Time & Timing – Rudiment to Complement


Call it what you will: TimeLine, ShowFlow, RunSheet…

This is the single, most important document to any production; whether one-off, theatrical tour or “permanent” installation.

The Document begins as a simple list of Deadlines;

  • initiation of processes,
  • building of teams,
  • hiring of principals, professionals, craftspeople,
  • completing designs and scripts,
  • sign-offs and contract signings,
  • scheduling of all key Production and All Hands meetings,

…all the Big Picture Stuff.

But that’s just the beginning. As this document evolves, it must evolve to encompass every move and position of every component of and in every moment of the Production. Every one. The Person who builds this document must be assiduous in going deep: deep into the Nuts & Bolts (staples, thumbtacks and glue…) of Timing and Logistics at every level.

This document – I refer to it as a TimeLine – becomes the very real Map of the Show.

As the show comes together each act and scene, then each action and speech, is woven into this document; it effectively becomes the working document for every production meeting, replacing an Agenda with successive talk-through’s of the production.

This process highlights each and every duplication of effort – thus saving money and time; it brings parallel needs to the fore, long before load-in or show day – thus saving money and time; it opens the door for creative collaboration between and amongst talent, craftsmen, technicians, management…thus saving money, time, effort and all the while building a strong sense of team and personal investment in the product.

Do not stop there, though; the process and this document remains far from complete without the information on the supporting action that makes each Thing happen.

This is, imho, where most Producers / Directors fall short; where most stop.

Nothing must be assumed. Every action, function and moment must be timed, responsibility must be assigned and these, too, woven into the TimeLine such that it becomes clear what is happening, when, where, how and by whom at Every Single Moment of the Process.

This means that nothing is Assumed.


You have a Production Assistant / Talent Wrangler who is meeting your talent at the airport? Your TimeLine should reflect

  • that person’s departure from home or office,
  • arrival at the hotel to pick up the room keys,
  • arrival at the airport before the flight lands,
  • estimated delivery to the hotel of said talent.

Then, go on to reflect:

  • Wrangler-initiated wake-up or “I’m on my way to pick you up…” call
  • Arrival at hotel to pick up talent
  • Departure from hotel in order to be at the theatre or venue by Call Time
  • Delivery to Dressing Room
  • Report to Stage Manager / Director / Whomever that Delivery is complete

So, what is that, nine entries on the TimeLine for one (albeit protracted) process.

The difference is that most such documents I’ve seen rarely go further than noting when the talent’s flight arrives and when they are expected to show up at the venue.

Not enough.

This thoroughness, carried through to every piece and moment of your show or production, will yield not only a crucial, critical and critically valuable document for the running of the show, but it also gives every single person involved a very clear picture of where their responsibilities lie and how the responsibilities and work of everyone else dovetails with their own.

Be clear on how long each action will take, and build your document accordingly. If it takes 15 seconds to walk from standby position to ready position, then insert that quarter-minute into the TimeLine, accurately. No kidding.

First-time team members who work on my projects – especially when I am in a new town or country – often laugh when they see listings at 08:45.25, then 08:45.75… and the humor is not lost on me; it can be seen as funny… The fact is that these things may well not happen at exactly these times, certainly. However, building the TimeLine in this way and to this degree of complexity and specificity will effectively communicate to all involved the critical intricacies of timing and respect for the timing and structure of a show.

Your success will be far greater.

This also gives the showcaller or PSM (Production Stage Manager), the Producer and the Director the most complete lay of the land as the show unfolds.

Finally, the actual script is dropped into the TimeLine such that, in most of my productions – especially the one-off’s, that document becomes the show script. The PSM can drop her cues into the appropriate points and we’re good to go. Everyone on the Production Team has the same document and is in virtual lock-step communication as the show goes up; we’re all playing with the same deck.

Something goes wrong?

The Executive Team has an instant sense of available solutions and alternatives, as each is clear as to what resources are how far from being on your stage and how to reorganize a show on the fly, if that is what is necessary.

There is no substitute for building this document, and it must be in the process of being built from Day One to, through and beyond Curtain.

And, a Footnote

Staff your Talent. All of them.

Every principal in your show should have one person whom s/he can identify as their go-to, their font of knowledge, their Responsible Person. Never leave Talent to their own devices for anything. To do so goes beyond straightforward Protocol and the avoidance of being perceived as careless, ignorant or rude; it’s simply The Way One Treats People.

