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Performing Arts & Business – Are They Really So Far Apart?

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THE SEPARATION MYTH

When I first moved into the business community after twenty years in the performing arts, I wondered in what world I had landed.

Acronyms like ROI, RFP, S&P, P&L and concepts such as prospecting, quotas, business models, and Q1-4 were all foreign to me.

I had lived in a world of imagery and emotion, intention and dilemma, set up and punch, character and conflict, suspense and surprise, lighting and sets, rhythm and tone, first moments and finales.

As well, of course, the performing arts world included my focus on auditions, contracts, box office sales, insurance, pension plans, SAG & AEA rates, agent commissions, etc. — but this is the only realm in which I thought the business and the arts overlapped: the fiscal domain.

At cocktail parties and gatherings, I avoided brokers and business types. Most of the time, people from these worlds treated me as if I belonged to a slightly different species, as if I were some kind of curious tropical bird.

Wagging a cocktail in one hand, a sales associate would call across the room. “Joe, come over here. This is Virginia…I mean Veronica. Uh, Victoria.  She’s an actress.” Questions
such as, “Have you been in anything I’d recognize?” or “How do you memorize all those lines?” were the norm. I’d often hear about their niece, daughter or cousin who wanted to move to New York City to act.

The conversation would jolt and sputter along and eventually, I’d excuse myself for a drink.  From the level of their questions, I could see that they really had no idea what went into acting, film, and the performing arts. Learning lines? That’s the least of it. But then again, in my eyes, their world was limited to quotas and graphs, profits and losses, excel spread sheets and stock market indexes.

With time working more deeply within the corporate world, however, I began to see that my perspective of their world had in fact been as limited as theirs of mine. No
doubt, people outside the performing arts had only a cursory knowledge of the intricacies of the craft and the depths of the psychology and emotion involved.  But I, as well, had barely been aware of the complex subtle human psychological chess game of a high stakes sales call.

As I started to spend more time in the business realm, I started to recognize similarities between the performing arts and business, not simply in the domain of finance, but more significantly, and more interestingly, in the domain of the creative, subtle, performance elements. And I began to see that performing arts principles, which I’d studied and practiced for 20 years, held great potential for addressing challenges and uncovering solutions in this seemingly separate world.

In truth, the performing arts are a perfect resource for teaching and transferring communication skills, because theater and comedy at their most basic are about the human condition, human interaction and human connection–what motivates people, what makes people act, react, retreat, move forward, harness their courage, lie down in submission, or stumble forth with fear–vulnerable, uncertain, and with heart in hand.

The performing arts are about human beings and their struggles, predicaments, dilemmas and triumphs. In essence, the performing arts are about humanity. And the tools and techniques that help artists advance in their craft are those that help business people and entrepreneurs when they are practicing their business at its highest.