My first “big job” was as the Education Director of the National Shakespeare Company, in New York. Our mission was to bring Shakespeare plays and classroom workshops to students at K-12 schools all over the city, and I was absolutely on fire for this project.
In order to make it happen, I raised money for the program, booked the shows, hired the actors, edited the plays to 55 minutes each, directed the plays, designed the classroom workshops, and figured out the logistics necessary to get the cast and all the costumes and props to schools all over New York City. I was the sole staff member working on the program.
Most of the important lessons I have needed in my subsequent career came from the four years I spent building and running this program. I learned how to be adaptable, to see the big picture, to be in charge, to make decisions, and to let go of sunk costs in order to move forward.
Of all these lessons, one that really stands out is being able to adapt to the circumstances. Many days we showed up at a school to perform and something key had changed, or hadn’t been communicated ahead of time at all.
Instead of the auditorium, we were going to be in the cafeteria, or in a small classroom.
Once, all the students in the audience spoke only Chinese.
Another time, the teacher who hired us let me know as we were setting up that the students would be walking out of the auditorium when the bell rang regardless of what was happening on stage, so I stood in the wings cutting lines as we went in order to make it just under the wire.
More often than I care to remember, an actor quit and needed to be replaced with less than 48 hours notice.
These situations helped me get very good at keeping my eye on the outcome, not the details. Auditorium isn’t available? That’s fine, help me move these desks. Everyone speaks Chinese? Okay, we’ll slow down and lean into the vocal inflections and gestures to convey the meaning. The actor playing Banquo quit to take a temp job? Okay, I’ll be Banquo for the next few shows until I can find a replacement.
My mission for the program was to bring these plays to the students, to create an experience for them they would not get any other way. Everything else—location, actors, props left behind–was something we could work out. I have found myself leaning on that ability in the years since, as obstacles inevitably crop up in whatever project I’m working on.
What is the most important thing? How do we make that thing happen? The rest is just details