How To Succeed

This week, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to my role as a director and leader in various theatrical settings.  I found myself in a situation where I needed to clearly articulate the various aspects of my job and how I am able to do each of them successfully.  Following the structure of Frank Loesser’s “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” here’s “How to Succeed in Theatre With a Lot of Hard Work.”

How To Apply for a Job

There are three important steps to follow when applying for a job (in any field).  The first, Picture 2and most important in my opinion, is to make sure that all of your information is kept up-to-date.  Take the time to update your resume, website, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages every time a new event occurs in your professional life.  Taking care of these updates as they come along will ensure that you have all your materials ready to go any time a potential job arises.  In my field, an important part of this is compiling photo or video documentation of my work.  Be a squeaky wheel and make sure that you are given copies of any production materials.  This is your calling card when it comes to booking future work!  The second step is to write an excellent cover letter (or email).  This should be direct, confident, and enthusiastic.  Step three is to go into the interview with confidence, but also with reverence.  You want to show your potential employer that you are the right person for the job, but that you are also excited to learn more (genuinely, of course!).

How To Advance From the Mail Room

While we all like to be picky, I think when you’re starting out, it pays to say yes to all Picture 1opportunities.  If something really isn’t a good fit, of course, say no.  But you really want to soak up as much information as possible.  Direct at the Community Theatre level, and intern at the professional level.  Volunteer as an usher at the big houses in your area so that you can see the best of the best.  Be open.  Listen to everything you can.  Read every book on your craft.  Study, study, study.  Show up early and leave after everyone else.

How To Sit Down at a Desk

Picture 4There are some less glamorous aspects to being a Director.  We all want to be in the rehearsal room, inspiring actors to take brilliant leaps, and creating art.  Frankly, though, 75% of my work happens outside of the theatre.  I have to create the time and space to be a manager – creating a production schedule that accommodates the schedules of my actors, co-directors, and designers.  I have to be in constant communication with all of those people as our project develops in order to implement ideas and changes.  There are dozens of emails to send, calendars to manage, meetings to attend, music to edit, scripts to cut, and blocking prep to write out.  None of the artistic genius can even begin to occur if the administrative foundation is not in place.

How To Dictate Memorandums

COMMUNICATION IS EVERYTHING.  Be clear and transparent.  Make sure that your requests and schedules go out in a timely manner so that designers, producers, and actors have the time to implement any changes and bring in their best work.  Say please and thank you.  Really.  People just want to be seen and heard.  Show the people on your team that you value them.  It’s so important and so easy, yet often glossed over.

How To Develop Executive Style (How to commute in a three-button suit, with that weary executive smile)

Make an effort to look professional.  We’re not talking about business suits and dresses here, but it is important to make a good impression.  You never know who you’re going to have to interact with on a daily basis – be it producers or parents.  You want to look like someone who could be in charge (especially on the days when you’re questioning all of your career choices, which will inevitably happen during the peak of tech week).  Even if you don’t have an encounter with one of the higher-ups, being put together is also a sign of respect for your actors, music director, choreographer, or anyone else you might be working with on a daily basis.

How To Observe Personnel

Give your team feedback.  Find value in other people’s work.  A large part of being a director is about seeing and hearing the people around you.  Be open to the creativity and ideas that other people are bringing to the project.  Utilize people’s strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses.  Be subtle and graceful.

How To Select Whom to Lunch With

Lunch meetings are very important.  They provide a key opportunity for networking and feedback.  The less formal setting makes people feel free to speak more openly.  Lunches and coffees are a chance to meet with your other team members and get their honest feedback on how the work process is going for them.  As far as the actors go, some directors like to keep a clear line, while others don’t mind socializing with the cast.  I typically keep myself a bit separate, but I do like to check in, especially when I’m working with young actors.  I won’t sit with them for the entire lunch or dinner break, but I will pop over and say hello.  This is a good time to talk about something other than the show that we’re currently working on.  Ask about their day – what they did at work or in school, how they spent their days off, etc.  Listen and learn about who they are as people.  This will make your work with them on stage so much more fruitful.

