During the four years of my undergraduate studies, I worked on annual festivals of 10-minute plays written by students in the Introduction to Playwriting classes. The festival was the culmination of three months of writing, and the students were responsible for rewriting and revising their plays over the course of the week leading up to the festival. We had limited human resources, so everyone had multiple jobs: while students perfected their own scripts, they were also acting in, directing, and script managing the plays of their peers. Everyone was forced to work for not only the success of the play they had written but the success of every other play that would be performed during the festival. The success of the festival as a whole became the shared vision of each group of students.
I loved the energy of collaboratively creating with other artists to bring together one final product. Each year, the students left the class and the festival feeling bonded—and with a thirst to work in a collaborative context again.
The festival was a microcosm of what it is like working on a major theatre production. Working in theatre is all about the shared vision of the end result: the success of the play as a whole. In working on these 10-minute play festivals and other theatre projects, I learned a few things about what it looks like to Inspire a Shared Vision in the context of a community.
- No one works alone. Whether you are a lighting designer, an actor, a playwright, or a director, every member of the team experiences a moment of dread: I am not good enough. The costume I designed looks sloppy. That line of dialogue I wrote is awkward. I will make a mistake and then everyone will see what a failure I am. For me, this line of thinking inevitably led to pulling away from the community to hide inside my own wounded ego or fear of embarrassment. But a play is never about the contributions of one person, no matter how important they believe their role to be. Dramatic lighting is nothing without fabulous actors on a stage; a few good lines of dialogue are meaningless without a set designer creating a physical world for the characters to inhabit. In theatre, the talents of dozens of people come together to make an extraordinary product—a product that could never exist if it was the work of only one person.
- Failure is not to be feared. The process of collaboration is vulnerable because not every idea that pops into your head is a good one. No matter how brilliant you are, you will present an idea in rehearsal that nobody likes or experiment with a line-delivery that falls utterly flat. But the stage during rehearsal is a safe place to try and fail. The point is to play. Bounce ideas off of other creative minds. Take your idea, explode it, and piece it back together from someone else’s perspective. When you can fail in a safe place, it becomes that much easier to come back from the failure, say “What did I learn?” and then take another risk.
- There is no One Leader. It takes someone with vision to inspire a team of people to see the beautifully-finished piece instead of the unfinished moving pieces. A leader is able to put one person’s contributions in the context of the vision as a whole. But in rehearsals, there is never just one leader. Leadership crops up from different members at different times. The set designer who was feeling overwhelmed yesterday encourages the uninspired actor today. Everyone learns from each other’s creativity, mistakes, and energy. When the end result is in everyone’s best interest and no one is focused only on their own self-interest, everyone has the opportunity to be a leader. Each member of the team has the ability to breathe life back into the project for someone else.
The success or failure of any piece of theatre never falls on the shoulders of one artist. At the end of the festival every year, each writer, actor, director, and designer went up on stage and bowed together—because everyone was responsible for the finished product. Everyone had staked a claim in the outcome. Each student was committed to the success of every 10-minute play, whether he/she worked on it directly or not.
To me, Inspiring a Shared Vision implies community, one that breathes and grows to incorporate diverse voices. Working together, failing in a safe place, and leadership from multiple sources binds the community together so that everyone can take ownership of the piece as a whole. When the vision is shared, and everyone is committed to keeping the vision alive, no one person succeeds alone. No one person fails alone. And everyone leads each other.
Jordan Henry is a Client Care Specialist with Fine Points Professionals, The Leadership Challenge® Authorized Service Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.