I didn’t say yes right away. I hesitated. After cycling around my reasons to say yes or no, the time had come to swallow my pride and seek counsel.
It was early 1997. Julie Taymor had asked me to be her assistant director on the original Broadway production of The Lion King. I’d worked by Julie’s side for years, adapting to the role of assistant director with her in the opera world, yet my experience was predominantly as a stage manager. Perfectly happy shifting between projects at regional theaters, Off-Broadway and on tours to international festivals, Broadway had never entered my sights.
While one voice inside me said I should be more ambitious and leap at the chance, another voice suggested it was okay to go with the comfort and fun of doing the next Philip Glass tour or new Eve Ensler play. I imagined doing The Lion King with Julie would be another challenging and rewarding adventure together, but the unfamiliar world of Broadway was intimidating, as was the notion of working for Disney. Doubt took hold of me, and despite Julie’s insistence, I convinced myself that I’d be out of my league.
As Julie and the producers at Disney awaited my decision, I called Abbie, a beloved stage manager and my first mentor fresh out of college. I told Abbie about Julie’s offer and she said, “Congratulations, that’s fantastic!” Suddenly feeling deeply vulnerable, I shared my doubt about working on Broadway and with Disney, and finally my lack of confidence about my ability to deliver in the role I was being offered.
As my anxiety heightened, I said, “But Abbie you don’t understand, she wants me to be her assistant director, not my usual role as stage manager. I don’t know what that means for Broadway. What will I do?” And in her signature calm, matter-of-fact tone, Abbie said, “You’re going to listen and tell people what’s happening. That’s what you do, Michele.”
My shoulders relaxed as I felt the accuracy of what Abbie had spoken. She was right. That’s what I had been doing with Julie and others for more than a decade. Abbie’s insight bolstered my confidence, and somehow my vulnerability turned to courage. I just had to say yes to another adventure with Julie.
As soon as rehearsals began I was in my element. From coordinating multiple rehearsal rooms in New York City, to listening to people in all corners of the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis where we did our out-of-town tryout, I was indeed doing a lot of listening and letting people know what was happening. Abbie was right. That’s what I do.
It’s innate for me, like breathing. It’s also energizing and rewarding. Listening to people, to their words, gestures, emotions, and listening to what’s beneath and between the words. Each day I worked to piece together, clarify and share the disparate stories, determined to make sense of the many complex parts as everyone worked together to bring Julie’s vision to life on stage. And that is how I became a producer. Listening and telling people what’s happening.
I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t said yes, if I hadn’t called Abbie to share my doubts and fears. If I hadn’t had the courage to be vulnerable with her, I might not have found the courage to say yes.
As I cycle back through various key turning points in my life, I realize that some combination of vulnerability and courage was always required. It’s never easy, but feels like a worthy practice.
Imagine some of the significant moments in your life, when you felt vulnerable but allowed courage to led you. Imagine cultivating and practicing more of that in your life. What if you knew that a new layer of courage lives on the other side of your vulnerability? What would you say yes to?