I’ve joked about how dramatic I was before I got my MFA in Drama—the difference being that now I have a degree to show for it. You read correctly though: before I created david beahm design, I was part of the oh so dramatic theater industry. While I no longer deal in the particular business of entertaining on a literal stage and proscenium, the lessons that I learned from the opera and musical theater still have an impact on my work to this day.
Discipline and Humility
Opera singers are essentially professional athletes. The demands that their art and the public make of them are extraordinary. Imagine yelling at the top of your lungs, non-stop for three hours or more, night after night, and living to tell about it. That’s essentially how opera singers live. You can see why the term “diva” exists. They know that they must take extraordinary care of their instrument to be able to produce the sounds that are expected of them. That said, I was lucky enough to have worked with some of the greats during my time in the theater: Fleming, Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Bonynge. They were a true inspiration and while most had their moments of “divadom” (some, deservedly so), I also noticed a common thread among all masters of the art form: strict discipline and humility. Despite their immense fame and notoriety, they were very consciously humble. Down to earth, joyful and dedicated to their crafts, they worked constantly to make the fruits of their labors seem effortless. The theater, as with anything that carries success as its goal, requires hard work. Luckily, there is a kind of peace that comes with being able to share deep inner emotions through making music and moving audiences.
People are ego-driven (which is not always the taboo thing it’s made out to be). Ego, the Latin word for I, refers to the self, to the individual, to a person. An important lesson came from “master of diplomacy,” Ian Campbell, Artistic Director of the San Diego Opera. I learned so much about leadership from him, but if I had to list one specific skill, it would be the art of a smile. True to their egos, people are most happy and productive when they feel their work is important. When people feel their work is important, they feel important. This is the essence of diplomacy, which can often start with a smile.
The theater is where I first heard the phrase You can’t do this if you don’t love it! People who sing and work behind the scenes in opera are true craftsmen who, truth be told, don’t get paid as well as they should. They do what they do because they love the art form. It has become almost cliché to talk about love, but lest we forget, love comes in infinite variation. For better or worse, drama or not, there was a kind of love in the air of the theater that came from the immense amount of time that we spent in such a tight knit group. It’s not just rainbows and sunshine love (though it can be). It’s also the kind of love that allows a troupe to be affectionate, respectful, and gruelingly honest with one another.
The Show Must Go On
Much like event design, a performance has relatively strict parameters. The curtain goes up at 8pm and the show must go on—in whatever state. In place or not, scenery must stand, lighting must illuminate, and actors must act. With one simple rule, the matter of creating theater and events share a singular quality—there is, in fact, only one way to do the job: the right way. Regardless of egos, everyone must be in service of that goal when the curtain rises.
The Secret Ingredient: When dedication, love and collaboration combine, wonderful things happen.