Evolving Business Practices in the Desert

by night...

From an RFP issued by the Dubai government:

“1.10 Rights of the Department

Without limiting its rights at law or otherwise, the Department may:…

…(i) allow or not allow a related body corporate to take over a proposal in substitution of the original service provider.”


What these words mean, in RealSpeak and in practice, is that in Dubai the “Client” can legally accept a full proposal (Intellectual Property) from Company, Agenda or Principal “A” then simply hand that proposal, concept or even a full show to Company “B” for delivery as though it were an original IP of Company “B”…virtually bestowing ersatz authorship and ownership through politics, prejudice, or whatever private reasons the Client may have.

This can be, and is quite knowingly, done with neither the knowledge or agreement of the creator of the IP (“A”) and with absolutely no remuneration to said IP creator.

This is neither acceptable nor ethical business practice.

Moreover, in the eyes of the rest of the world, this unethical business practice is subject to severe legal action, fines and penalties.

In the UAE, the vast majority of agencies and production houses have for years found themselves held hostage to these practices; practices that pervade the culture at every level.

Ongoingly discussed behind closed doors, over coffees and dinners and throughout virtually every gathering of professionals in these industries; these practices are rarely if ever called-out for the unethical practices they are for fear of blacklists and worse. Professionally, this is reprehensible.

It would behoove these agencies (and freelancers) to support one another in not participating in such bid-competitions; to eschew even the possibility of their work being co-opted through some sort to favoritism and given to another without appropriate compensation.

It is not inconceivable, with a transparent system and process, for the “Client” to gather one or more vendors to collaborate ad hoc for a production that might benefit from the strengths of such a consortium.

It is also not inconceivable for “Clients” to nurture relationships with a small number of agencies; using each for the products and productions for which their body(ies) of work best suit.

It is further not inconceivable that agencies be hired based on their history, principals and body of work rather than subjecting numbers of them to invest vast sums of money in pitching in a vacuum.

There are myriad ways that this process can be evolved; all of them with integrity.

While there are some cultures, and parts of some cultures, in the world that still ask for pitches and proposals for creative and design work; be it entertainment, architecture or most anything in between, the best work is done, the most resonant and compelling experiences created, through the contracting of an individual or agency to collaborate with the client in developing concept, project, show or spectacle.

That’s how the Big Boys do it.

The development of a creative concept is expensive; both in terms of hard costs and human resources, costs can run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands and beyond, depending on the scope. The professionals who build these presentations put their hearts, sweat, and long hours into crafting a presentation to communicate a concept, show or idea. To then hand that work to another vendor to deliver is, quite frankly, theft.

It may be legal, it is unethical.

If, perhaps, concerns exist as to delivery on concept, perhaps an examination of the body of work behind the contributing principals of the most desired concept. If the client believes a partnership or consortium of vendors might better deliver a given show, building or product; ask for that partnership. There are myriad solutions to Doubt that do not embrace dismissing the creatives of the original work.


It is imperative that any client respect those who have been asked to offer solutions. Ethically, any idea, show, drawing or concept presented by an individual or agency belongs to that person or agency until the client has paid for it. The entire system must be respectful of all participants in it, else the authors of that system cannot expect to be respected, themselves.


In the unique context of this part of the world, a place where thousands of years of culture are embracing the opportunity to evolve quite rapidly not only into participating membership in the modern world but, in fact, into a position of leadership…of iconic leadership, in the vision of Sheik Mohammed; there are bound to be roiling and obstructive currents as the confluences of custom, culture, philosophy and – in this particular conversation – business practice crash into one another.

It makes sense that there would be missteps as anachronism moves toward making reality of grand vision. It will take assiduous acuity, focus and humility to bring deeply-ingrained practices into alignment with the rest of the world; especially if the idea is to lead.


In four years of working and living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, what has been most striking has been the startling undercurrent of cynicism expressed by professionals across the ExPatriot spectrum toward the manner in which business is done.

“Well, that’s Dubai…” can often be heard in the above context. Corporations, institutions and agencies of every size and specialty regularly encounter (or participate in) concept theft; it’s almost part of the Cost of Doing Business…a regular risk.

One comes to know which agencies are most prone to accept IP created by others and can begin to decline to participate in bid processes that include such companies. If the field ain’t level, few want to play.

Until recently, the general population of Creative Individuals and Agencies in this part of the world have been hesitant to call-out the perpetrators of and participants in such under-the-table practices. To be the whistleblower is rarely the most secure position; and in a country where so many contracts and projects originate from so few places, such calling-out can result in significant drying-up of work.

The doors must remain open in order to pay employees and keep families fed.

This, though, is changing… In order for this part of the world to be Respected by the rest of the world – beyond grand curiosity and opportunism – the UAE must deliver. And, in that delivery must conduct business as the global leader to which Leadership aspires for Dubai to be.

There are many businesses and business leaders in Dubai and the UAE who are committed to conducting business respectfully and responsibly.

Most notably, the International Live Events Association (ILEA), has been working diligently in this area in espousing and advocating a strong code of ethics in the context of respect for creative work, creativity and, most critically, the intrinsic and necessary value of respect for ownership of Intellectual Property (IP) in the bidding and development processes. This organization advises, nurtures and strives to set examples of globally-accepted business practice; as they know that in order to be respected, an individual or agency must be respectful.


Sheik Mohammed has a beautiful, well-articulated, clear-sighted vision for Dubai. Brilliant professionals from all over the world come – beckoned by glistening towers and tales of visionary projects that will make the UAE a worldwide destination for decades to come. What many of them have found on closer inspection is the visionary dream is often undermined by dissonant agendas, founded in self-interest or borne of ancient custom of taking advantage and “winning” over collaboration to best result, that can ultimately obstruct the vision of His Highness and deplete the patience and creativity that abounds here.

Many of those who have come here to create and help build, to help realize the vision, end up devolving into cynical business people who’s primary interest is just to make big money and get out “…before the next crash.” This tragic dynamic is borne of what seems almost a purposeful absence of integrity in business practice and lack of commitment to quality in delivery of projects, spectacle, architectural iconography or essential destination experience.

While Dubai is known for massive projects of great vision; the sad (and rarely acknowledged) fact remains that not one of these projects has ever been completed as originally announced, on time or on budget. Many do finally open, still incomplete. Some simply never open. Yet, there is no acknowledgment of these failures.

To fail to acknowledge failure is to fail to learn from it.

This is the Humility Part. Whether it is Pride or some other thing that stands in the way of Learning, there seems a cultural resistance to acknowledgement of lack of practical experience and the need to address and embrace that lack on the part of intelligent and aspirational principals new to these industries: not as a failing, simply as opportunity to learn without losing face.

This would make for far more successful consultancies, were the advice of experienced professionals not resisted when said advice doesn’t seem to align with predisposition.

Reality rocks.

