It is easy to think of processes as something that stifles creativity, but in reality it’s just the opposite. The more process you have the more creativity you can afford. Many people believe the arts are creative and they assume that spontaneity and talent are what make it creative. The truth is, that most art forms have a great deal of process involved to get to the creative part and the more process you bring to the art form the more creative it becomes. A fun example of this common belief can be found in the movie Shakespeare in Love where two characters are discussing the soon to open show.
Philip Henslowe: Mr Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
P. H.: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
P.H.: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
There you have it, the way most of us see creativity and talent happening is a mystery. But in fact it isn’t a mystery at all. It’s a process and bringing innovation processes, tools and techniques to the theatrical experience brings all the more new and exciting ways to tell a story. And if innovation tools can help the creative be more creative, using innovation processes with anything you do, will work wonders for you too.
The theatrical process doesn’t come with suggestions on how to be creative. It actually fits pretty well into a project management process.
1. Initiating: choose a show, assemble the team, decide design elements, consider budget, scope, and audition actors
2. Planning: create a production calendar, rehearse
3. Executing: Perform for audience
4. Monitoring and Controlling: Stage manager and Director make sure things stay on track, adjusting if needed.
5. Closing: Cast Party
So how can we continually churn out new and creative ideas? I spend many volunteer hours creating theater on stage and many paid hours learning and practicing innovation tools and techniques: I decided to bring them together. I wondered how my own creativity and final product might be enhanced by using the innovation process and tools alongside the traditional theater analysis and actor coaching approach.
To use the Unifying Innovation Methodology I learned through the University of Notre Dame’s Stayer Center for Executive Education to help me and my team be more creative. We were working on a low budget, novice theater makers, and a short time line to accomplish a production that would be presented 11 times to over 2,000 people.
I decided not to convince the team to do a new process, there wasn’t time to teach the process or get agreement. I didn’t want to talk of change and doing something different, I just introduced the process along the way while being careful to work with the current process to keep everyone on board. Sound familiar? It’s one way to get your team, at your organization, to produce new, exciting and effective processes, procedures and products. If you’ve added something new to your team this way, Bravo! Give yourself a standing ovation.
For those of you who are saying to yourself, “What? How do you do that? I want to know more”. Here’s how it has worked for me in my most recent project, directing the beloved story, The Secret Garden a Musical written by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon.
The Unified Innovation Methodology (UIM) begins with Framing Opportunities and I added it to the Initiating phase of Project Managment. I started by connecting to what my purpose was in telling this story. I read the script, listened to the music and did some initial play analysis. I found my purpose. To FRAME the story through the lens of “finding family, redemption and forgiveness”. I also had a strategic imperative from the executive director of the theater and that was to bring out the “dark” side of the story. He wanted to see the ghostly yet complex story more than the childhood stereotyped story.
Connecting to the strategy intent helped me continue to FRAME the story by introducing mental health, grief and trauma to the cast, designers and storytelling. It seems simple and obvious, but honestly, when you think of this childhood story, do you automatically think of depression and trauma? Or do you think of the story line like so many other children stories with a blend of challenges, life lessons and a happy ending? You are not alone, most of the people on my team thought that too. So now, my job was to simply introduce the opportunity of deeper storytelling and connection to a wider audience. New idea #1 was in motion. The rest of our Framing was pretty usual: budget, stakeholder and team alignment, timelines, understand resources, etc. So we created the Project Charter.
Along with Framing Opportunities I also added in the UIM, DISCOVER insights. Everyone involved in the production did research to find insights that we would use to deepen our story telling. We even engaged some people who were interested in the subject of mental health but didn’t want to be a part of the entire production to help us learn as much as we could.
Out of that knowledge gathered, came very important insights to character behavior. Some examples were: we learned that children suffering from depression, low self esteem, neglect and bullying, throw temper tantrums. Insight: The children in our show are filled with pain that leads to their behavior. We learned one reason for the inability to get over grief is the inability to forgive a loved one for dying. Insight: Archibald’s pain came from resentment and guilt not depression, depression was a symptom.
Once our characters could uncover truths about themselves, the designers were handed new ways to think about their work as well. Lights created dark, cool, shadowy looks that moved to lighter, brighter and warmer looks as characters healed. At rehearsals and production meetings we shared the learning and discussed the insights to enhance the story telling.
As we move to Planning in our traditional project management, I asked for my team to IDEATE concepts. IDEATE is the place where some designers, directors and actors can get scared. They may think there just isn’t enough time, money or talent to “dream” of multiple ways to tell a story. Many times they just want the security of a director giving them “the answer” on how things should be done.
I didn’t want to tell people what to do, I wanted them to identify all the ways to tell the story. I decided to get everyone in the habit of asking “How Might We…, and In What Ways Might We….” and drop the “how CAN we” talk. How MIGHT we, opens up creative thinking and creates possibilities. I also, asked everyone to use the “and” word, no “buts” allowed. This keeps your team adding, listening and building on ideas. An example for this was using our insight: The children in our show are filled with pain that leads to their behavior. I asked, “How might Mary exhibit her pain of rejection from her mother at the beginning of the play”? Actor came up with multiple ways to get attention from other adults instead of her mother. Other actors relating to Mary came up with different ways to help Mary feel better about herself instead of reacting to her behavior. This insight along with the word “and”, created connections and meaning among the characters that they might never have found without the insights.
ELABORATE and prototype is the phase in the process that many novice directors and technicians just don’t have time to do, but without it, the status quo lurks around the corner. Turn that on its head by spreading the culture of “renting an idea”. Give everyone a specific length of time to try any idea. Don’t tell anyone how to “act it.” Give the expectation that you want to build and try different ideas by a certain time and at that point the “rental turns into a sale”. Ask your designers to give you 3 ideas not just one, ask your actors to try something new every day. Add an extra week in your rehearsal just to “try” the different thinking with the entire group.
How might you prototype your set if you don’t have a model? Building it and it doesn’t work is expensive and time consuming. We built ours out of paper, tooth pics, and chopsticks. How might you prototype the lighting design, the costumes, using projection all before it hits the stage. How might you make sure that what you have figured out is working?
The last phase of our innovation methodology is LAUNCH and let’s face it, when you are putting up a show this always happens one way or another. In the theater world, launch usually starts with Tech Week where you put all the parts of the plan together. The big thing here is, that launch at this point is a bigger pilot. If it doesn’t work, you have to adjust. The great part of this phase is that this is where it all comes together. Adjusting is easy because before this moment you were already trying and adjusting and now it’s just connecting it all together. Enjoy making it come to life with tweaks and sparkle where needed.
Congratulations, you’ve now used innovation to pump up your theatrical production. Try it on your next project at work, at home or with your volunteer group. The Unifying Innovation Methodology, will bring the creativity out of you and your team and help your project make a bigger impact than you thought was possible.
Beacon Health System
Organization Development & Effectiveness Facilitator