Direct And To The Point: Slice and Dice

If there’s ever any issue around time (eg. being part of a larger evening and needing to fit within a certain amount of time, trying to run without an intermission, just being too darn long, etc.) do your cuts before you get into the room.

I didn’t think I would need to remind myself of this, but I recently made this exact mistake. It fell into the category of “I thought it wouldn’t be an issue, so I didn’t worry about it.” Admittedly, you can’t worry about everything. There are only so many hours in the day. But this particular instance wasn’t about a lack of time. It was laziness (and perhaps false security).

Script cuts are not something I feel comfortable doing on the fly. They can be emotional for the playwright, who worked very hard to make the lines sound just so, as well as the actors, who are working hard to memorize and shape them. When working on a new piece, my ideal scenario is that I think through the cuts by myself, then discuss with the playwright, then let the actors know what the new landscape is (and allow them to petition for anything that they feel strongly about). For an established script, any cuts should be done before the actors ever see the production version of the script.


It’s my responsibility to be smart about what I think should be cut and why. It’s also my responsibility to avoid wasting our time in the room (if at all possible) while I suss that out. And ultimately, it’s my responsibility to make the piece work within all of its confines. Limits are limits. You’re welcome to be creative within those limits. But if you refuse to accept reality, it’s only going to come back and bite you in the end. Nobody wins a Tony for the potential of their idea. They win a Tony for how their idea is executed.

Make the cuts that should get you where you need to be. Then take a second pass and make the cuts that will get you well beyond where you need to be. If you can make it work with the more severe version, go with that. This applies to any cuts you need to make regarding time or money. Cut early and cut hard. It’s significantly easier to add things back. And once you’ve tried the lean route you’ll have a better sense of what would be most beneficial to add back in.

Only taking action will get you the information you need. If you make the cuts, you’ll learn whether they are too much. You’ll learn what’s crucial to this story. You’ll learn what’s crucial to this production. Giving yourself the opportunity to think through those choices beforehand will help you make a decision about a direction to take. (Alternatively, being forced to make a choice in the moment forces you into guessing. Sometimes you make the right guess, but that’s definitely not the lane I like to travel in.)

I will repeat. If there’s a possibility that time might be an issue, plan your cuts. If there’s a possibility that you might not be able to afford the production that you’re hoping for, plan your cuts. Maybe you won’t need them. But if you do need them, you won’t be guessing. You’ll have a plan. Part of your job as the capital of the ship, is to anticipate and plan for what could go wrong. And time and money are reliably sparse in this business.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more, the merrier.

Direct And To The Point: Taking The Leap to Kill Off Your Darlings

As a director it is your job to have a vision for the piece – to have an idea about what you want to communicate and how to get there. This is the phase where everything is a possibility for you. After that it’s your job to actually get everyone there, safely and within the allotted restrictions of time and budget. Often this means a lot of thinking, planning, and dreaming well before any of the physical components are in place.

However, once those physical realities start taking shape, you will need to kill off some of your dreamy darlings, and the faster the better. Because until you move on, no one else can either. It’s only once we move on that we can start figuring out what will work. Too often we waste time clinging to one magical vision that we have about the way we think a moment should go or the way we think a set or costume should look like. Sometimes those ideas get dragged all the way to opening night, never quite achieving what they were meant to. Prompting the response we weren’t willing to see, that it wasn’t the right choice for our production. The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes is not that the Emperor was fooled, but rather that the Emperor was too afraid to see what was in front of him.

In any given process, what are the things that we can’t fix? What are the things that we can’t change? (This is kind one step beyond the notion of playing the cards you have.) Is there a structural pillar in the middle of your playing space? Figure out a way that you can incorporate it. Find the possibility. Can it become a tree trunk? Or the post of a front porch? Or a telephone pole? Or a place to hang props? How completely can you integrate what you can’t change into the world of your? What if your options for lighting are spartan (at best) and you were longing for something to rival last year’s Super Bowl? Time to shift directions. Rob Lowe in his book Love Life talks about how it’s always the one line in the script that he hates, that he doesn’t initially know how to deliver truthfully, that eventually unlocks the whole character for him. While you’re focused on what you can’t do, someone else is figuring out how to work with the exact same thing. The unique challenges that you face will point you in the direction of solution that is unique to your production.