It seems as though an executive force of such truly bright though inexperienced new professionals may stand between Sheik Mohammed and his vision; people who are inexperienced in the responsibilities they hold, yet too proud to be seen to seek advice, too proud to be seen as “learning,” too proud.

Time and again, the word of the Creative or Production professional is dismissed because – despite foundation in study, experience and fact – the “budget” was created in an unrealistically dictated vacuum.

One cannot buy gold for the price of sand…no matter what one wishes to pay, the object or project will cost what it costs.

Very public projects on the ground in Dubai, right now, are being cut to virtual ribbons as money has dried up. What the experts, early-on, asserted that these projects would cost is what they are turning out to be costing; but the money is not there. And, the money is not there due to budgets being shaved and cut with numbers designed to please a client, not to build a project.

This is a pronounced lack of respect for the actual thing being built and the people who have committed their professional lives to the Creation of Experience or the Making of Place in any of these contexts…and to the audiences who will be coming to Tweet and Instagram and Snapchat and Facebook and Blog about their experiences at the very moment they are having them.

The best leaders in the history of the world have led best by knowing and acknowledging their own weaknesses, by gathering knowledge and surrounding themselves with people with relevant experience…and then heeding those who know more about what needs to be known.

Taking Picasso’s paints from him and handing them to another is not going to yield a Picasso. If the best is what’s wanted; the best needs to be paid for, planned for, organized and the source must be respected.

The best athlete in the world isn’t going to quibble about the cost of her equipment; she’s going to find a way to pay for the best, then expect that equipment to support her.

Asking for a bespoke suit, made on the cheap and in a hurry, is going to yield a cheap suit.



So, what happens to the vision?

Addressing and eliminating these obfuscatory dynamics can smooth the way for Dubai to fully rise well above the level of a new place of curiosity and financial opportunity and truly become the New, World Power and Destination that is envisioned.

Dubai and the UAE currently enjoy being the glamorous debutante on the world stage. Pretty, sparkling, shiny, new and led by a visionary father-figure; businesses, professional consultants and short-term residents flock to the country to participate in building this.

Yet the ultimate manifestation of this vision, the results of this gold rush, stands to be overshadowed and is being risked in a very real sense by what might be seen as centuries of “Barter Mentality” that marries Pride to Getting the Best Price; leaving the quality of Guest Experience – in the case of the industries of show, event, theme park & Expo 2020 destination experience building and place-making – as potentially dismissible, expendable and often not even a part of the conversation.

Unless and until what may be considered unethical business practices in the rest of the world are removed from the codes and conduct of Dubai and the UAE, the rest of the world will see this place as a place to make money – as an opportunity for gaining and taking advantage; of playing an ancient bartering game with little regard for quality of product…

…but there will be no Respect for Dubai in that equation.

If Respect is sought; the Act must be cleaned-up. There is a beautiful future to be built. Let us make it so.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Pearl Harbor Day 1991 – 24 Years Very Sober


L’s and G’s: today, a personal, extremely compelling experience…

Late at night on December 6, 1991 (actually, early on the morning of December 7), I was driving home from a wrap party for the film on which I had just finished working.  I was very unhappy about my situation in Los Angeles and very drunk.  Though not in the habit of driving under the influence, I was “just going home.”  At approximately 40 – 45 m.p.h., I ran straight-on into a utility pole.  My face went through the windshield (I also wasn’t wearing my seatbelt — major evidence that I was greatly inebriated), my right knee was broken and my right hip was dislocated.

I have only the briefest of memories of being cut out of the car, and no memory of the actual impact, nor of the trip to the hospital and entering the Emergency Room.

I do have memory of about five or ten minutes in the Emergency room; my lacerated face was bleeding all over the place, and an intern was having me remove my contact lenses as I was lying on a metal gurney.  They popped-out into my own blood, and I never saw them again.

I awoke the next morning, all bandaged-up and, for the following week, continued to spit-up blood — lots of it — and was unable to keep anything else down, even water would come back up.  I continued to complain, all week, that I was having trouble breathing.

I was uninsured at the time, and the hospital was reticent to do anything for which they might not get paid.

Someone, I still do not know who, had telephoned mom (from whom I’d been estranged for years; since coming out) in Sacramento and told her I was in the hospital.  She did not even know who it was that telephoned.  She called me early in the evening, saying that she would be down on Saturday.  I told her that, if she was coming, she had better come right down, for I was not sure that I was going to make it until Saturday, the way I was feeling . . .

That evening, my breathing became so belabored that the doctors finally — begrudgingly, as I was uninsured and all liability — sent me back downstairs for another round of tests and X-Rays.  Stretched painfully on a cold slab, having inhaled some concoction of radioactive isotopes or some such, I heard the technician gasp, “OH…’

I said that didn’t sound so good; he said he’d let my doctors tell me. They wheeled me back to my room where I was met by three anxious surgeons…

Lo and behold, with this test they discovered severe internal damages: the impact of the wreck caused my stomach and large intestine to rip a 9.5-inch gash through my diaphragm, folding my esophagus and collapsing my left lung.  They broke this news to me immediately, with looks of panic on their faces: and informed me that they could not even wait until morning to operate — it had to be done immediately.

So, at one a.m., they operated.

Prior to that, as I was outside the O.R. awaiting surgery; I sat in the bed feeling somehow calm and centered, and very terrified.  The doctors were at various points of the room, contacting the surgical team and having them come-in for the Emergency surgery.

In my mind, I spoke to Terry – my partner who had died of AIDS a year earlier – as I sat there, wondering to him if I was about to see him again.  I realized that all the things in my life left un-done and unsaid were immediately moot; my life could very easily end over this night.

Asking for a piece of paper from an attendant nurse, I wrote down who would be responsible for my funeral, what I wanted done with my ashes, stuff like that.  Then, as the surgeon passed-by me, I asked him to take the paper and — if I didn’t survive — to give it to my friend, Chris.  If I did survive, then I asked that he just give it back to me.

I expected him to say something like, “Oh, don’t you worry, you are going to be O.K.; we’re going to fix you right up!”  What he said, instead, looking me steadily in the eye was, “All right.”

ALL RIGHT!!!?  Needless to say, I was at that moment profoundly impressed with the seriousness of the situation.

They wheeled me into the O.R., and I noticed that one of the surgeons had Santa Claus pants on, and was very cheerful.  The anesthesiologist has a big-ol needle ready for me.  I looked at the team and said something like, “Well, good luck, guys . . .”  The surgeon looked at me, funny; I said, “…well, you’re doing the work!”

I was thinking as I went under, “what if this is my last conscious thought?”

I survived.  I was in intensive care for ten days following surgery, and was released from the hospital on the 23rd of December.  Mom was there the entire time, from around 8 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night.  We had some pretty good discussions during that time; and I no longer had this burning need to make her understand me or my life.  It was all pretty-much beyond her, anyway.

