What Theatre can learn from the Military- Part 2

In the first part of his interview, Michael Kieloch told us about the importance of a clear chain of command for people to understand and respect each others roles better. In this part of the interview, Michael answers questions about the special challenge a music director faces, on group dynamic, and on how to maintain authority.

Out of the three leaders of a musical, the music director is different in that he actually plays the show. In the end of the rehearsal process, the choreographer and the director watch the show and give their comments. 

It's at that time that the music director ends up being given comments, while not being able to give much of them because of being a part of the show and not getting to have that outside perspective. 
How may he retain his leadership position at that time?

It would be beneficial for the music director if the choreographer and the director would give him time to prepare their input and put their thoughts down on paper, while as music director you haven't had that opportunity. It's also important to leave a bit of a time for people to collect emotions after a run.

"It's tough to retain your leadership when you don't have the opportunity to have a perspective"

That's a tough situation to retain your leadership when you don't have the opportunity to have a perspective. Is there a possibility that you could record the performance and reviewing it afterward? You can't necessarily sit back and watch it while the others can, but if you record it then you can collect your thoughts.

Many people tend to test  their leaders at first, which ends up happening often in an industry where you work with new people every six weeks or so, or where you get to work with your musicians for just a couple of rehearsals before the shows. What is the best way to lead to gain trust and respect from your cast and musicians in the quickest way possible?

Unfortunately that's a real tough challenge because typically building that group dynamic, it takes time. A group goes through four stages to build: the forming, storming, norming and performing. Every group, whether it's a group of scouts on a camping trip, a military unit, or an orchestra, every group goes through it.

 "Building a group dynamic takes time"

At first, the people just get used to each other so people build their first impression of people, they decide how they want to sit in the group dynamic, get a feel for how things work, the group is not cohesive at first, they're not gonna rally around something immediately. At that first stage, that's when it's important to establish roles. After the first impression, that's when they're gonna get their behavior from for the rest of the experience.

"Testing is part of a natural group progression"

Second stage is when now everyone is part of the group, everyone knows each other, any sort of issues the group starts tackling them: personal issues, issues about performance, dealing with conflicts, etc.That's when testing happens. It's part of a natural group progression. People figure out what your leadership style is gonna be. The norming phase is when people work together, when the group is accomplishing its goals, the team is working together, cohesion and team spirits. Unfortunately, going through this process takes some time.

In military unit, the best leaders build the unit and build respect for themselves, etc. It's a long term effort. Sometimes though they do need to accomplish something quickly. Ultimately in the military, whether or not an individual has a chance to learn or become the new leader, they all respect their rank structure in the military, so regardless if you're in charge of a new group of people, if I have to go do something with them that day, everyone would fall back on our rank and position of authority. So unfortunately in your case, you don't have the rank and the authority behind the rank structure. In military if people don't follow the chain of command they get reprimanded, they may loose money.

"Establishing authority in a 
short amount of time is tough"

Establishing authority in a short amount of time without the benefit of a chain of command is tough, because people are going through the stages without the long term. Address each instance as they come along. You want to make a point, if you try to figure out an issue and people figure it out among themselves, you can say "I appreciate it, but I need to be involved in the process. Look we can sit here all day until you tell me, or you can fill me in and figure it out." Don't let it go.

Make them understand that you value their knowledge and their skills but they still need to run those things through you. Something as simple as some tools a commander has in the military, like he could formally reprimand someone in the unit and reduce their pay, or other unpleasant thing that people don't want to do , they have to do what is asked. If someone gives you a hard time, maybe you can say "fine, we'll sit here until you guys will tell me. We'll treat you like children until we can act like children."

"You don't have control over the individual
that you would have over time"

It's tough because you don't have control over the individual that you would have over time. It's harder if there is a contractor, unless you can resolve it with the contractor directly, it's difficult because it takes away another tool to motivate musicians "if you perform well, I'll re-hire you", you can't hang that over their head, so you have to find other things to motivate them. That's tough.

Any last thoughts?
Like I said, look at everything, it's important if you're gonna apply a military leadership model, handle it more formally, establish some formal lines of authority and work out things ahead of time, and agreements with people ahead of them, that they understand that there is a formal structure.

"Challenges in theater are difficult, 
but leadership usually is"

I think that will definitely help the group in the long run because it gives you tools  as a leader to properly lead a group and follow the structure, recognize who they need to respond to and who they don't. It's made for a  healthier group dynamic. Obviously a lot of challenges and unique scenarios in music and theatre, you have to find creative solutions for the benefit of the whole group. Difficult, but leadership usually is.



  1. Hi Geraldine,

    What a great post! I am enjoying looking through your blog.

    Brian from conductorsblog

  2. Thanks Brian! I really enjoy your blog too!


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