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Last weekend marked a significant milestone for our family. My 16-year-old son completed a three-week run as Kenickie in the stage musical Grease at his high school. After three and a half months of rehearsals and three weeks of shows, his first foray into theatrical arts is over. And boy, are the emotions running high in our household.
When he first told me he auditioned for this show, I was only slightly surprised. While he’s been an athlete his entire life, he’s also demonstrated musical talent and interest. Plus, he has incredible charisma and a huge personality, which are quite valuable in the theater. Like his approach to sports, he was fully committed to the entire process and threw himself into the work. The young actors and technicians delivered a series of performances that were better than your average high school theater production. I swear, I'm not just saying that because he's my child; I'm saying it because it's true. The theater was packed week after week. The audiences were so appreciative, and you could hear it with every round of applause. And yesterday, after the cast party and the final performance, as they tore down the set and cleaned the theater space, there were more than a few tears from the cast and crew.
I am happy for my son. He went into something new and created tremendous friendships while putting the show together. It got me thinking about what these young people created beyond just a stellar production of Grease. They created a culture. They created a space in which they were fully themselves. Where they trusted one another, took risks with one another, and supported one another. And because of that trust and support, they could push themselves to be better. They performed with reckless abandon, unafraid of how they might be judged, and ready to help each other out should anyone need it.
I still remember telling my parents I wanted to study theater in college. Their eye rolls were so dramatic that it was almost ridiculous and, ironically, very theatrical. They couldn't have hidden their disdain for my chosen path–and my personal interests–if they had tried. Yet, it was something I was drawn to and ended up pursuing.
When I'm talking to young people, I often speak about the value of theater and how it can help in business. I encourage managers to take improvisational theater classes often. My son’s experience actually opened my eyes to even more possibilities one can gain from a theater experience and how they apply to work. Were my parents' eye rolls warranted or were they missing some really important potential in a theater experience?
As far as I can tell, there are actually several lessons that theater arts can teach us about developing healthier work cultures in corporate America:
Collaboration: Just as actors must work together to create a cohesive performance, employees must collaborate and communicate effectively to achieve common goals. Fostering a sense of community within the workplace–even when it’s a small team–can build a healthier work culture. In theater arts, a successful performance requires more than any individual can do–it depends on the ability of the actors, director, designers, and crew to come together more than anything else. A thriving corporate culture also must prioritize collaboration and teamwork above a “rockstar” approach. By encouraging open communication, valuing diverse perspectives, and supporting employees in their professional development, companies can create a working environment that promotes collaboration and drives collective success.
Creativity: All theater thrives on creativity and innovation, pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas through experimentation. These can also be valuable qualities in the corporate world. Encouraging employees to think outside the box and develop new ideas–and discouraging judgment if things don’t go just perfectly–can lead to a more dynamic and engaging work environment.
Empathy: The theater arts require actors to understand and empathize with their characters. The best performances happen when actors truly step into the shoes of their characters and find a way to connect audiences with those characters’ experiences. Seeing others’ perspectives–their worries, fears, hopes, and goals–can build empathy and understanding among employees and lead to greater mutual respect and cooperation.
Active listening: In theater, actors must listen actively to their scene partners to respond authentically and create believable performances. In the workplace, encouraging active listening can improve communication, foster a more positive work environment, and reduce misunderstandings and conflicts. Every person should be listening to understand, not to respond.
Risk-taking: Actors in the theater must take risks and try new things to create engaging performances. Encouraging employees to take risks, try new approaches, and learn from failures can lead to a more innovative and dynamic work culture.
Adaptability and Resilience: Theater professionals are adept at adapting to unexpected changes, whether it's a last-minute script revision or a sudden technical glitch. The world works similarly: constant change and uncertainty are par for the course now.
My son never mentioned he was going to audition for his show. He had no experience in traditional theater, but he decided to put himself out there one day. This might sound insignificant, but teenagers are the most self-conscious humans on the planet. They are always worried about what other people think. And that's a trait that is hard to shake, even in adulthood. If young people can take risks and commit, imagine what we adults can do when we stop worrying about what other people think and we just TRY!
There are probably many experiences that can strengthen the soft skills that we need so much in our creative economy, theater just happens to be where I–and hopefully my son–developed some. Theater arts aren’t worthless in business. Literally, anything we push ourselves to do helps us grow and provides lessons that can be applied to our professional lives. So this isn't about theater, really. Or soft skills. It's about pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. Because every time we venture into discomfort, we are giving ourselves an opportunity for growth. It's about trying new things to build resilience. And it's about courage to try, despite our fears.
What are you doing that is forcing you to grow at work? What personal challenges do you think contribute to you showing up differently and better? What have you always wanted to try, but never dared to do?
Oh, and also, Grease is the word.
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, let's take a few final moments to acknowledge why we have such a month and the work that still needs to be done. We celebrate Women's History Month to acknowledge and honor the contributions of women throughout history who have played important roles in shaping our society. It is an opportunity to recognize the achievements of women who have made significant contributions in various fields, like politics, science, education, arts, and culture. Women have always been an integral part of how the world works.
Women's History Month is also a time to reflect on the challenges and obstacles that women have faced throughout history and continue to face today, such as discrimination, inequality, and gender-based violence. It is a reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the need to work towards creating a more equitable and just society for women.
To advance equality for women, we need to continue advocating for policies and practices that promote gender equality in all areas of life, including education, healthcare, employment, and politics. This requires the involvement and support of all people, regardless of gender expression, in addressing gender-based inequalities, challenging gender stereotypes, and promoting women's empowerment.
It is also crucial to address the systemic and institutionalized barriers that prevent women from achieving their full potential, such as unequal pay, lack of access to education and healthcare, and gender-based violence. By working towards equality and empowering women, we can create a more just and equitable society for all. After all, in the words of the ever-polarizing but still brilliant Hillary Clinton, “Women’s rights are human rights.”
If you are like me, you are yearning for signs of spring. Here in the north country, the weather is a cruel mistress. We long for sunshine and warmth. Yet, every day lately has been a horrible tease: just sunshine and cold. And tomorrow it snows some more. I’m finding spring wherever I can, and sometimes, when I find a little spring, I want to share it. So I’m sharing this poem with you.A Light Exists in Spring
By Emily Dickinson
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here
A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —
A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.
Honey roasts are the kinder version of a regular roast, and Clockwork decided to make roasts a regular feature at All Hands meetings. We’ve done four now, adding a lot of joy and gratitude to our company meetings. Not only that, it has benefits backed by behavioral science