[She died in 1995.]

I had a cast on my leg and crutches for about eight more weeks.  I lost about 50 pounds by the end of January, though have managed to replace them since then.  I went to court for the transgression on the 24th of January, went to jail from January 31st to the 4th of February.

Briefly, jail was another experience in absolutes.  (“The Slammer” The Good Men Project)

I was sequestered in a room with 60 beds and 90 men.  Slept on the floor for the first two days, in an upper bunk for the rest of the time.  One of my crutches was stolen.  There were three gangs; two black and one Chicano.  Much violence.  The guards had taken my painkillers, letting me know that the doctor would replace them.

Unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t available until the 3rd of February, so I was taking over 30 Tylenol each day to dull the pain.  I was one of only 6 or 7 White guys there.  There was an attempted murder on one night; they were throwing this guy so hard against the cinder block wall that I could feel the vibrations, 20 yards away.

I had nightmares about it for a long time, afterward…

I was released from custody on the 4th at 7:30 a.m., and flew to San Francisco on the same day at 2:00 p.m. to begin consulting work for The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.  I spent the next five months in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. assisting in the re-creation of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the International Display that took place on October 9, 10 and 11 of that year.

During the time I was down, and especially when in the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from whom I’d become disconnected and for whom it was important enough to come to see me.  Scores of emotional meetings, people from San Francisco, calls and flowers from all over the country.  The outpouring of love was stunning.  Mom kept asking, “Who are all these people?”

As I recovered, I was most deeply moved by the love I was receiving.  “If all these people love me this much,” I thought to myself, “why don’t I?”

My life and the way in which I live it has changed much.

With that experience, I took a lot of pressure off of myself to succeed in any pre-set time period.  I returned to doing more of the live Experience Creation production for which I was already known.

Since, then, I daily recommit to saying what I think, adhering to integrity, telling people for whom I care that I do care for them each time we part company; for one never knows when the Last Time might be.

There is rarely a doubt among peers, friends and colleagues as to what I believe is true. I pretty much communicate it all.

If I leave a mark on this planet; it will have been my inability to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, deceit, dishonesty. There is always a price to pay for speaking out – truth to power – and I have often paid it; though with that comes the inner peace borne of knowing one’s integrity is intact.

If that’s all I have when I die, that’s enough.


“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Does Your Word Have a Price?

At the 20th Anniversary of Dubai's Global Village, new permanent façades have risen in the desert

At the 20th Anniversary of Dubai’s Global Village, new permanent façades have risen in the desert.

A Woman Walks Into a Bar…

It’s a nice place, akin to The Algonquin or Sardi’s in NYC. Lighting is soft but not dim, piano playing in the background, dark wood details and an atmosphere of history and good living.

She sits at the bar and orders a martini. Quietly thoughtful, she listens to the music and sips…

A man approaches.

“May I sit here…?”

With a smile, she says, “…it’s a free country…”


“I’m Alice.”

They chat a bit. He makes her laugh. The place is about half full and their conversation is private; looks convivial. They are clearly comfortable with one another.

“So, Alice…” says John, “…you are enchanting. If I gave you a million dollars right now, would you spend the night with me?”

“Why John,” she quietly gasps; a little shocked, a little flattered, even a little excited. She looks down at her drink and plays with the olive for a moment. Her eyes rise to meet his and she says, demurely, “…yes.”

“Good.” He smiles.

A few moments pass in comfortable silence as they look each other in the eye and take a sip of their drinks.

John: “How about a blow job for a hundred bucks?”

She slams her drink onto the bar, “Just what do you think I am, John?!”

“That has already been established,” he replies, “Now, we’re just haggling over price and deliverables.”


Does your word have a price?

Business is personal. One’s personal integrity and reliability are essential components of Reputation: especially in theatre and show, destination entertainment, theme park contracting, creation of spectacle…frankly, pretty much any business where deals are made between one individual and another, between an individual and a company or group, between groups, between companies.

We spoke of this in the context of Leadership, just two posts ago…

Once your word is given, can s/he to whom you have given it depend on the commitment you have made? Will you meet that deadline, deliver that production, carry that weight as promised? Word given and hand shaken: are you stalwartly reliable such that concomitant decisions can be made with the concrete knowledge that you will see to it that the job to which you have committed will be done to spec and on budget or better…handling any and all eventualities with confidence and professionalism?



Good: as in fields where bespoke teams are built for specific projects and productions, one ultimately has only one’s reputation for dependability, for integrity and honor to keep one known as reliable.

When I know and recommend such people to other producers and directors; I describe the individual as, “…s/he will hold onto the rope, as would a mountaineer…if s/he says s/he’ll see to it, s/he’ll see to it. You can depend on that.”

Of course: there are certainly sudden, unique and extreme times where one finds one must relinquish the responsibilities one has accepted. These occasions generally involve death, deportation, incarceration or some physical damage rendering one incapable of delivering.

There is a way to handle that, and the way is this:

  • Replace Yourself… before you alert the client. Responsibility for the duties taken-on, weeks or months before, cannot with integrity be handed back to the client for resolution when these are responsibilities you have embraced.
  • When you inform your client, have your qualified and vetted replacement briefed and ready; your responsibility is smooth transition and seeing that your position is covered.

This is a function of Professionalism.

There are other, less unique times when A Better Offer Comes Along.

Now, it’s another question and context, entirely.

  • Are you one who will bail on the job to which you’ve guaranteed yourself, or
  • Do you keep your agreement and refer the new gig to someone else?
  • Do you hold onto the rope or do you bail?

This is a function of Integrity; of the value of your word.

At the end of the day, one must be complete with the reputation built for oneself by one’s own actions.

  • Do you want to be known as excellent at what you do, a solid leader and team member, reliable and honest?


  • Are you good with being known as good at what you do, but you might not see a project through if something better comes along?

There are plenty out there who have made careers without always seeing projects through. I believe there are more, better thought of, for whom their word is their bond.

Is short term financial gain more important than a reputation for reliability?

Your call. At the end of the day, it’s you and the mirror.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link. .

IMHO – Sharing What I’ve Learned is my regular blog; you’ll find plenty more opinions, there…!

SPECIAL EDITION: Networking @ IAAPA or in ANY Industry

Recently compiled by the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) this extemporaneous-esque advice-on-networking video is applicable to anyone of any age seeking to network effectively.

“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link. .

Some of the Worst Leadership Advice…Ever

Ganesha Army

I came across this bit of ridiculousness in a LinkedIn post, a few weeks back…

Confidence: Fake it till you make it! Nobody wants an insecure leader or employee. If you don’t know what you are doing, act like you know what you’re doing until you know what you are doing. Preparation is key because when you prepare, you feel genuinely confident and others trust that you know what you are doing because…well, you do. Attitude is everything, and the mind achieves what the mind believes.”

