the size of the musical! (Leadership skills on steroids!) But we had a wonderful opening weekend with a stellar Broadway World Review! I planned to video the show the second weekend.
That’s when the final blow hit. The theatre was red-tagged by the city right before our second weekend, which ended up being a political issue. I stood in a corner wondering how I could lead a full cast, feeling like I would have a breakdown any moment. What happened was truly miraculous and you’ll have to watch the interview video to find out! What I gained from this experience was that when you properly lead a cast of characters, whether they are actors, your co-workers, mastermind or management team, what you get in return can truly be miraculous. I’ve truly experienced miracles and learned more leadership skills from producing my musicals than any course could ever teach!
Practice and Preparation
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Practice and preparation are extremely important when working with video and music. I share a bit of my process on this week’s Facebook Live. My secret sauce? Consistent rehearsal. It’s not the length of time, but coming back to it over and over-doing it correctly.
Slow Pitch Superstar
SLOW PITCH SUPERSTAR single up for a 2017 GRAMMY. It’s in the American Roots songcategory, but final categories will be announced mid-month. Vocals by David Johnson, National MVP slow-pitch champion. He also just took ALL AMERICAN in Oklahoma at Nationals this weekend.
DEBORAH JOHNSON: Providing tools and inspiration to gain momentum and get unstuck in life. Speaking, Concerts, In-Depth Workshops. Most recent book Bad Code: Overcoming Bad Mental Code That Sabotages Your Life! You can reach Deborah the following ways:Twitter:@DebJohnsonWorks • YouTube ; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.johnson; Websites: https://GoalsForYourLife.com; https://DJWorksMusic.com