April 5, 2022

Day by Day

Last week my high school theater director passed away and last evening, members of all the theaters past gathered in our high school theater in preparation for his mass. What I expected was to learn the songs, say some hellos and head home for the evening. What I did not expect was to become overwhelmed with memories of my high school theater days and lessons learned, 20+ years later. 


Ed Allen directed all 8 shows while I was in high school, one in the fall and one in the spring. I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of all of them. His passion for creating powerful moments on stage for the cast and the audience was second to none. In last evening’s flood of memories, what stood out most was the constant leader that Ed was to all. When I walked into O’Hara as a freshman and tried our for the fall show, Evita, I remember feeling so small and intimidated by both the stage and those watching from the audience. When the cast list was posted, and I saw that I had made it – I accidentally found a home in my high school that would teach me incredible life lessons.  

  • I remember both the solemnness and playfulness that was brought to the stage through Ed’s vision for Evita. I remember the pure giddiness when we learned we’d perform Grease and the creative liberties taken in both Godspell and Pippin to modernize them slightly. I remember the anxiety in rehearsal of working toward perfection and to a vision that he saw, but as I was caught up in the work, I did not see. I was so focused on my individual role, as a freshman in the massive choir that the entirety of what we were creating was lost on me in those moments. It wasn’t until show time that saw the whole come together, that the vision became clear. I had roughly 40 opportunities to perform on that stage. 40 nights where I sat in the gym after hair and makeup in a cast circle offering prayer and motivation. 40 nights of notes before Ed’s infamous “company dismissed”.  After Evita, I went on to play minor supporting roles in 7 more casts, joining the choir with a sea of other students. What was always inspiring to me was, regardless of the role or the significance, you mattered, and, Ed saw you. This was quite amazing as Ed was also legally blind.

So what did being in the theater teach me, or more importantly what did Ed teach me, about leadership? 


I’ve compiled my thoughts into this Top 6 list below:


1. No matter how small of a part you think you play, without you the cast wouldn’t be the same. The same is true on our teams. Each person has a role and no matter the size and scope of the role, our company, our team would not be the same without that person. 


2. Every detail matters. As a standalone those details would be lost, but as a whole they are a piece to a much larger vision. When looking at your company, think about each element of the culture. Separate the PTO policy or the focus on learning seem insignificant, the whole package is inclusive of the who


3. People will follow energy. Ed brought the energy into the theater every time he entered into it – and people came to the theater program because of him. Bring energy to your company and your team, and people will come to you. 


4, Try looking at things from a different perspective. Ed was legally blind, but he was one of the most musically gifted persons I’ve met. He could play anything because he listened and learned. As a leader if you slow down, listen more and consider how someone else might see or hear the situation – you’ll be surprised at what you might find out and learn yourself. 


5. The impact you make is greater than the moment. Ed thought he was building a theater program and that his impact was on the cast in the walls of the theater. What he didn’t know was that the connections and relationships he fostered would withstand the test of time. Over 80 of his former cast members joined for his funeral services and prepare 


6. Trust in your leader’s vision. Ed always saw more than we saw. Each of us, in our individual roles, saw and felt what we were experiencing. We were disconnected from the full vision. There were days when we all wanted to scream in frustration – the pushing, the precision, the practice – we felt we were “good enough” and “doing things right”. The reality was then, and is now in business, the vision of the leader is greater than any individual. Trust in that leader – trust in that vision. And if you aren’t willing to put your trust there, consider finding a leader whom you are willing to trust elsewhere. 


20+ years post my final curtain call, this time it was in Annie, I stand proud of the leader I followed, the vision he created – that we implemented, and the incredible cast of characters I met along the way. Tomorrow, 80 of us will gather to sing to Ed one final time, and when we’re through we’ll laugh and reminisce on the life lessons he taught to us all that have withstood the test of time. 



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