“Fake it till you make it!” What a load of bunk.

This is what got Wall Street into trouble; this is a gung-ho “Sales Team of the ’70’s” attitude that undermines credibility and depletes integrity from any environment. A leader who “fakes” knowledge and experience – in any industry and specifically in production, show and entertainment – is not a Leader at all.

S/he is a Fake: and that fakery will show up in the quality of the Product and be reflected in the attitude of the Team.

The second sentence is true, actually; nobody wants an insecure leader…ironically in this case, an exceptionally pithy example of insecurity is a manager or ostensible leader who is “faking it.”

As a leader, one is much better off being secure in what one does not know; knowing where to find and learning how to apply such knowledge sought and found. Learning alongside one’s team engenders an authentic, profound respect from one’s colleagues and teammates.

A secure leader doesn’t have to actually know everything; a leader who isn’t afraid to learn will earn a far more solid position among peers, superiors and subordinates.

A leader who can learn teaches humility and learning ability. A leader who “fakes it” teaches his team to lie. (…and probably laugh behind his back at his delusion that anyone is being fooled…)

In my business, there are Producers who are known for acting as though they know everything about Production. These guys get in the face of Lighting Designers, Production Coodinators, Choreographers, Composers, Riggers and Stagecraft Professionals and attempt to second-guess the work and process of others who’ve spent years focused on the area(s) of theatre to which they are committed…committed to being the best at what they do.

Those are Producers who give Producers a bad name.

Then, there are the Real Producers.

A Real Producer knows to stand back; to inspire his experts and let these experts do their best work…knowing when good work is being done and supporting the team in doing it. A Leader Inspires; embraces learning, learns from the people on her team and keeps the team moving in the right direction; eyes focused on the ultimate vision of the show.

Nobody knows Everything About Production. Everyone brings experience, knowledge and passion to their jobs. A leader learns of that experience and seeks to benefit from it; a leader appreciates the knowledge his team members bring to the table and embraces the passion with which that knowledge is applied.

This doesn’t mean “don’t talk to your technicians” or anything like that. Not at all. Clear communication of vision, goals and objectives is key to success. Further, asking one’s professionals how they are accomplishing the work is often appreciated by those pros…when the question is based in seeking knowledge (rather than seeking some sort of “advantage”).

Collaboration alleviates obfuscation, nurtures and incites creativity and strengthens relationships.

Likely, everyone on the team appreciates being asked about what they do and sharing their own knowledge and experience. Asking them is acknowledging their expertise. It shows appreciation for the work and focus one’s team member has put in to being the best at what s/he does.

Learn from your team; the decisions you make, your artistic, logistical and even dramaturgical choices will be the better for it.

So. Rather than “fake it till you make it…”

How about…

“Learn It and You’ll Earn It”?  

Just sayin’.


In closing, a note on Integrity. This is a word often thrown around by the self-righteous when things aren’t going their way. Integrity is not a casual thing, and one cannot be selective in meaning what one says and keeping one’s word.

Integrity is a constant discipline.

One must be committed to doing what one says; committed to one’s word being always dependable. Should that which makes the keeping of a given agreement change, Integrity calls for immediate acknowledgement of that change.

There is no “play” in this: the keeping of one’s word is paramount. Acknowledging one’s mistakes and taking responsibility for resolution is an act of Integrity. Realizing one cannot keep one’s word and taking steps to acknowledge and rectify that is Integrity. There is no escaping daily opportunities for embracing Integrity. Not always easy, actions of Integrity often result in stronger personal and professional relationships, healthier reputations, respect and credibility granted from one’s peers.

Once one begins to evaluate where one’s word has been given and whether or not one’s word is worth keeping after the fact; one has departed the realm of Integrity and crossed into another.

IMHO – Keep Your Word.


“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link. .

Field Work: Designing Experience for an International Audience

Global Village - One Month Out

Global Village Dubai – One Month Out

A short while ago, my Esteemed Colleague, Disney Imagineer, Professor, Thought Shaper of the Future and Iconic Experience Design Chick, MK Haley, posed some questions to a few of us about designing for an international audience. Her purpose is the building of a new module for her Experience Design class, and if you are lucky enough to be one of her students you are in for a boffo semester.

(“Boffo” is a sophisticated design term.)

In case you are not one of her lucky few, I’m sharing my own responses for consideration and discussion amongst yourselves (or amongst yourself, if you live and work alone: in which case, keep it down. If others hear you discussing with yourself, it could make for awkwardness and possibly end badly).

Herewith, then; the Professor’s Questions and IMHO…

  1. … on the value of working with different countries, cultures, and for an extended period of time.

I’d say the value of this as part of one’s immediate postgraduate curriculum is integral to success in the field; especially in art and experience design.

First and foremost; until one has actually done design work in the field, seen one’s work built or installed and participated in the practical process, one’s work is likely to be myopically academic.

No matter where the work is done; once you’ve seen the design in physical dimension, seen how people interact with or pass through (or past) it, seen the effect of rain, wind, snow, dust, children…the physics of physicality. Only then does one have a true sense of how the thing will manifest in reality.

So, field work is essential to one’s professional development.

International field work takes things quite a bit further.

  • It offers the opportunity to fully appreciate one’s effect on other people.
  • If offers the opportunity to be aware of how one is communicating; to be more clear about choice of words, tone of voice, manner of collaboration, leadership across cultures, teamwork in that same context.
  • It can truly hone listening skills.
  • It will contribute to one’s objectivity. Other cultures don’t always react or respond to color, light, sound, physical storytelling, music or any sort of input or stimulus in the same way as do Westerners, for instance.

So, Looking and Listening are the first things to do a lot of when parachuting into another culture.

Remember: what you have from being educated at <insert name of amazing design school or university> or have been trained at <insert name of coveted design company or theme park brand> still, are simply Tools and Philosophies.

You don’t have experience. To gain experience, one must work in the field. So, go.

And when you get there, pay attention. Even experienced professionals make the mistake of thinking their position or previous experience in other companies or contexts qualifies them to make judgements and give immediate direction. It does not. Get to know the culture and the people who live that culture before depending entirely on previous experience. Context is everything.

2) Is it fun?

  • Yes.
  • If you embrace hard work, walking on a highwire, making mistakes, copping to those mistakes and learning from them.
  • Being open to learning from other cultures begets being embraced by the people of said cultures, and that offers fantastic opportunities for one’s own breadth of experience, perspective and worldview.

3) Is it hard?