How To Avoid Petty Friends

There is no room for attitude or rudeness in my world.  Honestly.  Stay away from the divas.  They will pull you down a destructive path.  The theatre is a world of collaboration.  None of us got anywhere by being petty or exclusive.  I’m in the position I hold today because I worked with directors and actors who gave me the opportunity to be heard when I was younger.  Remember that there is no play without a whole slew of people standing around you.  Do everything you can to make sure that those people standing by you are supporting you, rather than filling your ears with negativity.

How To Begin Making Contacts

Invite people to come see your work.  There’s no risk in sending an email invitation.  People will either come or they won’t, but I can guarantee that no one will be offended by the invitation.  If there’s someone in your local theatre scene whose work you admire, send them a note and tell them so.  We all love positive affirmation.  Even those people who you think have reached the top anPicture 3d must hear it all the time – strangely enough, sometimes they need it the most.  Ask questions.  Most people in the world of theatre will say yes if you ask them to coffee or lunch in order to pick their brain.  We’re a very social breed of people, and who doesn’t love to talk about their own work?  A coffee is a benign way of making business contacts without directly asking for a job.  Finally, go see theatre!  Here in the Bay Area, I run into people I know every time I go see a show.  You never know who you might get introduced to.

How To Walk into a Conference Room with an Idea–Brilliant Business Idea–
That Will Make Your Expense Account Zoom!

I’m not sure how many of us in the theatre world have expense accounts or are pulling in six figures, but there are certainly many ways to live a successful and fruitful life in this business.  Self-confidence is important.  This is very different from ego.  It’s that essential core knowledge that you have ideas that are worthy of being heard.  Perhaps you’ve caught on from everything I’ve written thus far – most of a director’s job is to make other people feel supported, seen, and heard.  It’s easy to do if you believe in the project and in the ability of those people you have chosen to work with.  What’s difficult about being a director is that there are fewer people to tell you when you’re doing a good job.  It can be lonely.  A solid self-confidence is key.  The payoff will come in seeing your vision for the show come to life.  The payoff will come in seeing your actors rise to heights they never thought possible.  The payoff will come in hugs and thank you notes.  The payoff will come in getting invited back to direct again.  But it starts with an idea.  Dream big.  Pitch your ideas with enthusiasm and gusto.  Be so infectiously passionate that it would be impossible for anyone to say no.

This Book Is All That I Need

I don’t think you can really learn directing or leadership from a book.  You should absolutely read everything on the craft that you can get your hands on.  That’s simply a requirement for developing expert knowledge of your field.  In the end, though, it’s about showing up and doing the work.  Sometimes it’s the glamorous work of character development, stage combat, and special effects.  Other times, it’s the monotonous clicking of the keyboard as you write dozens of emails.  Both have great value.  Put in the work.  Just like in the early days of your career, you will still show up early and leave late.  Invest in the people around you.  That’s how to succeed.


Published by rachelrobinsonmusic

Rachel Robinson is a teaching artist, director, music director and performer based in San Francisco. She is a graduate of New York University’s Steinhardt School, and holds a degree in Vocal Performance. In addition to her work as a singer/actress, Rachel maintains a very busy schedule directing, music directing, and teaching. Rachel grew up in the Washington, D.C. area where she became an active performer at a very early age. She appeared many times with The Washington Opera, and she also played roles at the Adventure Theatre and with the Washington Savoyards. In 2003, Rachel moved to New York City to begin her degree at New York University. During the next four years Rachel appeared in many cabarets and productions, both at NYU and in the city. After graduating in May 2007, Rachel became the resident Music Director at Stage Left Children’s Theater in Tappan, NY. She was in residence there for three seasons. At the same time, she founded a private voice and piano studio. In September 2010, Rachel relocated to San Francisco. She began working as a music instructor at ViBO Music, Village Music School, and the San Francisco Friends School. She also was brought on as a music director at the Willows Theatre Company. In 2011-2012, Rachel spent a year as the Conservatory Director at the Willows, where she worked on developing opportunities for youth and up-and-coming theatre artists. No matter what level of student she is working with, Rachel believes in finding the student's "natural voice." Playing any instrument is a process, not an event, and her goal is to make that process as fun, productive, and insightful as possible.

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