Musical theatre companies and shows seem to have taken a while to get up to speed with the development of leadership teams in the wider business world, and within other industries. With the rise of the #metoo movement and the emergence of harassment allegations within the industry it seems now more than ever that we should be looking to other industries to see how they handle and prevent these situations and fit that paradigm to our industry.
The Employer of Choice award run by The Australian Business Awards has the following eligibility requirements to be nominated:
Employers of Choice are required to demonstrate their achievements across the key areas of:
Organisational Culture & Leadership;
Training & Development;
Employee Health, Safety & Satisfaction;
Recognition & Remuneration.
Think of a show you’ve been in recently. How many of these headings do you feel were demonstrated by the production team? Do you feel they would have been eligible for nomination?
This article will now drill down on these headings and apply them to best practices within a musical theatre show environment.
Organisational Culture & Leadership
A good theatre environment is a two way street, built by the contributions of both production teams and cast members. However, the former must establish the tone and expectations before the latter can collaborate in a meaningful way; you have to ‘walk the walk’, ‘lead by example’, and other associated clichéd expressions.
The best and most basic stratagem is to treat others the way you would like to be treated, and model the kind of behaviour you would like to foster in your team. Of course there can be tensions within a hierarchical structure, but if you lead with conviction and genuine care, that organisational structure will be your strength rather than your weakness.
A fantastic article by Forbes lays out ten ways leaders influence organisational culture and these traits should be embraced by all leaders.
In summary: Remember to check your ego at the door, proactively solve issues and problems that arise with compassion, and encourage your team members to hold themselves to the same high standards you hold yourself to.
Employee Education relates to the development of capacity within the production team at large.
It is important that, within the structure of the production team, there are individuals with experience and training at the helm of each department. It’s hard for a cast and crew (or any individual trying to find their way with minimal guidance) to enjoy and get the most out of the experience if their whole process is good-natured trial and error.
Where a department may have a team member who is new to the discipline, or seeking experience on a production team, it is the responsibility of the producer to facilitate mentoring, coaching, and support to enable that individual to complete their job to the best of their ability. Seek out alumni of the company, other team members with relevant training, or reach out to professional support networks in your region. Providing these connections early and encouraging open dialogue within your departments will greatly minimise the team's stress.
Training & Development
We are always learning. Good leaders will take moments during a rehearsal to impart their knowledge, spend a little time on developing skills, and provide an environment where learning is encouraged. If a cast and crew come out of a rehearsal realising they’ve gained a new perspective, found a new way to interpret their character, or even learned a new way to perform a dance move, they’ll be coming back eager for more.
Often, we need to look beyond productivity to ignite that spark of knowledge for someone that will propel them to work more efficiently in future. It’s the old ‘teach a man to fish proverb’ but applied to theatre. Tell a man his lines and he speaks for a scene. Work through the motivations of the man’s character, and he’ll find meaning to speak the whole show.
Employee Health, Safety & Satisfaction
Unfortunately, this heading is often the one that lets our community down. We’re missing a vital department in theatre that has been part of workplaces for half a century: human resources. Everyone has a right to a workspace, and in this case a rehearsal room and theatre run, which is both physically and psychologically safe. Emotional and psychological wellbeing is often overlooked in our industry, and it has led to many unsafe workplaces, especially for those in the minority. These unsafe places can be created by unfit leadership.
HRM Online has an article outlining three easy ways to promote employee well-being that fit with the theatre industry, namely promoting it as key to a good culture in the show, stopping problems at their source, and supporting those with mental health issues.
All of these issues are in the hands of the producer. If even one person is paid for their services as part of a show, the producer and all leaders have a legal obligation to provide physical and psychological duty of care under Safe Work Australia legislation in their operating state or territory.
There should be processes in place by leadership, and namely the producer, to manage the performance of those under them by having one-on-one catch ups, providing feedback to individuals, groups and teams in a timely manner, and managing underperformance in a proactive way – which should got for all members of the crew as well as the cast.
This also extends to setting and establishing clear expectations for all members of the cast and crew in their respective roles. This means that every member of the production is accountable for their actions, and support or discipline can be provided if necessary.
Recognition & Remuneration
The focus here is on motivation and engagement as an intangible part of remuneration (especially since theatre companies rarely have the money to competitively pay everyone).
There is no simple way to keep people motivated and engaged, though as previously covered it is completely in the hands of leadership to motivate, inspire and engage their teams to be the best they can be, to explore their own creativity through their interpretation of the director’s vision, and to communicate their own desires of what they wish to achieve by being part of the production.
It is not enough to assume that a cast or crew member’s motivation is to gain the recognition of an audience – a good leader will discover the motivations of each and every member of the production, and ensure they remain engaged and feel valued over the course of the season.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of these headings. It takes adaptive proactive leadership to effect change, to support the team, to motivate, engage, train, protect, manage and recognise every member of the team that brings the show to life.
If we maintain our focus on developing our leaders, and applying some human resources principles to our productions, we will create ‘productions of choice’ that have nothing to do with budgets, and everything to do with positive, fulfilling experiences.