My wife, Mary, recently finished an amazing feat. She voluntarily adapted, directed, produced and managed several performances of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” with a horde of Years 1-6 students at our daughters’ primary (elementary) school. This was an entirely volunteer production, run by my wife and an army of parent volunteers, with all original costumes, sets, props, etc. etc. etc.
Here are just a few of the stats:
- 35 actors, many of whom played multiple roles (my wife gives all the kids air time and rotates them through roles – there were 5 children playing the one character of Susan at different points – and had 5 adults with stage roles and 1 as the voice of Aslan)
- A total of 75 individuals whom Mary directly managed.
- 42 adults and 3 high school students running the production
- 3 weeks of intense all day (morning and night) work in the final lead up
- Over 35 pages of script
- Several pages of sound, light and running notes
- 1 year of active preparation
- At least 50 rehearsal times (my wife would visit the school during lunch times to run kids through their scenes, as well as their participation in an after school drama club once a week).
- 1 tech rehearsal
- 1 dress rehearsal
- 3 evening performances
- Oodles of pizza and sandwiches consumed
- 2 full-sized covered trucks’ worth of props, backdrops, costumes and the wardrobe!
All of this, and much, much more, was run by a volunteer team pouring their hearts and creative energies into making this a great show for the kids and the school community. Dads created a sleigh for the witches, a heavy table that would separate and crack for the stone table execution scene, researched sound and designed lighting, built metal frames for backdrops and more. Mums created beautiful panelling for the wardrobe, painted gorgeous backdrops and made fireplaces for the winter settings. Scores of costumes were created and sewn. Sculptors helped create the lion’s head for Aslan. Mary, amongst her many other inventions, created bodies that the children could wear for the horses.
And not one person was paid a cent!
Besides this, there was coordination with the school and performance venue, liaison with the CS Lewis estate for script approval, marketing, venue management, the actual management of the shows and so on.
When my wife puts on a play, it’s like Peter Jackson at work on The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit – it’s bigger than Ben Hur. This is not a little thing where the students fluff a couple of lines, one badly painted poster is the only thing on stage and it falls down as the parents have a little giggle. This is her second grand play for these kids and we had many compliments on it being the best stage production of this story people had ever seen.
Managing such a diverse volunteer workforce, over an extended period of time, with minimal resources, minimal time, and a very high vision for what was to be created required some exceptional leadership and enviable project management skills. It wasn’t like everyone showed up at 8 or 9 am asking what they had to do for the day. This was an elaborate orchestration of talents, needs, deadlines and outcomes. If you don’t think it requires a lot of work, try it.
When we were talking about the production the day after the final performance a couple of weekends ago, Mary commented to me on a number of the elements that she felt were important to the success of this undertaking. Here are a few of the things she did and that I also observed:
- She found talented people who loved the idea and were committed to it
- She set the vision of what she wanted in each area and then worked with her people’s own ideas, accepting and helping refine and shape them – allowing them to influence and shape the final outcome
- She checked in with people and supported them, but trusted them to do the work
- She was always hands on and was the leader, but collaborated creatively
- She problem solved with people – “How can we work this out? What if we did this? Yes, that’s a great idea because then we could …” – and built on their conclusions and decisions and tied them into the bigger picture
- When people got discouraged or distracted, she pointed them to their successes and to their aim for putting on the play
- She led by example
- She built great credibility as a creator, planner, problem solver and manager
- She let other able assistants support and encourage her when she was worried about anything
- She let the talents of others be used to build the show and its form
- She was relentless about finding new and better ways to do things
- She kept inventing right up till the final performance
- She helped the kids find talents they never knew they had in them
- She pushed and encouraged the kids to do more, be bigger, than they thought they could or acted as though they could
- She celebrated all along as each new piece came into existence – she was so excited when parents showed what they had made, or when the children performed to expectations
- She didn’t settle for mediocre. All the kids had to put in their best at all times, or they heard about it
- She didn’t let ego rule – hers or others’
- If someone flagged or was unreliable, she gave them a chance but would turn to someone else to fill or complement that role so that they all could achieve the goal
- She had seconds in place for key roles – my daughter, Mikhayla, learned several roles (she has a great memory) and is adaptable as a little actress, “just in case”
- She was good-humoured about little problems on the nights, but worked hard to avoid or fix them
- She made it possible for everyone to succeed and to have a voice if they wanted to be part of the production
- She was stubborn about high standards, but flexible about realities
- When people had problems or upsets happened, they came to her and she explained the context and situation – including them on the details – and more often than not they relaxed after gaining some understanding and got on with the job
- She constantly reinforced and imagined the vision with everyone – she had them picture what it would be like as she enthusiastically described each element
- She pointed to deeper meanings in everything they were doing
- She and everyone around her had a blast all along the way
- She worked unceasingly so that the kids would have an incredible experience and that they would shine. As the parents said in a kind thank you note, “Thank you for making our kids stars”
Those are more than enough leadership lessons for today, or even the next few years!