Lessons from the Stage

This past weekend I had the privilege of playing a small part in our church’s Christmas play. It was a perfect role for me as it mostly involved walking around and making goofy faces. But going through the process of rehearsing and putting on a play brought to mind a few leadership lessons that I thought it would be worth writing down and remembering.

The first thing that makes drama a wonderful training ground for leadership is that the whole process is a dance with uncertainty. You have a script, you’ve practiced your lines and blocking over and over but in the end when you get out on stage you get what you get.  If someone flubs a line or misses a cue you have to run with it and keep going. Being on stage gets you into a state of forced adaptability where you are expecting things to follow the script but you must be constantly vigilant for changes or deviations and be prepared to react to them and keep things moving. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all approach leadership the same way?

The next thing that jumped out to me is that even the best of us are nervous. As we stood around backstage waiting for the play to start a few of us were discussing how nervous we felt when one of our actors (who has more acting experience than the rest of the cast combined) spoke up and said “Everyone gets nervous.” I don’t know about anyone else but it was very comforting for me to realize/remember that even the best of the best get nervous right before the big moment. It’s natural, it’s normal and it can be a great motivator. Ultimately, by the time you’re getting nervous about going on stage it’s too late to do anything about it anyway so it’s best to just focus and get out there and let it rip.

The last thing that I thought was noteworthy was the value of the cast around you.  After we had finished and things had gone reasonably well I heard an exchange between two of the actors backstage where one was thanking the other for helping her out when she forgot a line on stage.  “You knew exactly what to say to get me back on track.” Because she knew not only her own lines but those of the people she was interacting with in the play, she was able to feed the other actor just enough to jog their memory and get them back on track. It’s an incredible feeling to be working with a cast or band or team that you know and trust enough that you don’t fear making mistakes around each other because you know that someone will have your back and be able to cover for you. That sort of trust is only developed through hours of practicing together and is hardened by actually walking through the fire of doing something a few times together. This sort of instinctual teamwork takes ages to develop but it’s an incredibly sweet spot to be in when you finally get there.

I’d encourage anyone to take a short detour out of their comfort zone and onto a stage at some point. It’s a great learning experience and you might even get to have some fun doing it.

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