Life is an open book test.

On a Friday afternoon during my first few weeks as an Assistant Company Manager at Show Boat back in 1996, two firemen came up to our office at the Gershwin theater and said there was a water main break nearby, and there might not be water servicing the building for the next 8 hours.

We had a show in 2.

The firemen made it clear. No water?  No show.

Uh-to the-oh.  We were sold out.

About 30 minutes later the situation resolved itself, so all was good.

But my boss later asked me what I would have done if he hadn’t been around to deal with the issue.  I told him I would have called the GM and the Producer and kept them abreast of the situation, etc.  I told him I would see if we could hold the curtain to give the firefolks more time to fix the situation, etc.

He told me all of that was correct, but he said that I forgot to call a few more folks.

“Who,” I asked.

“Ken,” he said.  “You’re not the only Broadway show in town.  There are a ton of other theaters nearby, and they all have shows tonight too.  And you know most of the managers, right?  Call them.  Find out what they are doing.   Use our network to make sure everyone is taking similar actions.  Imagine if you decided to cancel the show, and you find out that the show down the block found a way around it.  Remember, life is an open book test.”

I was reminded of this concept today because I was faced with two different paths to take with an issue on one of my shows.

Thankfully, because of the lesson of the firemen, I knew to use the network of people I trust in the biz to listen to my problem, hear my proposed solution and and then offer their honest expert and objective opinions on what they would do in a similar situation.  I’m not talking about “Yes” men or women. I’m talking about people that would poke and prod me like a lawyer taking a deposition.  I want people to challenge me.

I have five people on my speed dial that I call in situations like this.  And even when I hear things I don’t want to hear, I’m always glad I called.

If you don’t have a a network of “shows down the block,” then you should get one.

Because doing business in a vacuum . . . well . . . it sucks.


(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)



– 69 Days to Godspell!  Read the day-by-day account of producing Godspell on Broadway here.

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  • Deb says:

    Hey Ken–
    I follow your blog all the time and I was wondering if you had an opinion about the fact that a Broadway recording of Memphis is now on Netflix Instant. Is this an upcoming trend to look forward to? Is it actually financially lucrative thing to do for them…will people actually go see it live after seeing it on Netflix?
    Just curious…you always have very interesting insight!

  • Shephard says:

    Great lesson and advice… I learned the same lesson a similar way, and also in a quote from Oprah Winfrey… she said… ask for what you want/need. And in away, that’s what staying connected is about, so everyone can be each other’s clear channel for solutions and resources.
    I really enjoy reading your articles.

  • Adam Meyers says:

    This is probably going to be one of my favorite blog posts of all time. Awesome stuff, thanks for sharing your insight.

  • Rick Knight says:

    You got that right. I wish more people could grasp that concept. I always remember feeling a sigh of relief, knowing my answers to tests when in school weren’t coming with the stress of a clock ticking or the accuracy of my own adolescent brain. Life IS open book and there’s a tremendous freedom in that. Stress can be a constrictor if it is bound up in a state of fear. OTOH, stress can motivate the $#!t outta you when you’re in the zone (knowing this from experience as I musically direct and, thus far, marketing direct, the song showcase for “A Cruise Line” (details forthcoming). Expanding my network of viable in-the-know types, mentors (beyond the Yoda-like tutelage of my director Spider Duncan Christopher) is likely key to me avoiding a meltdown in the face of an unexpected show-stopping issue (and I hadn’t gone beyond issues that may emerge with my cast, much less the venue (“Don’t Tell Mama” or Restaurant Row…or the Theater District, or the trajectory of comets hurtling near Earth in early September…Hey, I’m getting pretty good at this! 🙂

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