On opening night, after 40 minutes backstage, I made my entrance and promptly forgot the lines of my monologue. The play, Buffalo Gal, was based on the Anton Chekov masterpiece the Cherry Orchard. The hours of memorizing and months of rehearsal couldn’t stop the sweat from dripping down my collar and under the armpits of the wardrobe shirt assigned to my character.
Never imagining I could take time away from my business and perform in a play, there I was getting a first row lesson in the ways acting on stage mirrors a competent business manager or entrepreneur. I learned how technical rehearsals precede dress rehearsals and the importance of on stage and “cue-to-cue” rehearsals. Rather than time away from my business, acting in a play gave me productive insights and great tools for my clients.
Actors take training very seriously. It starts by putting the right person in the right job and rehearsing like maniacs. Months before opening night the cast begins by reading the play from start to finish. Everyone gets the big picture from the first day of rehearsal. Rehearsals begin so early that another play will conduct its entire run while the new one is being prepared.
Actors practice performing in the moment. When the readings are done and most lines are memorized, the cast moves to technical, dress and public performances. With manuscripts and cheat sheets in hand, actors work their parts for timing and continuity. My confidence to perform grew as other cast members said I could do it and trusted me on stage to pull my weight.
Actors always arrive on time. You might not make your appearance until an hour into the play, but your team expects you to be there well before the curtain rises. No one stumbles in late mumbling about traffic or an emergency.
Actors trust their nerves. The good performers showed normal anxiety and healthy excitement about getting it right for the audience. They trusted the industry system of progressive and repeated deliveries. They also build a deep understanding that every other cast member is on their side honestly cheering for their success.
Actors know how to celebrate. There’s a thrill at the curtain call — nudging the cast member to release their roles as they smile and bow to the audience as themselves. It’s quick, memorable and appropriate. With Buffalo Gal, we changed clothes and popped into the lobby for refreshments and a hand shake line with those who wanted to meet and chat with the cast — customer meets supplier. I was fascinated how audience members spotted little details in someone’s performance that made the entire play shine. The connections to running a business began bubbling to the surface.
I also learned that people in theater rarely do it for the money. The hours involved would not match minimum wage and any stipend would need to stretch to fill gas tanks — they love what they do. I saw admiration and respect for each other and an unspoken inspiration for the craft and the product. Racial barriers melted. Gender divisions seemed non-existent. The only peek at status was watching and admiring the skills of those who humbly showed how many times they must have done it before. Their confidence and support of others was noticeable — something every employee craves.
Seconds after my final lines, feeling shame and embarrassment, I sank into my backstage chair. Pulleys strained to close the curtains then reversed direction as the cast entered from both sides of the stage. Later in the lobby I went to apologize to the director for the mangled monologue. She said she hardly noticed and that everyone forgets lines. She said I did well for my first play. I went and shook some hands.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-690-7327.