  • Yes.
  • One must be on one’s toes.
  • It can get quite lonely.
  • A lot of places can be deceptively welcoming; seem western but are not. This can lead to trouble.
  • Assume nothing.
  • Personal Note: Obviously, Dubai and the UAE “look” and feel western-ish while we all know they are not. It is a muslim-based society; a benevolent monarchy. One knows to respect the culture or suffer severe repercussions: Get drunk and go to jail. On the other hand, Australia looks and feels “just like the states.” It isn’t. I spent a year there and had a great time; but was caught up short more than once in assuming things to which I would never have given a second thought in the US; causing great-though-inadvertent-offense. Lessons learned the hard way.
  • Nuance is Key.
  • Assume nothing.
  • Ask everything.

4) How are you different or better from having had the opportunity to work across cultures?

  • Far more patient.
  • Far more observant of the people around me.
  • Far more aware of the inordinate Privilege that White Westerners enjoy and share just from the color of our skin and the passport we carry.
  • This Privilege is immense. Do not forget that.
  • …And be careful of taking advantage of it.
  • I listen more intently and with acuity. When working with people whose native language is not English, it is critical to listen for what is actually being said beyond the words that are being used. Even the most adept English-speaker can misuse a word and change the entire message s/he is attempting to deliver. This is especially crucial in email.
  • To that, the appreciation of working with people of myriad other cultures who use English as the common denominator, professionally. We all should appreciate that: when others apologize for their “poor English,” that’s the opportunity to thank them for speaking English at all. I doubt many of us would fare particularly well were we to be made to conduct business in Farsi or Arabic or Turkish or Chinese…
  • I slow down and pay attention. Sometimes I have to catch myself; slow my pace from Western City Dweller to wherever I now am.

So, especially, I appreciate the freedom of movement I have as a Western White Guy, and I keep that at the forefront of my mind as I move through any culture or context, whether it be professional, recreational or just shopping for groceries.

5) What unique challenges are there?

  • Racism. There are many cultures on this planet that view anyone not of their race as Less. Be careful of falling into that trap. The simple fact that a person is smaller, has browner skin, is exceedingly polite and deferential to you and speaks poor English does not mean that person is less intelligent than you. Sometimes, actually, when it may seem that way, that person may be playing a “role” in order to survive in a given society. Watch for and see through that. Often, they are smarter… The quality of work, collaboration and cooperation realized will be significantly higher than otherwise.
  • Just treat everyone as equal. Remember, but for the geographical randomness of where you were born, that bathroom attendant, tea boy, car washer could be you.
  • Also watch for being the victim or target of racism. Though your national hosts may treat you well, it isn’t always because you are liked. It could be simply that you have something that is wanted. Actual friendship takes a lot longer in most cultures than it does in Los Angeles. Just sayin’. Give it time before you trust it as Friendship.
  • Assumption. Everywhere and in Everything. Yours and Theirs. Daily, hourly, moment-to-moment. Watch out for it. It will cut you!

6) How has it been on your family?

  • What family?
  • I can’t speak to that, as I have no family. I can say that it is extremely tough on any relationship and, while I know a few couples who have managed to work together or move families from country to country (arguably good for the kids to grow up, multiculturally), most people I know spend quite a significant time away from family, 70 – 80% of the time or more.
  • If family is a priority; that should be kept in mind when seeking or accepting a gig, project or full-time employment. If you are told that there is a lot of travel involved; that will mean there is a LOT of travel involved.

So, them’s my responses and ancillary thoughts on today’s topic. Field work is imperative. Foreign field work can make one a better artist and a better person. I say seek it out. Get out there and test your design ideas along with your preconceptions about Life.

Learn, Do, Grow.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

How to Amass and Wield Great Power & Influence

Security Pin/ID for 1994 GGIV Opening Ceremonies, designed by Steve Boyd

Security Pin/ID for 1994 GGIV Opening Ceremonies, designed by Steve Boyd

Give Everything Away.

Take Responsibility.

Be Responsible.

That’s it. That’s all y’gotta do.

As a Production Executive, Creative Executive or Director, Producer or any combination thereof; these three practices will set you up and keep you in a position of effective, essential power and influence.

You already know that, no matter how fantastic one’s own original vision of a production or project may have been; it is likely, virtually assured, that after having shared it with your team and having collaborated and tested and massaged it through design and production to launch or show it is far better, more compelling and resonant for having opened it up to collaboration and contribution with and by your team.

Be sure they know that you know that. Walk that talk and it will come back to you in spades.

Give Everything Away.

I’m talking credit, here; acknowledgement. Put your people in the spotlight as they create or deliver exceptional or exemplary work.

Everyone already knows you are The One, the Creative Visionary, the Impresario Producer…that you drive the Idea or Concept and the Team…are In Charge. The world already knows that. My suggestion is to be relaxed and secure in your position and give all the credit to those who deliver for you.

So, when someone comes up to you after seeing your show or experiencing the thing you made and says, “Oh, Kile (if, in fact, your name is Kile); that was amazing! I still can’t get over The Moment when <whatever impressed them> happened: I will remember that for the rest of my life! THANK YOU!” That is your opportunity to publicly and graciously point to and acknowledge the person or team that made that one component happen for you; throwing attention and accolade their way.

“You know who did that? That was David, John and Melissa; they’re right over there, I’d appreciate it if you’d go over and tell them what you just told me. In fact, let me introduce you…”

…or some practical form of immediate acknowledgement…

  • share their contact informations
  • cite their work when interviewed
  • spontaneously recommend them when the subject of their craft comes up amongst peers and colleagues

Push and promote those who have delivered for you; it only makes you look generous and supportive and ego free…and we know you are at least two of those things, anyway…

The rewards and benefits of such a stance are legion. I can attest to the good feeling of handing off compliments, the power of the trust that is built and grows when your team knows you respect and appreciate them and the security that exists and builds in knowing that these professionals will likely jump with alacrity at the chance to work again with someone who treats them fairly and who readily shares the Glory.

And who pays them on time. (We’ve talked about this…)

So, what am I talking about?

Take Responsibility

Responsibility of The One in Charge extends well beyond the Production, itself.

  • Know your team. Know the individuals who make up your team beyond Job Titles. Know them. Know whether they have families, where they are from, other jobs they’ve had. Assuming an individual is only the title held can cut you off from great amounts of information and resource. The more you know of the background, activities, historical contexts and interests of the people who make up your team, the more I guarantee you will find resources you did not know you had.
  • Especially in an emergency. Who knows: the wind comes up, the tarps come loose, rain is imminent, your production coordinator is also a Scout Leader or was a Forest Ranger in a past life. Knots you need? Done. You never know. Find out.
  • Keep your agreements with your team. (see link, above.) Pay ‘em on time, don’t make them feel they have to ask for their money.
  • Respect their private / home lives.
  • Respect them. This has to be genuine and authentic. Another guarantee: if you treat your people with full-on respect, they will deliver anything for you.
  • Respect the expertise. A good leader should know a little bit about a lot of things and not pretend to know everything about anything. Knowing enough to know your team members are doing good work is important; thinking they need your close supervision in order to do their jobs is a sure way to get them to leave you. Ask for what you want, refrain from telling them how it’s done. If they don’t know more than you, you’ve hired the wrong people.
  • Never assume “ownership” of anyone on your team. They serve and support you out of their respect for you and your work or vision…and because they know you respect them, their expertise, their contributions. Should they sense an absence of respect on your part; they will likely be the next thing that is Absent.
  • Responsibility? Basically, if the show goes great, it’s due to them; if it goes awry, it’s your fault. Deal with any actual person who err’d in private; but publicly, that buck stops at your desk and must fall no further below it.

