Have you ever been late for something important? Really late. So late that the people who were counting on you to be there are calling you in a panic, wondering where you are?
Been there. Done that. It happens.
It doesn’t matter what caused it. Once you’re late, nothing you say can undo the fact that you are late. Yes, you should apologize. Yes, you should say you’re sorry – and mean it.
But, after you’ve said it, the most important thing is to move forward. Put the past in the past and get on with whatever it is that you were supposed to be doing in the most expeditious way possible.
This was brought home to me again this past weekend. On Sunday, I had a big event. Things did not go according to plan. Let me tell you the story.
[I should pause here and point out that every event I work is a big event. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 people or 2000. To the people who planned it and the people who are there, it is a big event. So I treat it that way. When you hear me say “it was a big event”, don’t be overly impressed. It might be my neighbor’s birthday party. Having said that, this story is about a bigger than average event.]
This particular event took place in a high school auditorium. If you’ve ever been involved in the technical side of theater, you know that there are components that require special skills and knowledge. Some things are safety issues, e.g. raising and lowering curtains, screens and other things in the fly space. Most theaters have rules about who is allowed to operate those mechanisms, for very good reasons. Then there are the lighting and sound consoles. While there are similarities, every installation has its own quirks that require specialized knowledge to properly and safely operate that equipment. Most theaters have these locked down, either by controlling physical access to the equipment, or through passwords, or both.
There were many complicating aspects with this particular event. The vast majority of events I work, it’s just me. I am a one-person roadie handling transport, setup, performance, and teardown. This particular event was complex enough on my end to enlist the help of a 3-person crew.
Because there were so many pieces to this event, and having a crew, I had a 4-page document with a detailed timeline and all of the steps that needed to happen at what time in order to make the show happen. For several weeks leading up to the event, I had exchanged a number of emails with the lead teacher (we’ll call him Bob) in charge of the technical side of the school’s theater. Everything seemed to be in order, ready for the big day.
It was going to be a tight schedule to make it all happen. The show was scheduled to start at 3:00. Doors to the auditorium were to open at 2:30. We couldn’t get into the building until 1:00. That didn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room.
We arrived as planned, got into the school at 1:00 as planned, and started our setup. By 1:30, I noticed Bob had not yet arrived. No worries, I told myself, I’m sure he’ll be here soon. We had this all covered in our emails. When it got to be 2:00 and he still wasn’t there, I raised the flag with my client. Without Bob, we would not be able to pull off the event.
(If it had come down to it, I would have figured out a way to do some kind of performance. It just wouldn’t have been the one we had planned.)
My client started the phone tree and I went back to my checklist, jumping ahead, doing things a bit out of order, covering as much as I could to be ready to go back and catch up when (if) Bob arrived.
By 2:30, Bob still had not arrived.
It was at this point that I was exceedingly grateful for my crew, who are all friends of mine. They helped keep me centered, focused, and breathing steadily. (Thanks, guys!)
One of the added complexities of this show was that I had a 20-minute pre-show video. It is a fun introductory piece, a show before the show, full of little hints as to the show that is about to happen. It’s not really possible to cut it short. It needs to run in its entirety, because it sets up some things that happen later in the show. In order to start the show on time at 3:00, this video needed to start at 2:40.
Bob arrived at 2:41.
Let me state for the record that Bob is a super nice guy. He was clearly embarrassed that he was late. I hold no grudge against him. How could I? I’ve been there. I’ve been the guy others were counting on who wasn’t where he was supposed to be at the appointed time. I get it. These things happen.
It really doesn’t matter why he was late. Why is not important. I’ll say that again: Why is not important.
What is important is what you do when you get there. Bob nailed it. He jumped into action the minute he arrived.
We got the pre-show video started at approximately 2:47. Only 7 minutes late. Not bad, considering the circumstances.
Thanks to our numerous emails leading up to the event, Bob had the lights preprogrammed and ready to go. He just had to push the right buttons.
It was a bit awkward, but we then did my sound check on top of the pre-show video. Rather than go through the character voices I would typically do in my sound check, I simply spoke to the audience about live theater. This is what happens. Things don’t always go according to plan. You run with it. Usually when you arrive at a show, all of this stuff has already been taken care of. Today you get to see what it looks like behind the scenes. Thank you for your patience. Get ready to have some fun. The show will be starting soon. Excuse me while I go finish getting ready. End of sound check.
How would you have reacted in this situation? Whether you relate more to Bob, or those waiting for him, what’s your typical response when things go wrong?
Too often we find ourselves getting stuck in the “why” of something gone wrong. It is so easy to get lost in the injustice of it all. Who did that? Why did they do that? How could they do that?
To which I say, “Who cares?”
It happened. Move on. Eyes front. We have a show to do. Let’s get this rolling.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage…