Making Connections

The first day of play rehearsal brings together a talented and diverse group of individuals. Each one has their strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, and methods of working. My job, one of my main responsibilities as the director, is to mold this cast of creative individuals into a high-functioning and cohesive whole: a team. There are many ways to accomplish this, but the one that works best for me is this: Come in totally prepared with a vision, immediately share that vision, and then let it go. Because it will never be that way again. With a cast of 10, there are going to be at least 20 new, amazing ideas (and usually many more) you hadn’t thought of on how to accomplish even the smallest parts of the vision. So, I need to accept that this vision is no longer ‘my’ vision. It has immediately become ‘our’ vision. And that is a good thing. No, let me rephrase that: That is a great thing. It means that we are all invested in the product, working together to make it the very best it can be. It also means that nobody is looking to me to “fill up their empty vessel.” They are there, excited to share their own ideas and know that those will be considered in a valued way. The result of all this input is that I can honestly say—and delightedly so—that what is put on the stage on that first day of rehearsal is nothing like what is seen on opening night. It is unimaginatively better.

The more the company—whether they be actors, designers, stagehands or analysts, engineers, and HR personnel—believes that this is a team process, where each has a voice in the choices made, the more willing they are to fully participate in the work ahead.

As much time as I take to thoroughly prepare for the work at hand, I invariably find myself in situations where I’m at a loss for ideas or words. There is no shame in that. Even Shakespeare, I assume, had days when he just stared at a blank page. For me, these awkward moments of anticipation, hoping that Thespis will strike me with an amazing idea, are when I really get energized and excited. (Not that I wish for them to happen.) I’ve put myself up in a tree, out on a limb, and I’ve kicked away the ladder. There is no way down, except to jump. Which, sometimes, is not a bad solution.

But vacant moments are all part of the creative process and need to be turned into positive results. One way that works for me is to open up to the team and rely on them for inspiration and collaboration. Here are just a few of the approaches—comments—I have found to work for me: 


  • I don’t know. Let’s figure it out together. (‘Together’ is such a powerful word, giving ownership to all. It also demonstrates vulnerability.)
  • Can you try something else? (Offering trust in your teammate’s talent.)
  • Can we try something else? (Trusted collaboration is a must in all good relationships.)
  • I’m stumped. Do you have any ideas? (Demonstrating vulnerability makes you human and more relatable.)
  • That was an amazing choice! How can we build on that? (Giving confidence so they are willing to take another risk.)
  • Can I explain to you what I see as the ‘why’? (Leading by offering an initial perspective and then being open to comments and reflection.)
  • Don’t worry. That’s why we rehearse. (Rehearsal is a process, a journey of discovery. Choices are made, explored, some kept, most tossed out. Then it is on to the next choice. No judgment, just progress.)

Don’t be afraid to not know the answer. That’s what the rehearsal process is for: to collaboratively explore the “whys” and “what ifs” until a solution is uncovered that leads to a new and powerful truth

Phil is available for: Keynotes, Workshops, or Virtual Seminars: 30 – 90 minutes Half-day & Full day

MOST REQUESTED: Take the Stage: To succeed in business you need to understand people & theatre is in the business of understanding people. Plays and musicals allow us to explore challenging situations, question value systems (including our own), and walk the stage in someone else’s shoes. Phil leads a lively discussion of the four groups that impact the world of theatre – the same groups that impact the world of business: 1) Actor (self), 2) Character (story), 3) Team (Employees), And 4) Audience (Customers).

Phil’s latest book, Take the Stage: 64 Essential Leadership Lessons Learned From Theatre, will be available at his website,, beginning July 1, 2020.

Phillip J Martin

Exploring the Power of People

You succeed by choice, not chance.
Every decision you make shapes your future

Phil is a published playwright and song writer and an award-winning television writer for the Nashville Now show on TNN. He has spent 30 years as a college professor, most recently in the Department of Theatre Arts at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has presented at colleges, universities, conventions and symposiums across the country. In addition to writing 13 musicals, Phil has written two books: Play Hard-Have Fun: A Philosophy for Life and the soon-to-be completed Take the Stage: Leadership Lesson from Theatre. Phil believes that achieving personal and professional success requires the challenge of creative and innovative thinking, that you succeed by choice, not chance.

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