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.

3 thoughts on “Reality Cannot be Taught…

  1. Really well written, Kile. Very interesting, your take on it and you’d think that the event would be over the top impressive considering that the school provides this course and are celebrating their graduates. I would have gladly sang for it… Lol!

  2. Dear Kile,
    Thank you for sharing your insights and views on our EMDI Graduation Ceremony. Some valid points raised, and obviously some difference of opinions felt in certain areas. For those who didn’t attend but follow this post , and to put in a perspective the entire ceremony, I thought i’d share my views on the same as well. This might help clear the air and highlight certain facts…

    EMDI is an Event Management and Innovative Marketing school course ( thats the actual course name on the certification). Not a pure Event Production school. Hence we teach marketing, sponsorship, fundraising, sports management, TV and Radio and the other elements of event production. So maybe there is an expectation mis-match in what you want out of the graduates.
    We strongly belive in experience teaching, which is why at at EMDI all of our faculties are industry professors (sharing real life case studies) and we endeavour to send our students to work on events. Whether for a day or two or a month internship, something is better then nothing. At an event, there is a learning experience. Exposure is reality as you say. Reality is what we expose them too. We wish all the event managers would hire more students for a longer time and give them more in depth learning. We wish to get the “buffet” for our students, but we are willing to accept even just a taste. We try to maximise as much of what all industry members and faculty offer us for our students.

    When you came to teach at EMDI, it was the 13th lecture of the year. Of course the kids were excited then and it was heartwarming to see their passion where 1/3rd of them raised their hands to become entrepreneurs. However after 85 odd lectures… how many actually became entrepreneurs after they graduated? 2. Exactly 2. And that too, both of those had prior experience. I think our course taught them well to forge their reputation, don’t setup shop instantly, and they listened to you and the rest of our faculty members. Experience is critical. We agree. Most of our students go on to get jobs with organisations like DWTC, OK Middle East, Dubai Lynx, DEPE, and in the past too with agencies like Action Impact, HQ Creative, Plan B, IIR, amongst others.

    Now to put into perspective – EMDI’s Graduation Ceremony. It is simply that. A Graduation Ceremony where the EMDI family celebrates the completion of the programme. It is a day for them to feel proud and motivated. They made the cut. Some didn’t. It is not a showcase of their talent. If we had to do a showcase… that would be done during a placement week maybe or during a professional show which was done especially for this. This ceremony is where they come, listen to some inspiration from esteemed guests, receive their diploma’s; and then post dinner; celebrate with family and friends. In their way. With their talent. Not necessarily their event skills.
    I don’t know about running commentary in the room throughout the night, but maybe there was a parallel commentary. I heard some good feedback. Maybe negativity spawns negativity. Maybe others were polite to my face. Yes, after the diploma distribution and speeches, the students’ dance, song, and award show was simply that. Students expressing their joy and humour (the Laugh out Loud -LOL’ies award) of the last year.

    With regards to the Specific points mentioned
    – The program started 30 minutes late due to the late arrival of the chief guest. I don’t see how we could start the show without the Chief Guest. Imagine starting a Madonna concert without Madonna on stage (didn’t she come 2 hours late?) or opening GITEX without the royalty because of the time given. However point accepted. We will try to ensure Chief Guest comes on time.
    – If the speakers didn’t rehearse, its such a shame. Considering most had speeches in their hand, and yes, the only one student who spoke – got certain facts wrong. Which was pointed out. Thanks for that. But I wouldn’t dare challenge the speakers rehearsal- especially people like former Executive Directors of Tourism Development Corporations, top 50 celebrated Emirati Film Producers or Heads of Event Agencies. We accept their commitment to our cause and thank them for their support.
    – The stage itself was 8 meters by 4 meters. The Side screens added to the massive stage so that it literally spanned the entire back wall of the ballroom. The dance floor was simply a 6 by 4. Not sure how it was huge dance floor? The diagram is not correct. Yes there was monitor on it for the speeches (and removed for the after party). Also the entry and exits of the stage were on the side – so NO ONE had to cross the floor or the monitor. Not sure what you saw here. All students lined up on the side and climbed up and down the stairs fairly quickly.
    – This is a Graduation Ceremony. For me the key aspect of importance here is the 10 seconds walk – during that 10 seconds I could talk about the student – they receive their award – get photographed and walk off stage. If we can do it faster let me know. But if 16 minutes was the wait time, thats the reason everyone was in the room. All our students were lined up at the side, seated according to the names being called out – so it would be fairly seamless for them to know when to come up.
    – There were no handrails, and we could get that sorted next time. Maybe that was oversight, but considering it was just 2 steps and a gentlemen was on stage to help those who struggled (remember the Indian lady with the Saree who he helped..) everyone in their impressive heels later burned the dance floor too 🙂
    – Lastly with the regards to the talent of the students, we would never advise them to perform professionally. Of course not. That evening was a platform for them to express themselves. It gave me no greater joy to read a post which said – “My dream came true on stage – I was able to perform today….” Heartwarming. But are we a singing school – NO. Can we be judged for voice… ?? Should the students be judged for that? Or applauded for their effort. We do treat our students like our children, our family. I’ve seen this and experienced it myself – all parents usually encourage their children to participate in school plays & competitions … talent not-with-standing. We did the same. Apologise if that dissapointed.

    To sum it up, YES – IF the Graduation Ceremony was a ceremony to showcase the EVENT skills of our students – it wouldn’t work. Then we would have them organise an event to highlight their skills with professional talent performing so the show would be judged on how they performed as event managers, not as the talent. If the Graduation Ceremony was simply as the name suggests …. It WORKED for me.

    This is a family event. We treat every event manager who has taught as part of our family. Many faculties enjoy this…. as they feel it was their kid graduating, it was their son/daugther performing, it was their employee on stage. Regret that we disappointed some faculty on this front.
    Maybe the expectation and perception mis-matched.
    We will improve.
    Fault us and fault the students if they have been taught by wrong professors. We will keep looking for more content. Train them with better roles of experience and reality. Request that the industry pays them a stipend to ensure that they have a value of self worth and they can survive in dubai to keep learning. And of course we will call you back for you to share your views. That’s my appeal to all in the industry. In my humble opinion.

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