Sometimes you can celebrate the moment and sometimes the moment has to pass before you can celebrate it. It was just over a year ago that we four gals came together to put on a show and I’m not sure if we’d be blowing out our first anniversary candle with as much enthusiasm today as we envisioned when we jumped on the band wagon and headed over to the Great White Way . . .
We had the sense then that “together” we were stronger than we were as individuals trying to “get into” the more sensational projects on Broadway — an industry that’s predominantly run by powerful men who got that way by not playing nice with the other kids in the schoolyard. Dating all the way back to Shakespeare when women weren’t even allowed on stage, the guys have held the power – from male critics to male theater owners, male directors, male playwrights, male set, lighting and sound designers, casting (the famous casting couch) . . . there was the occasional woman costume designer and woman choreographer but for the most part, the industry has been and still is run by men. (My mentor is a successful exception and hats off to the feisty and oh-so-smart multiple TONY winning red head for knowing and strutting her stuff!)
To get to the top we’d have to take the best of what each of us has to offer and offer it up toe-to-toe with the big guys. JB found the project, Emma is a brilliant dramaturgy, Paley has the legal eye and I, having been the first woman in an all-male bastion of business in my previous career, carried 29 years of knowing when to fight and what to fight for. We thought we had it covered.
But life isn’t a level playing field and whatever you think is going to happen usually doesn’t and what you don’t know does. Add to that the fact that today’s industrial complex (undoubtedly initiated by young moms having to re-enter the work force in droves over the last couple of decades) allows us to operate from home which means we’re totally unaware of the daily challenges each of us are dealing with outside of the projects we’re working on together. The parallels to running a household are obvious — deciding who sits where around the dining room table, is, truly the same thought process behind the seating plan in the conference room at the ad agency. And it’s around that table that the discussions begin and decisions are made . . . everything from discount ticket offerings to poster graphics and TV ad campaigns, Opening Night party locations and how many words producers and associate producers are allowed in the Playbill bios. These meetings are by invitation only and when the initial meetings revved up, who sat where became the visual of what was happening — and what wasn’t.
If I’ve learned anything from working my way up the corporate ladder, it’s that business is personal and the lessons learned from one can be applied to the challenges we face in the other, i.e. there are limits to how much chaos your kids can get away with in the back seat of the car — and there are limits a business partner can put you through before you stand up in his face and, with all your mama might, make him behave.
Women have always had to come at it from a different direction (a la Ginger Rogers, backwards and in heels) and find other places to make deals than in the men’s sauna. We figured out how to accomplish the same goals differently . . . kindler, gentler as Meryl Streep observed in The Devil Wears Prada (and Sigourney Weaver before her in Working Girl – watch for the musical coming to Broadway 2012). I heard the Dali Lama was quoted recently as saying “Western women will save the world.” We just might but it’s a process and half the battle is having patience, taking that helicopter view and using the resources you have around you to support your action plan. And, if possible, add a pinch of humor.
Our show is a winner. We’ve got houses overflowing, standing ovations and rave reviews in our out-of-town runs. But I sat at the table and watched JB get overwhelmed and intimidated . . . bullied by the man in charge who never expected her to come through. You can bring in the lawyers (and sometimes you have to) – but she seemed too alone on her side of the net, dodging the balls being lobbed at her. Like the good mom she is, she was focused on where the mop meets the floor, trying to clean up the messes all by herself. Even without the benefit of shared office space and a water cooler to gather around, we were only a conference call away. She could have shared some of her stress so we could divvy it up. Instead, it appeared to us that as his victim, she became our abuser: he put pressure on her and she put pressure on us. By the time we caught up with her, no one was having fun anymore and we had our own list of grievances to go along with our sympathies. It took a scotch on the rocks to bring her back into our zone; we hashed it out, parted tipsy but stronger — and JB was back on track with our own weekly meetings scheduled lest we forget again in the heat of those marketing sessions, that we’re there for each other.
Emma reminded us that the journey to self-discovery begins with being (sometimes painfully) challenged. JB is being challenged beyond her highest protective walls — and that is exactly how she will find her voice, her inner strength. We all do. Whether it’s business or personal. We need to remind ourselves that we’re having successes and that with a little help from our friends, we can take control bit-by-bit. We can get our jiggy back and eventually the power that comes along with it. How cool is that.
NOTE TO SELF: Chill the champagne.