Finally, Be Responsible

Words are one thing; actions quite another. A Solid Leader pays attention to the little things that might be overlooked or fall between the cracks in a large bureaucracy.

This does not mean be a micromanager. For that, I will lead the mob with stakes and torches in hand. (There is, I hope, a special place in whatever Afterlife there may be for Micromanagers.) What it means is that, as a production ramps up and the work is getting done; the One in Charge must be sure the team is being supported by the infrastructure. Payments are made on time, insurance is carried and covered, breaks are taken and people are fed…and that craft services has carbs, protein and abundant amounts of chocolate and sugar.

Seriously: it is not unusual for a show to close or a project to wrap with a vendor or freelancer not yet paid. It should be unusual but it isn’t, unfortunately. Sometimes things move fast, invoices get lost, payment is assumed but not actually delivered. Many such things can result in that one payment not happening.

When this happens, the One Who Was in Charge remains responsible for the clearing of accounts. You may be on to another project, as may the individual or vendor the former client owes your team member. But being separated from the project is irrelevant; it remains your responsibility see to it that that artist or technician is paid…especially if you are ever going to want work from that person, again.

These are your relationships to protect.

Developing and maintaining a reputation for being committed to the well-being and professional treatment of those who work under you will ultimately give you a great reputation for respecting your people…and will result in those people trusting you, implicitly, and returning to you in the future.

Anecdotally; this is how it has played out for me…

I do work in theme parks, for non-profits and NGO’s, for corporations. When I have a good budget and a well-paying gig, I pay my teams accordingly … and always on time. The men and women who have worked for me in stadiums, theatres, Urban Malls and ballrooms have been doubt-free about the respect (and often awe) in which i hold and treat them. We get great results, every time.

(Well, there was that one time…)

At other times, when I have accepted a project for a weakly-funded charity or smaller entity; I can reach out to these same people, sharing with them the fact that “…there’s no money in this one…,” and they remain highly likely to jump onboard and join me on the project, because:

  • they know that they will be treated with respect
  • they will be paid on time, no matter how minuscule the payment
  • they will be asked to collaborate on something that will be emotionally engaging and likely quite fulfilling to them, personally and professionally, and
  • they will very likely get to see me cry, more than once, as the Experience unfolds…and chances are they will also be moved.

Not a bad reputation to have. Not a bad offer to make. Good practice for work and life.

To the point of the title of this piece; it is working in this way that will ensure the power to attract good people to do good work, it is working in this way that will offer the reputation for edge, for creativity, for creating healthy collaborative and fun environments that yield compelling experiences, it will make your teams attractive to others, lessen the amount of coal in your stocking at Christmas and lower the number of voodoo dolls made in your image.

Make sense?

Hope so.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

SPECIAL EDITION: Don’t Fight Battles that Don’t Matter


A Shout-Out to TEA NextGen, their Mentors and their Inspirational Leaders, attending SATE at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh . I know that things are going swimmingly during these two days of revelation, breakthrough, enlightenment and the Business of Show. I came across this pithy editorial yesterday and, with permission from the author, thought it a Propitious Moment to share it with specific thought to the aspiring networkers and the aggressively networked during this forum.

There are some pertinent thoughts, here; watchwords for those just beginning to create their professional personae as well as reminders for those already Running Things. Paying attention to Mr. Wayman’s three suggestions will serve you and the people with whom you work. These should not be taken lightly.

I can say that in the course of my own Experience and self-education, I’ve sometimes failed to adhere to these simple disciplines and have paid the price: it is never worth it.

From Below or from Above, it is best to always behave Honorably and with Integrity: treat people with Respect.

With that: this “reprint:”

My monthly newsletter goes out to 6,000 friends, clients and business partners.  You can’t “subscribe” to it or buy it.  It’s my way of staying in touch with friends.  For my clients, it’s a benefit of doing business with me.  My way of saying thank you for their business and support.  My day job is top Headhunter in the gaming industry, where I place about 50 top executives each year.

Each month I get a dozen wonderful emails thanking me for the newsletter, and for all the time I dedicate to creating and distributing it.  Industry executives enjoy reading about the latest industry news and what’s going on with their peers.  It’s a small world, and everybody knows everybody.  Life is grand…except for that ONE GUY.

You know him, the guy that only calls you when he wants something.  Never adds value; he is a taker.  In my case, that ONE GUY has come to me multiple times for a job over the years.  Because he has a new job every two years.  The one time he actually gave me a search, he wasted 40 hours of my time, treated the candidates poorly, and never hired anyone.  Could not get him to return a phone call or email.

So I made a business decision not to work with him.  Not angry or bitter.  Not judging or complaining.  Moving on!  As Joel Osteen states, “You only have so much emotional energy each day. Don’t fight battles that don’t matter.”  It took that ONE GUY a year to figure out he was off the newsletter and off my client list, at which point he sent me a nasty email explaining how important he is.  I chose not to respond.  Some battles are just not worth fighting.  Here are several lessons we can learn from that ONE GUY.

Always Get Back to People – My Daddy used to say, “Return all your calls and messages.  It’s the professional, respectful and right thing to do.”  I return every phone call and email (500+ per day), even if my answer is a simple, “no thank you.”

Never Burn Bridges – His hate mail may sooth his bruised ego, but why would you want to get sideways with the top Headhunter in your industry?  Better to shake hands and part friends.

Focus on the People That WANT to be on Your Bus – Not everyone is going to like you or want to work with you.  Focus on the people that WANT to be your friend, that want to be your client, that want to be on your bus.  There are only so many hours in the day.  Spend them with the right people.

The Golden Rule – The people you pass on the way up are the same ones you will pass on the way down.  No matter how brilliant, talented and cool you THINK you are, the only thing people will remember…is how you treated them.

Mark Wayman

The Vegas Headhunter – www.godfatherlv.com

In closing;

  • No one is justifiably “too busy” to do the Right Thing. Take the ten seconds it takes to shoot back an “I’ll get back to you” or “thank you, but I don’t think this is the right thing…” email. Respond with even the most brief of acknowledgements. It counts.
  • Take a literal and psychological breath. Is it truly necessary or important to share personal reactions through expressions of ire; or can something be simply chalked up to Experience and Lesson Learned. If someone doesn’t give you the consideration you believe you deserve; then you know all you need to know. Telling them off won’t change anything and it will Close Doors. Take the lesson and just STFU.
  • Watch out for allowing Passion and Frustration to get the better of you.
  • Treat others

And with that, Fly High.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Keeping Agreements: Money & Time

Puy du Fou 3 July 15 courtesy of David Willrich

Puy du Fou 3 July 15 courtesy of David Willrich

Money changes everything

Money, money changes everything

We think we know what we’re doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Money changes everything

They shake your hand and they smile

And they buy you a drink

They say we’ll be your friends

We’ll stick with you till the end

Ah but everybody’s only

Looking out for themselves

And you say well who can you trust

I’ll tell you it’s just

Nobody else’s money

Thomas Gray for Cyndi Lauper – 1983

When all is said and done, this is about Respect.

You want to build a team, a network of people willing if not downright looking forward to working with you; to join your team and create amazing things, to return to your teams – time and again – and continue to build great things?

Well then:

Respect them, and show them they are Respected.

Respect the deals that are made and never make anyone have to ask for their money.

Of key importance is that we remember that:

  • Putting people in a position to have to ask for their money, especially more than once, is demeaning to and disrespectful of them.
  • These people are working for you, they are not working for your client. When your client pays you is irrelevant to when you pay your people. This is a tough part of owning one’s own business, though it remains a line it is imperative not be crossed.
  • Unless otherwise decided and contracted or agreed, all Talent and Show Crew should walk away from the theatre on the night of the show or on the day of the end of a project with a check in hand, fully paid.

Building a Team and a Network of Loyalty

Paying people on time; keeping money agreements (all agreements, really; but today’s topic is Money); these are a foundation for building and maintaining trusting, productive, fruitful ongoing relationships with vendors, freelance production professionals and talent…all with whom one works and with whom one hopes to work, again.

Unless otherwise decided and contracted or agreed, all Talent and Show Crew should depart the theatre on the night of any show or production with a check in hand, fully paid.

Frankly, it’s a great opportunity for reinforcing the bond that has been established through working together, after the curtain has dropped and during load-out, to be able to circulate among one’s crew and team, handing these men and women their envelopes, looking them in the eye while personally thanking them for the gift of their efforts, skills and talents in support of the vision…your vision that has likely become a collective vision as y’all’ve worked side-by-side on making it happen.

(In my case this process more often involves hugs and a few happy tears…but that’s just me.)

As a freelancer, back in my early days in San Francisco, I discovered that when I offered a 5% discount for being paid on the day of the event, the City of San Francisco would jump on that and I would be paid on the day of the event…saving me weeks of wondering when I’d see the money AND keeping relationships comfy and clean for years of successive projects at and around City Hall.

[Personal Note: I did try that “discount thing” here in Dubai, with the result that the client paid me a week late AND took the discount! So, that isn’t necessarily a foolproof technique.]

The point is that the actual payment of agreed-upon fees directly affects the working relationship. Keep it clean and free of doubt; it will come back to you a thousandfold in respect, loyalty, performance.

Now: About Time

Looking back across the table to deliverables and deadlines; again…

  • Keep the Agreement
  • Be on Time
  • Deliver on time
  • Make the call on time
  • Do whatever you said you’d do on time…
  • Avoid keeping people waiting, whether they be teammates, colleagues or audience members

We’ve talked before about Time, specifically about the Power of Time with “Time and Timing” and the full grasp and mapping of Time in “Time & Timing – Rudiment to Complement” .

So, today, a brief rant-ette on the ramifications of inattention to Time.

Time Agreements – making and keeping them.

As freelance, staff, vendor or colleague; one’s Time Agreements are of vital imortance to the perceived integrity and very real dependability of oneself and the value of one’s word.

Just as the above conversation of payment on time supports Trust in Professional Relationships; so, too, do all Time Agreements serve to strengthen and support one’s integrity and the tenor of the Team one builds and with which one works.

As has been cited in this space, before: one person arriving ten minutes late to a meeting of six colleagues has effectively wasted 60 expensive minutes; a full hour of staff time. Lateness has a price in the micro and the macro; irrespective of the reason for it, there is rarely rationale.

  • be on time
  • pay on time
  • deliver on time – or early

…and the moment one knows one is not going to arrive / pay / deliver on time is the time to alert the concerned parties. Announcing one is late at the moment one is late is pointless; by then, that secret is already out. This applies, by the way, to ANY moment after people have begun to travel to gather for said meeting or function.

…And to perception. Meetings and professional commitments are not free-standing. People plan their days and work flow around meetings such that a cancellation even a few hours beforehand does not alleviate serious negative fallout. Companies staff up based on delivery schedules; failure to meet that schedule can cost significant amounts of money in lost or idle staff time (and overtime when running to compensate for your lateness). Be sensitive to the ramifications of failure to keep agreements, to keep one’s word.

People and companies make plans based on agreements made. Failure to adhere to agreements can have ramifications far beyond anything one might see or assume.

Don’t commit unless you can do it; and don’t fail to do it if you commit. Less than that is less than honorable. Respect your own word.

We are part of a team. Successive teams. Part of a relationship or network of relationships that depend on trust and integrity to function fully well. From Individuals to Agencies to Corporations; we are all bound to Keep Our Word; and no context is too small to merit full commitment to integrity.

No context is too small to merit full commitment to Integrity.


Billions of readers throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies have discovered “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience.” A free, downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. The book can be found in the iBooks app on any Apple device, in iTunes or at this link.

Reality Cannot be Taught…

…thus critically, it must be learned through Experience.

If you graduated from Design or Production School anytime within the past three years; you are not yet ready to go out on your own.

Rarely, ever so rarely, does one graduate from school ready to open one’s own shop. Virtually everyone from Accountants to Engineers to Therapists and Physicians goes through something akin to an Apprenticeship before putting their own name on a door.

Does a doctor graduate Medical School, grab a scalpel and start transplanting hearts? Years of Residency await; closely supervised, mentored, to be guided through test after test, practice and more practice before s/he begins to Practice solo.

[I do not for a moment, btw, suggest that Experience Design and Production takes nearly the study that Medicine requires – I’m simply making the point that practice is a crucial component in the preparation for virtually any profession or craft.]

Just as any Professional must experience the practical application of the theories, disciplines and methodologies s/he’s learned in school in order to best use said learning with awareness of the random nuance that accompanies the Human Factor; so, too, must Designers and Creatives and Stage Managers and Producers see their work in three-dimensional (and now four-dimensional) presence in the field to truly know how what is created will play.

One must have actually Built It to Know It.

We have spoken of this, before, in “A Word to the Wise”. The subject arises, again now, due to a couple of recent experiences we’ve had, professionally.

These instances? A lecture given last year at EMDI Dubai and this year’s EMDI graduation ceremony.