The Catch

We are in the business of blending reality and fiction. Taking fictional characters and making them relatable. Taking true events and crafting them into compelling narratives. When we ignore our physical realities, we can’t possibly a fictional world that allows our audience to suspend their disbelief. When we build those realities into our narrative, suddenly everything makes sense. Accept what you can change and exploit it to the best of your ability.

Creativity is born out of limits. There are a multitude of ways to tell any given story. If there weren’t, scripts would only ever be produced once with one cast . There’s an anecdote I heard at some point where some famous innovator basically said, “what do I care if someone ‘steals’ one of my ideas, I have millions of ideas and I make more every day.” (I cannot for the life of me remember who it was about. Maybe it was about Disney? Tesla? Edison? Someone prolific. Google has not turned up anything to help me pinpoint it. Which ) Regardless, it’s great reminder.

Musicians spend years drilling scales, dancers spend years at the barre – honing their technique, so that when it comes time to perform they can forget all of that minutia and trust in their instrument. You must do the work of dreaming and planning, so that you can let it all go and trust that new dreams will come. There are no short cuts. But unless you leap, there’s also no reward.

Questions? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more the merrier!

Direct And To The Point: Carry The Ball Forward

For any large event (moving day, opening night, wedding, etc), I like to worry early and push hard right at the beginning. Like is a strong word. It’s probably better to say I really DON’T like feeling any undue stress related to these events. In this case, when I say “stress”, I mean the range of duress you feel between genuinely not knowing if you will be able to be ready on time and seriously doubting that you can be ready in time. I work very hard to avoid feeling this way.

By and large, I’m successful in doing this by implementing a philosophy I call “carry the ball forward.” Anytime you’re looking eye to eye with a massive project, make constant progress any which way you can from the moment you become aware of your responsibilities. Big projects, especially in the creative realm, have many unknowns. They often include coordinating with a whole bunch of moving pieces. Various people with different agendas will likely need to converge on the same space in order to do what you need them to do. And there will never feel like there’s enough time to get everything done. So, planning, strategizing and really making the most of the time you have beforehand will make everyone’s life easier.

Cotton in San Fran

The benefits of this are two-fold. First, I can react to any last minute surprises from my calmest state of being and I have the bandwidth to actually deal with them, both of which enable me to give them my best response. Second, being well prepared going through the process allows my mind the time and space to think of other things that might come up. Which often translates to even fewer surprises.

Things that can help with this process…

I like to think that everyone recognizes how fantastic pre-planning is, but that they sometimes find it difficult to get fired-up about it. Seth Godin was asked at a speaking event if he ever got nervous about presenting. He replied that he always gets nervous about it, but he’s trained himself to be more worried about what the ramifications would be if he never presented again. If he never did this presentation, maybe he would never make the next one and the next one and so on. Maybe he would have to go back to doing work he didn’t care about with people he didn’t like for the rest of his career. By making the fear of not presenting so vivid, the initial fear of presenting pales in comparison.

To that end, I invite you imagine the full experience of what being under-prepared for your big day would be like. On a physical level it might feel like that time in school where you thought you’d studied the right material, only to find out on the test that it was the other chapter you should have focused on. Your heart pounds, your stomach drops, your mouth goes dry, you start to sweat. Now consider how that unpreparedness could impact everyone else involved in this equation – the friends who gave up their Saturday to help you schlep boxes, the investors who believed in your vision enough to sink money into your project, your mom or dad who (presumably) will only see you get married once. Consider what would happen if there was suddenly an emergency in your own personal life – right before this event – that demanded your attention be elsewhere for a week? Injury or illness to your or a friend or family member, a catastrophe at work, a fire or robbery in your apartment building. Or perhaps imagine what it feels like when you have to pay double what you were expecting because you’re forced to use the only vendor who can deliver within your time frame. I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but all of these things are real possibilities. And you can either be a victim of your circumstances or you can be well prepared to take on the world. If you’ve done a great job of preparing, you’ll be in the best position you can be to temper or take advantage of any last minute surprises. When the experience matters, set yourself up for success.