Remember; often, these people are not familiar with the venue, much less the town or the audience. Don’t leave these people to fend for themselves, no matter how secure or self-possessed they may seem. Staff them.

Especially for those who do charity work: don’t unleash your Talent into VIP receptions without a Staff person at their side.

At. Their. Side.

Whether it’s Streisand, Miss America, Joe Montana or Leo DeCaprio; provide them someone whom they can trust who will not be afraid to take them by the arm and say to the Krazy-Glu Throng around them, “I’m sorry, Miss Knowles is needed in the Press Room…” and protect them from having to fend for themselves.

This applies even when they arrive with Their Own People. In such cases, your Wrangler becomes resource and teammate to Their People, though no less valuable. Don’t overlook this; you will be respected and remembered for having handled this responsibility, professionally.

Assiduous. Thorough. Complete. Respectful. Respected.


“imho” – book one is available for free download from iTunes or the Bookstore for iPad2 and beyond…

Timing, Seriously

Giza - 2003

Giza – 2003

Timing may or may not be Everything. Without a strong sense and control of it, however, you have Nothing.

We’ve talked a bit about this, before, in a post, distantly past. In the wake of a recent meeting I attended at which program timing and the commitment to it was discussed, I thought it might be helpful to go into the subject a little deeper.

As Director, as Producer, our job is the integrity of the show or program; seeing that the message is delivered sans distraction or obstruction and as evocatively or compellingly as possible. The experience of the Audience is the single, most important criterion.

Yes. More important than the happiness of the speaker, the performer, the sponsors, the caterer: above all, you want the audience happy and receptive.

Now, that being said; if any of the above are not happy, chances are you are risking the quality of experience you most want for your audience. So, yes, it’s a tightrope. No one needs to be unhappy to protect the audience experience.

What it takes is commitment to the best delivery of the message or experience on the part of the creators, and a Stage Manager who appreciates that s/he is responsible for seeing to it that plans are appreciated, understood, accepted, kept.

Now (and, I am generalizing, here…), more often than not, a microphone can be like crystal meth. Once a performer has a grasp on one, it can be as though it and the performer are one. That mic can become remarkably difficult to wrest out of a grip. For politicians and Social Leaders, this dynamic is exacerbated by the genetic predisposition to meld the molecules of one’s hand to the handle of the microphone such that the Jaws of Life are often necessary to relieve the audience of the speaker’s burden…or the burden of that speaker.

So, lightheartedness aside, How…?

First, a pair of anecdotes from which I learned in a practical way how important adherence to program timing – and the value of brief, tight, pithy programs:

  • adds value to and keeps the integrity of an experience,
  • is greatly appreciated by one’s (often pleasantly surprised) audience and
  • is most usually embraced by the Professionals with whom one might be working.

Audience Appreciation

Way back in the dark ages, post-television but pre-web, I was producing an event for a high-end group of political donors in Northern California. The only speech that stood in the way of progress from cocktails to dinner was that of a State Representative from the area, known behind-the-scenes as a tad long-winded. His speech was slated for 5 minutes. In pre-show conversation, I raised that time constraint and he nodded. I was young and relatively inexperienced; I thought we had an Agreement and didn’t worry about it.

Later, as he passed the ten-minute mark with no signs of slowing down; I took things into my own hands. On headset, I said to my stage managers who were holding-closed the doors to dinner, “hm….I think I might be having trouble with the sound, here…somethings funky…be prepared to respond to me, just in case…”

I then turned off his microphone.

He began smacking the mic and gesticulating to me that he was having sound trouble. I nodded, held up my hand in the “wait” signal and looked to be fiddling with the board as I said into my clearcom, “open the doors.”

The doors opened as I looked back across the room to him and held up my hands in the “wow, I have no idea why you don’t have sound” gesture as the audience rapidly flooded into the dining room. That anteroom was cleared within about two minutes. Happy audience, mood and energy preserved.

The client came over to me to commiserate; “Damn, too bad about the sound…but I don’t know if he’d ever have stopped speaking, otherwise…”

[Note: “It is always easier to apologize than to ask permission.”]


When Directing the Candle Light Vigil for the National AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Lincoln Memorial in 1992, Joel Grey offered me an experience that taught me much in moments.