I love teaching at EMDI and can’t get enough of those students (though may never again be invited, after this post is published); they are intelligent, earnest, committed, aspirational and they listen. But in class that night, during Q&A, after several questions about finding or “getting” clients, something dawned on me; so, I asked.

“How many of you are planning on opening your own Event companies after graduation?” Easily a third of the room raised hands.

I came back with, “Nooooo, nononono. That is not how you get clients. If anything, it is how you will get unhappy clients…” I explained that one must first work for others…a lot; working on an event from concept development all the way through production and load out; sweeping out dressing rooms, bringing water to testy talent, scheduling the loading dock, doing every little job there is that adds up to the Whole of the production.

That is where reputations are made, that is where the beginnings of a career actually take root. Years of working for other companies and Individuals is where one’s own reputation is forged. Being noticed for the work done, the creativity applied, the equanimity under pressure (look it up); that’s where Clients will come from.

Having “interned” by staffing events is good experience, but it is barely scratching the surface. Allow me to put a finer point on that: Staffing an Event is not an “internship” and, while it offers valuable experience, it does in no way render one “Experienced.”

Being a part of the team from the very beginning; discovering idiosyncrasies of clients, venues and vendors and ironing out obstacles and misunderstandings on the fly while keeping one’s production on schedule for curtain up on schedule and being fully responsible for anything that’s forgotten or overlooked is critical to one’s ultimate success as stage manager, production manager, producer, director, anything.

Having to solve one’s own mistakes.

Working three days on an event is not Production Experience; it is only a taste.

Only. A. Taste.

I believe it is the responsibility of Professional schools to emphasize the fact that these schools actually and realistically prepare the students to learn; a learning that will happen after graduation. No student should graduate with the expectation that s/he now knows everything needed to launch a businesses.

This is unfair to the students, vastly unfair to upcoming clients and ultimately deleterious to professionals in the Show and Experience industry, overall.

So. Are they being taught this? That is not my sense, here in Dubai.

Which brings me to last week’s Graduation Ceremony.

As a Production, it was pretty bad; as an event, it was average; as an Experience, it was disappointing; as a showcase for a Graduating Class of Event Professionals, it was downright embarrassing.

A part of me feels awful for saying this; as these students truly are great and most of them carry the potential for becoming good and excellent producers. A few came up to me during the event, asking if the night was going to merit “…better than a C-plus?” (That’s the grade I gave last year’s ceremony; which I had shared in class, this year…)

Plus; the students even gave me an award! Most cool…


Newly graduated men and women of EMDI; I feel a bit bad about this, but I can’t give that ceremony more than a C+. The lighting was better (thanks to ECLIPSE) and the room was prettier on entry; but beyond that, the event was so poorly designed and sloppily run that it elicited running commentary among the guest faculty and event professionals in the room throughout the night.

Specifically and not all-inclusively (diagrams at bottom of column):

  • the program started nearly 45 minutes late.
  • If any of the speakers had rehearsed, this was not in evidence. Neither most of the professionals nor the students.
  • Not all facts had been checked.
  • A vast dance floor split the space between the audience and the stage
  • on which was a big, ugly, unmasked monitor and
  • across which every speaker had to walk to get to the lectern, every student had to walk to collect the Diploma or Class Award.
  • Taking perhaps 10 seconds per trip across the boards.
  • Ten seconds x even just 100 people = 1000 seconds = 16 minutes while people waited. Sixteen minutes.
  • Mounting the stage meant climbing a step unit with no handrails and no ASM (assistant stage manager) at the stairs to extend a hand for security on the way up (and some of these women wore some impressive heels)
  • Descending the stage meant descending another stage unit; again with no railing, no ASM, and several hearts in throats as young women carefully found their way down them.
  • The stage was just plain poorly placed; requiring travel by anyone called to it.
  • The talent entertainment was of and by the students. In theory, this is a nice thought; but what was brought to mind by the seriously off-key soloist and poorly-rehearsed dance troupe was Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington.”

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.

Don’t put your daughter on the stage.

The profession is overcrowded,

And the struggle’s pretty tough,

And admitting the fact

She’s burning to act,

That isn’t quite enough…”

These young people are adults; they are old enough to be told the truth. If an act isn’t ready to present; that information should be shared with the Talent…lest they be subject to more public critique. Such as this…but more brutal.

Correcting for any of these above-cited production errors would cost precisely nothing.

But what rumbles beneath the surface here, what is cause for professional concern, the elephant in THIS room is the answer to the question;

“Is this what these kids are being taught is good production?”

Is this what they are off to emulate with their degrees?

EMDI is arguably the premiere Production Management school in the Middle East. That being the case, one would expect the graduation ceremony to be a sparkling showcase of their best work. Flawlessly designed and run with precision, style, professionalism and sophistication, the graduation event is a fantastic opportunity to impress Those Who Hire.

None of this costs money; all it takes is thought and planning.

I believe, strongly, that it is the responsibility of the school to espouse reaching for the best in Production Value; eschewing anything that falls short of the best possible work and sending new producers out into the world with a strong sense of quality of production…including attention to detail, mastery of Time and commitment to smooth and compelling experience.

Otherwise, why do this?

Do these graduates leave that evening thinking they’ve been a part of an excellent production?

If so, they are misled and mistaken and I, as a potential employer, am let down… these graduates, if that Graduation Ceremony is their Standard, are not prepared to deliver the best possible show, event or experience to any clients. While these students pay dearly for the education they get; do they leave there knowing that they need to do far better than their own graduation ceremony in order to be successful in this industry?

If, on the other hand, this is just a party for family and friends; maybe stop inviting professionals and do a separate showcase.

A Final Note:

In my experience, I have worked with scores of EMDI undergrads on other events; finding some who rise to the occasion, some who are a tad challenged by the pressure, many of whom were solid and dependable potential stage managers and production staff; with very few exceptions. They took direction well and I stay in touch with a few of them with intent to continue to hire them.

On the other hand; some I visited on site on projects they worked after graduation. More often than not, I would see what I would classify as obvious gaps in production, sub-optimal staging or craft, and ask the newly-minted Producer / Stage Manager about it…only to learn that the failings of the production under their new purview were not evident to them until pointed-out.

Inductive thinking was not being applied, a critical eye had not been developed and these earnest individuals were not aware. Either unsupervised or not mentored, but evidently not practiced in making a production the best it can be. After a little mini-tutorial in applied stagecraft, they could see…but were often afraid to raise the issue with their employers.

That would be a different problem…


About that Ceremony Set-up:

Rough (VERY rough; I am no artist) comparison of options…)

What was:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.32.57 AM

An Option:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.33.11 AM


Interested in a refresher on The Original Five Tenets? These are excellent tools to keep one fresh, inspired, inspiring…

Billions of readers throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies have discovered “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience.” A free, downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience, it can be found in the iBooks app on any Apple device, in iTunes or at this link.