It’s tempting to just jump right in and start doing stuff when something over-whelming is on the horizon. But without planning, this isn’t progress. It’s creating chaos. Not helpful. Not helpful at all. I start my planning by doing a huge brain dump with just plain old pen and paper. Start by writing down…


Categories are the major areas of focus. These are the main components of your events. When I got married, my categories were things like “flowers”, “food”, “ceremony”. If anything pops into your consciousness during this phase that isn’t a category, write that somewhere in the margins so that it can be plugged into the process at the appropriate time. (If you’re into mind mapping, this is a great place to use it.) The idea is to create as much of a broad scope as you can. Once I’ve got what seems like a good overview, I go back through each category and start identifying…


Your subcategories are things that are manageable chunks, but still require a couple of steps of parts to complete. So, for example, my category of “flowers” yielded the subcategories “bouquets”, “boutineers”, “centerpieces”, “accessories” and “misc. decorating”. From there, I could move to…

Asking Questions.

How many boutineers do I need? What are the centerpieces going to be? What kind of flowers do I want? Am I going to hire a florist? Who do I know who might know a good florist in that area? Ask, ask, ask. As some things are answered, they will generate more questions. But this initial round of questions at least alerts you to what it is you know you don’t know. From here, begin…


Prioritizing is initially a question of where your minimum requirements lie. What are the things that you absolutely could not be satisfied going without? Once you’ve determined your list of “must haves”, then identify what from that list is going to take the most time to get done. (Note: if there’s something that is on your “must have” list that you have no idea how you’re actually going to pull off that automatically classifies something that will take the most time.) From there divide everything into one of three groups – “most important”, “important” and “nice to have”. If it’s a top priority and you don’t know how you’re going to do it/you know it IS going to take a long time, it moves to the “most important” section. Just under that in the “important” realm will be the things that are straight forward and don’t involve a long process. And lastly, the rest of the stuff that would be “nice to have”, but is not imperative. Now for the fun of…

Identifying Next Actions.

What are the next actions (the first steps) that needs to happen for your top priority items? (This part of the process may trigger a whole other round of questions. Fear not. There will always be a certain amount of refining in this process.) Your list of next action steps should be as black and white as possible and ideally have a definite end point. It might be “decide on colors”. It might be “ask my Facebook friends who they would recommend as a florist”. It might be “research where I can buy 13 glass bowls for centerpieces”. List these as succinctly as you can. If you’ve identified something as a next action but you actually need to do something else before you can complete it, it’s not a next action. If you’ve listed “address envelopes” as your next action item, but you’re still missing a number addresses from your mailing list, your next action item is actually “get missing addresses”…followed by “address envelopes”. Once you’ve got your next immediate actions in order, you’re welcome to list all subsequent actions that you can foresee. If the next action is “get missing addresses”, the progression from there might be “address envelopes”, “buy stamps”, “mail invites”, etc. (The difficulty I always have with this phase is in telling myself that I don’t really need to break things down THAT explicitly. Although I’m capable of figuring out that addressing envelopes should come after actually getting the mailing address, I have a much better grasp of everything that needs to be done – and I’m able to plow through it faster – if I’ve identified the very next thing that needs to be done.) And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, you get to…

Go Wild!!

Attack that list of actions. If you’re waiting for a response on one action, attack another one. When you get an answer to one of your questions, channel that back into action. The beauty of this process is that you will always know where and how you can make immediate progress. You will also be able to delegate, if given the opportunity, because you will have a precise list of what needs doing. If you’ve really planned out everything that you need to do, you should have a pretty realistic picture with regard to how things are coming together. If things seem like they’re way behind, figure out what the minimum you need to accomplish is. Also, look to see if there are ways to get the work done that may be less ideal, but significantly faster. When I was moving it would have been ideal to pack each box only with items for a certain room. But it was significantly faster for me pack things as they were no longer needed and as they could be fit into boxes. Extra towels in the linen closet became the perfect thing for wrapping extra glassware from the kitchen.

I realize that at this point I’ve beaten this concept to death. But I really and truly believe in its merits. We DIY’ed just about everything that could be DIY’ed for our wedding. I made my dress. I made the flower girls dresses. My husband made all our signage. We built the website from scratch. We made all of our flowers. We made our favors. We made our centerpieces. We designed our own programs. We made our guestbook. We wrote our own vows. If it could be done, we did it. Additionally, I was out of town for a month working on a show that closed two weeks before my wedding. My husband took off the three days before our wedding so that he can be available to help with last minute stuff. But we were in such great shape that we basically spent that time goofing around. And it was the best way to start our wedding weekend. We were able to just be happy and relaxed before all our family and friends descended. It’s possible. And it’s so fantastic to step into the hurricane knowing that you’re really and truly ready.

Carry that ball forward!

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more the merrier!