The Five: Things Smart People Told Me

Anthony R. Miller checks in with some good advice.

Hey you guys, so full disclosure; I am not famous, nor am I a wildly successful theatre producer. I’ve done Ok, but one thing is for sure, I’ve worked with and learned from some amazing people. Over time and throughout my adventures, these people have bestowed upon me various nuggets of knowledge. I want to recognize that it might be a bit audacious of me to make a “Tips for success list”. So think of this as “Tips to Not Fail Completely” or “Tips to Do Reasonably Well.” As usual, there are five.

“Know Thy Tree”
Basic, but a rule I still follow. Don’t pick a project beyond your means. Instead, tailor your projects to the resources you have. Know what’s possible, know where to push. I recently wrote a fog machine into a script. Why? Because dramatically it made sense, it served the story and also because I have one, and I really want to use it. I have bent this rule once or twice, I have also seen projects that should have been beyond their means, but the show was re-worked to fit their resources. Sometimes this can be very cool; but it helps if you are brilliant. Know what you have to work with and build your ideas off of that.

“Nobody Needs to Know What You Really Think of Them”
This isn’t as cold as it sounds. This not to say “Pretend to be nice” or “Be fake”, being disingenuous is not the point. In the context of the original conversation, I was venting about a particular person who was very hard to work with. I expressed how badly I just wanted to tell this person how terrible they were in a big dramatic fashion. So what I think it means is simply “Don’t Be Drama”. If there’s somebody you’re working with that drives you crazy, deal with it. Nothing lasts forever in theatre and before you know it, you both will have moved on. At that point you can just not work with them, or find a way you can. But save the dramatic speech where you tell them every awful thing you’ve been storing up, it won’t work. You will have to play nice because it what’s best for the project as a whole. Also, no one likes a yeller.

“Assume You Are Not The Smartest Person in the Room”
Also known as “Shut Up and Listen” or “Hire Brilliant People and Get Out of Their Way” and “Don’t Mansplain”. I know this one to be true because every time I have not followed it, the results were pretty god awful. Theatre is problem solving and sometimes the damnedest people have the perfect solution. I have been part of more projects that have done well when everyone involved felt listened to. Don’t micromanage, hire people you trust will do a good job and then let them their job.

“At Some Point in Your Career, you will stop and ask yourself; ‘What the Fuck Am I Doing?”
When I first heard this, I laughed. It was a funny thing to say, and I didn’t realize its importance at the time. Not until the moment came. I was working for a theatre company full time and for a while it was a fantastic opportunity. I got to meet all sorts of people and bay area artists, every day I was in the middle of the craziness of start-up theatre. I had a lot of jobs there, very few of them artistic. A big part of my job was just being a facilities manager. I just kind of fell into it, and I was working for a theatre for a living, so I went with it. After a few years the magic was gone, I felt demeaned, disrespected and taken for granted. After years of work, I will still getting stuck with the most undesirable jobs. Nobody really recognized me as artist and all my time and energy was being given to someone else’s vision. Now the thing about this place is the theatre was in bad shape and had a few holes in the ceiling. Eventually the holes got big enough for Pigeons to get inside of the theatre. So on any given day there would be a gang of pigeons just hangin’ out onstage. Getting rid of the pigeons was my job. This was my life. After one exhausting bout of pigeon chasing, I sat down for a moment only to get up realize the worst had happened. I sat in pigeon shit. There I was, 33, not happy, and with pigeon shit on me. That was the moment it happened; I thought to myself “What the fuck am I doing?” Things had to change. Not long after that day, I gave my notice and had a big reorganizing of priorities and promised myself the only theatre I would ever chase pigeons out of would be mine. My life has changed for the better in so many ways because of it. My point is, a moment will come when you ask yourself if this is the place you should be. Take that moment seriously.

“Hard Work Will Always Beat Talent That Doesn’t Work Hard”
I realize that sounds like something you would tell a football team but hear me out. I am constantly inspired by all the brilliant artists living and working in the Bay Area. Part of that inspiration comes from just how less brilliant I am than all of them. And that’s not meant to be self-deprecating, but I try to be honest with myself, I have a modicum of talent and it’s easy to be a little intimidated. But I’m here to tell you, being marginally talented shouldn’t stop you if you have the passion and a good idea. Just work harder, work twice as hard as the most talented person you know. I will always take the hard worker that’s pretty good over insanely talented people who are lazy. Outwork everyone, keep your head down, and don’t be a dick. Good things will come if you work harder than everyone else.

Again, none of these tips have brought me fortune and fame, but have yielded many positive things in my life. Any success I do experience comes from heeding this advice. And full disclosure, I have broken all of these at some point, it doesn’t work out.

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