When he arrived for Sound Check, the day before the event, it was the first I’d met him. He arrived and walked onto the set. We’d never met, and I was just some young guy from LA while he was pretty-much my first, A-Level celebrity performer. I introduced myself. He said, “Are you the Director?” “Yes, I am.” “What would you like me to do?”

Of course, the piece he was to perform had already been agreed. So, respectfully and clearly, I said, “Well, Mr. Grey, here’s how I had envisioned this piece, this Moment, unfolding…” and proceeded to walk him through where I’d like him to stand, to move, to time the verses and explained the giant, absolutely silent skyrocket that was to punctuate the end of his performance and close the show.

“What do you think, Mr. Grey?”

I was ready for him. And, I was ready to compromise, to submit and be told how he would do it. That is not what happened.

What he said was, “Great; then, that’s what I’ll do!” One rehearsal and we were done.

What I learned from that encounter (and, btw, that performance remains at the apex of the litany of Experiences I have been vested with creating. I have seldom since heard or felt an audience go as palpably quiet as during the final moment of his song, “Jonathan Wesley Oliver, Junior” and that extraordinary, silent skyrocket over the Potomac) was this:

  • A true professional looks to the Director to understand the vision, and trusts that the Director knows the Big Picture and how each performance plays into that.

So. Be confident. Don’t act confident; be confident. Know your show, know why you have made the decisions you have made, placed components where you’ve placed them, written entrances in the manner and position(s) in which you have done so.

It is only the insecure artist who will make trouble and insist on things that may not work inside your vision. Ergo, a Heads Up; beware of making any artists insecure through communicating doubt, through not knowing an answer, or for simply being obsequious.

Frankly, a Director who is starstruck should be in some other business, not dealing with Talent. A Pro can sniff an amateur a mile away; then you’ll see who calls your shots!

Be Confident; be patient, ask for advice and listen to your talent if they are compelled to offer suggestions. Talent may well know how they might look their best; but you are in charge of the show. A pro will collaborate; you may have to take a hard line on someone who’s ego might supercede their entertainment value or compellingness quotient. Take that line or open your show to sacrifice.

Getting Down To It.

So, How to Build a Program that is Pithy & Compelling & Entertaining…and make sure that it remains that way…

Step One: Take a deep breath. Hold it for one, full minute.

Step Two: Okay, nice try. Try it again. Deep Breath. Keep it in! ONE FULL MINUTE!

Step Three: Yeah, right? Not so easy, is it? One Minute is a loooong time.

So, there’s your reference, your Building Block. As you build or write a show, remember how long a minute is. So, as you tell your performers or speakers that they have three minutes, two minutes, even as seemingly brief as a one minute introduction; you are not limiting them. Rather, you are offering them an opportunity to deliver something powerful, direct and memorable. Your audiences will appreciate this restraint and discipline.

Step Four: Delivery is Key. Tell your performers and speakers how much time they have, don’t “ask” them. Set their expectations and share the importance of respecting the overall Experience. There is a marked difference between…

  • “Could you please try to keep your comments to about 3…3 and a half minutes? You know, we want to keep the program tight and if you could keep yours short, that’d be great. If you go to 4, no big deal, just keep it under 5, okay…?”


  • “We are very tight for time on this program and you are the main part of it. It is important that we keep your segment to 3 minutes. Will you do that? 3 Minutes, I’ll give you a signal at 2:30.”

Can you see the difference? If not, I hope someone else in your home does the cooking…

The moment you offer leeway is the moment that your speaker / performer thinks s/he’s Bill Clinton or Barbra Streisand (and even then…just sayin’).

There is nothing wrong with a one-minute intro or a three-minute speech.

  • Most pop songs are under three minutes
  • Operatic Arias
  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • Late-night monologues are usually about 3 minutes…(and when they’re not….)
  • Marriage Proposals
  • Wedding Vows
  • Even multi-million dollar television commercials are 30 seconds

Singers will always want to perform one more song than the one you’ve requested, comics another joke or character, speakers another minute or ten… Do not accept this.

Make it Fun and Make it HAPPEN

So, after all that; you want to know how easy it actually is to do this? Very easy.

From the outset, one must be confident, definite and respectful of the parameters of time to which you are committed to adhere. Communicate fully and completely and with a smile and even offer to help with speechwriting if that is in your skill set. Most people (again, the pro’s) will respect you and your position and adhere.

Some may find themselves incapable of keeping themselves within a given time constraint. This, too, is easily addressed.

My basic approach, which I again communicate from First Meeting, is:

  • A light or some signal from the back of the House at 30-seconds to wrap.
  • At 15-seconds to wrap, I (or my trusty stage manager )appear at the edge of the stage, offstage, or just below the stage in very plain sight of the speaker.
  • At 5-seconds, I (or said trusty stage manager) am clearly approaching the lectern, ready to take the mic, thank the speaker and introduce the next act or component of the show.

I have rarely had to actually step in and take the mic. (Though, I have always been clearly and obviously ready to do so.) More often than not, it becomes a joke that is shared with the audience, “…I see my time is about up…,” or, “uh-oh, here comes Kile with the Hook…” and all continues swimmingly.

You, one, Producer, Director, Stage Manager, simply must be confident and not intimidated by or afraid of your talent or speakers. They are depending on you to deliver an experience as designed, envisioned. An ego or two may occasionally be ruffled, though with the mitigating upside that you’ll be appreciated by your audience and ultimately thanked by your audience.

…and probably develop a reputation for running tight shows.

That’s worth money.

Exceptions? Certainly.

You have a singer who brings down the house? Give her an encore. Maybe bring her back at the end of the program in response to a perhaps unarticulated, audience-wide wish for more. This exceeds expectation in a way that still respects the integrity of the show or story arc you have created, while offering the proverbial “more” in an unexpected way.

All of this should be flexible, given the specifics and particulars. But you keep on top of it. The moments in shows that to this day continue to give me chagrin and regret are those times I caved to another song, a third recital, one more speech that resulted in dragging down the experience of the entire program.

Do not cave (though, always consider). Your job is the result.

“Always leave ‘em wanting more…” is not fiction. Build that into your experience. Inspire them to return.


This Patience Thing


It may be a virtue, but that doesn’t make it all bad…


This has become one of my most valuable tools: that, combined with the realization and knowledge that there is always time for Patience. Always.

I just said goodbye to a brilliant young man. He’s worked at my side for just over a year, and is so well-suited to this work – these industries of entertainment – that he is now on his way to Abu Dhabi to take on a mid-level management position at a fantastic, huge, new, destination Waterpark. I’m proud of this guy; he is learning lessons, rapidly, by necessity and rising to new challenges every day. Through these tests, as his self-awareness is being expanded, he is growing into a man and Producer who will meet, exceed and set standards in expected levels of competence by example, for those around him.

My last words of advice to him were, “…don’t be the first person to speak at a meeting…”

What do I mean by that?

Literally, I do mean the exercise of patience in any context; especially meetings. First: listen. Listen to everyone. Learn the lay of the land, discern how the subject on the table is perceived by and affects each of everyone in the room.

As conversation and debate continue and said subject is discussed, the Listener may find his own opinion or point of view changing and growing into more comprehensive a scope; incorporating points of view and appreciating ramifications as they reveal themselves through the discussion. This gives the Listener the opportunity to, when s/he finally does speak, incorporate all that has been expressed in an encapsulation of the situation and possibly articulate the best course of action toward a most fully supportable and valuable result.

Eyebrows rise, words of acclamation are uttered, phrases such as, “…wow, you really nailed it…such clarity from one so young…” result and the seeds of peer and superior respect are planted and nurtured. This, because listening was happening and, along with that, learning.

This does not mean enter the room, knowing what one wants to say and and simply waiting to say it, last. We’ve all been in conversations / arguments with others where we can see, as we are making a point, that our “adversary” is simply waiting for the sound to cease coming from our mouths so that s/he can rebut what s/he assumes we are saying…

No: It means entering the room knowing one’s point of view and also knowing that there may be some unseen assumptions in one’s own POV that can come to light in the ensuing conversation that can affect anything from nuance to critical component. Thus, exercising this Patience allows the conversation to inform and evolve one’s own position before that position is stated.

More than in Meetings

This Patience Thing applies far beyond the walls of the Meeting Room, however. It applies to virtually every step in the creative and production process and, as I posit above, applies no matter how much or how little time is at one’s disposal to create and deliver.

As I was being driven to the airport by my Producer (Adam Proto – profiled a few weeks ago in this space), after the WaterWorld opening show, he mentioned how much he had “learned” from me.

Usually, when I hear that; I offer a heartfelt thanks for someone even listening to me. I do appreciate that! But this gent is one of the best producers with whom I’ve worked; a brilliant man. So, I asked him what, in fact, he could possibly have learned from me. His response was to cite my Process over the extremely tightly-scheduled rehearsal time in the run-up to the Show.

What he was referencing was this…

  • The Show was to be up and ready by 10:00am on Saturday.
  • On Wednesday, my partner in Direction arrived from London.
  • Thirty disparate (not desperate; though, some of them…) acrobats and street performers were to arrive on Wednesday night.
  • Blocking, rehearsal, costume fitting, tech were all to take place on Thursday, with
  • Rehearsals and Dress Rehearsal on Friday
  • Show on Saturday. No extensions.

So. On Wednesday evening, Steven Grindle (also known as Dingle Fingle; this Wacko Creativo descends from a long line of Court Jesters, Minstrels and Magicians. He is virtual royalty and a Legend, not only in his own mind but for anyone with whom he’s worked) and I met to synch ourselves on the Beats of the Show.

We had not met, prior to this evening, but had corresponded with script ideas and possibilities and both came highly recommended by Mr. Proto; so were inclined to expect good chemistry. We were not disappointed.

Still, one never knows what another might mean by virtually any word, term or phrase. My “blue” might be Cobalt while your’s might be Azure…or something. So, even though we went gangbusters on the paper script we built; we really didn’t yet know how the other man worked.

But, we knew what we wanted to create.

Thursday morning, we gathered at the site; touring the newly-formed corps de fantasy through the park, then talking through the script, then beginning the blocking of these artists for the show.

Mind you, most of these performers had not previously worked together. This was not a corps until we all became such through these two days of rehearsals.

Between we two, Steven speaks far better acrobat than I can even pretend. [Another Rule of Production: never pretend.] So, for most of Thursday, I pretty much stood back – watching, listening, observing, supporting Steven, making suggestions and keeping us as close to schedule as possible.

What I did not do is impose my Vision on this group of performers who are skilled, talented and creative in their own rights, nor on Mr. Grindle, who works very differently than do I. My focus on Thursday was to learn how Grindle works, learn who we had in our cast and how they fit or played together and – in being passive and observant – communicating that I trusted Grindle and the Corps to do their best work.

This is what Adam was referencing as my Process. This is my Process.

It is common for Directors to step in, assert themselves, get all alpha on the project and take the reins from the beginning. Though common, probably not always the best approach for full realization of an evolved vision and maximum value drawn from each and every artist.

[…and, this is something to which attention ought be paid, as well. When a producer or director genuinely respects the heretofore unknown depths of talent in the individuals that make up a cast and communicates said trust by practical exhibition; the wealth of creative collaboration that becomes available between all concerned is immeasurable. Our cast was brilliant beyond expectation; working together and offering suggestions as we built the show, and we realized far more than could have reasonably been hoped in the minuscule, two-day rehearsal period that we had. Note this.]

So, on Thursday, I trusted and learned…nudged a little when necessary…and kept working over where we wanted to take this show, as I watched. Writing and re-writing in my head.

Friday, adding 40 local performers to the mix, I took a stronger position in directing rehearsals, working through difficult or cumbersome scenes with Dingle and partnering with him in making key decisions.

The two of us have very, very different management styles, and the revelation was how great we could toss the ball from one to the other without conflict. It was pretty fantastic.

Trust. Respect. Patience.

I would say that this was due in no small part to Patience. Taking the time, no matter what, no matter how short the time seemed, to learn what lay before me, what tools were in our box and to massage a show out of this bounty of talent and energy. (Which isn’t to say that Dingle’s trust in and patience with me didn’t contribute just as greatly to our mutual success. I can only speak for myself, and I’m sure he did his own share of watching and patience.)

Thus, I leave you with this: “Don’t be the first to speak at a meeting” applies, across the board, to any context in which one find oneself. Look and Listen first, no matter how pressured one might feel to take action.

Taking action without full knowledge will almost inevitably result in delay, difficulty, cost overruns and wasted time. Take it, up front; the investment pays off.



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