What Theatre can learn from the Military, Part 1

I met Michael Kieloch in his apartment where I was renting the guest bedroom through airbnb.com. It was in his kitchen late at night that we got into an awesome conversation on leadership, business and theatre.

He is currently in the process of creating a company that will offer leadership seminars in the military style, inspired from his years in the Air Force Reserve. His ideas on how to apply military techniques to the civilian world make for a much needed fresh perspective on theatre.

What is the military style of leadership?
There is not one style, but there are a lot of particular leadership traits and programs that the military uses universally: emphasis on the interpersonal relationships between people, taking care of people who lead and taking care of your unit, accomplishing the mission successfully. The big difference between the focus for the military and civilian is that the priority for military is to accomplish the mission first, and then take care of people, which is the reverse in the civilian world.

"Most leaders don't always have all the knowledge that the collective people on the group have"

Let's talk about specific problems of the performing arts. I wrote an article about rehearsal backseat drivers. How should a leader handle one?
If a person tries to take charge, it's likely that they must feel like something is going wrong and they want to help, or they feel they know better, so what you can do is try to channel their energy in a positive way and re-channel that. Make it a point to talk to that person and find out what their ideas are, try to find out the ideas that the people in that group have. Most leaders don't always have all the knowledge that the collective people on the group are gonna have. Some people in the group might have more experience, have done something longer.

"The group member has to understand that once 
the ideas are shared, the leader decides"

The goal is to be engaging the individual by saying "I recognize you have a lot of experience and I really appreciate that you want to share your ideas, because you want the group to be successful, and I want the group to be successful. Now is the time to share with me your ideas," and listening to them, and then afterward making a firm decision as a leader, then saying "I can appreciate your experience and your ideas, now we will do things in this way" (whether it's following their ideas or not). The group member has to understand that once the ideas are shared the leader decides. Once you have their ideas, make it clear that the decision is final, and that they'll have to follow it. It's not an open call to interject. Otherwise it breaks the group dynamic.

In musical theatre, how can the choreographer and music director function as leaders when the director always has the final word in the end?
In military you have individuals who might be in charge of a specific unit in a larger unit. Some people in maintenance, someone for logistics, someone for supplies, all these different sections. You might have a commander for all the sections who may not have any experience in the specifics, or knows a little bit of everything. There is a challenge because you might make a decision and the commander above you might reverse that. If the leaders disagree, it's best not to do it in front of the entire group as much as possible.

"If two leaders disagree, it's best no to do it 
in front of the entire group"

If for example, the director disagrees with what the choreographer is doing, the best possible way to do it is to take the choreographer aside and speak about it privately, so it doesn't undermine the choreographer. It doesn't bring the emotions of feeling that you were embarrassed in front of the group. If someone reprimands you in front of your peers, someone is more likely to make a snark remark or handle it poorly because they don't like being embarrassed.

If you have a director who is in the habit of counter-managing or doing things in front of the whole group, creating arguments, it would be important to talk to them and say " I appreciate that you're in charge, that you see the bigger picture, but when you have issues, please step aside and talk about it in private."

Producers usually stay away from a show's rehearsal process until the last few rehearsals, and then make a few comments to the director. However, sometimes, producers will start acting as another director in rehearsals, or will be adamant of certain things having to happen their way for the show. 
How may a director remain in charge when the person who hired them to be in charge is the person frightening their leadership?

It's an issue that the military would call chain of command. In the military there is a clear chain, a clear line of who is in charge.  There is a clear organization, who reports to whom, etc. It's important in the same regard that everyone acknowledges that. Make the delineation between people's responsibilities clear.

"In the military there is a chain of command, 
a clear line of who is in charge."

This is another matter of handling that privately, it's one of those scenarios that if the producer has agreed that it's not within their scope, that it's not their job to be directly in charge of the cast, and they come in and say "I want this", it's ok for the musicians and actors to say "I know who you are, you are the producer, but in our chain of command, I'm only responsible to do what my direct boss tells me."

In the first day when everyone gets together, they should agree on the chain of command, who is in charge, from the top all the way down. This is how the organization goes. The producer and director need to come together before the rehearsal process starts to agree. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails