THE BLOG
06/23/2010 05:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Let the N.E.A. Lead Them

I'm thrilled that Huffington Post has created an Arts Section -- especially because the artists of our time are always a little bit ahead of the curve. In fact, the arts, and most specifically, the theatre, have for decades operated on a leadership model that our governments and our corporations would do well both to note and to study.

Consider a Broadway production of the musical that changed all musicals, Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic, Oklahoma! It's a show so good that I've heard it said that there is never a moment on Earth when someone somewhere isn't doing Oklahoma!

For a Broadway revival, a producer, or a team of producers comes forward to option the rights. That takes money. Producers bring money to the table. Then, they hire the General Manager who hires the company manager, the press reps, the marketing folk, and the merchandising group. Producers also hire the artistic team. A director and a choreographer first. Then the artistic team hires designers, assistants, conductors, orchestrators, and the like. Voila! We're up to casting. Auditions before a casting director and the team. Excellent -- a perfect cast. Now, show crew and, once the theatre is contracted, house crew comes with it. The orchestra. Rehearsal and more rehearsal.

It's opening night. Oklahoma! is ready. Over two hundred people have synchronized to get to this opening lyric:

"There's a bright golden haze on the meadow, ..."

And the second line ... wait for it ...

"There's a bright golden haze on the meadow."

An apocryphal tale goes that it took OHII (Oscar Hammerstein II) a week to write the first line of Oklahoma! And three weeks to write the second one.

Just because I'm a serious theatre lover, let me show off a little bit. Oklahoma! has ten violins. They sit in pairs at music stands labeled A, B, C, D, and E. A, C, and E play the first violin part. B and D play the second violin part. Can we talk about collaboration? Not to mention every other instrument, every dresser, intern, press agent's assistant, blogger, critic, reviewer, promoter, group sales ticket seller, the box office in the theatre itself. I could go on and on.

Last week's Newsweek featured an interview of Cisco Systems' CEO John Chambers. Mr. Chambers is a longtime student of leadership. He says:

At Cisco, we are moving to collaboration teams, groups coming together that represent sales, engineering, finance, legal, etc. And we're training leaders to think across silos. We now do that with 70 different teams in the company. So we'll have a sales leader go run engineering. A lawyer go run business development. A business development leader go run our consumer operations. We're going to train a generalist group of leaders who know how to learn and operate in collaboration teamwork. I think that's the future of leadership.

Mr. Chambers, I'm so sorry you're so behind the curve. Tony Hayward, too. Also, our legislative bodies -- especially the Senate.

When I was in college, a couple of nights before my senior thesis show was to open, my adviser came to see it and ravaged both me and the production. We -- I, the director, and the whole cast -- were thoroughly demoralized. Downcast, depressed, despairing. Until... the muse of the theatre alighted upon my shoulder and whispered in my ear.

I stood. "Okay, everyone, we're switching parts." I played the lead. She played me, and did a wicked impression of me giving notes at the end of the rehearsal. The little girl in the cast played the male lead. He played the child. You get the idea. We mixed up all the parts till we got our groove back. [FWIW, my adviser later apologized to all of us. The show sold out and was invited to tour.]

Dear one, we in the theatre have known for a long, long time that the show must go on. It doesn't really matter where or at what level we are doing Oklahoma! Whether it's a community theatre in Walla Walla, a conservatory in Winnetka, a summer camp in Woburn or a high school in Waco, we theatre people do collaboration.

I'd venture to say that there's only one man in Washington who knows this in his bones. That would be the deliciously eccentric National Endowment for the Arts chair, Rocco Landesman.

What say we give him a crack at teaching leadership in the Senate? I'll bet he'd collaborate for a lunch with the Messrs. Hayward and Chambers as well.

For spiritual nourishment, visit Dr. Susan Corso's website and blog, Seeds for Sanctuary. Follow her on Twitter @PeaceCorso and Friend her on Facebook.