I Am Not Spartacus

We were at a well-respected theater last night and saw a play that was so bad—derivative, insipid, predictable—with horrible writing, mindless directing and, quite rare for this place, amateur acting. (One guy recited lines as if he couldn’t wait to get out and go back to his fantasy football game, and he was supposed to be a high counselor! But then again, the king and queen looked stuffed.) The theater was 50% empty on a Saturday night, if you’re ever curious about the power of word-of-mouth.

How does this stuff get produced and supported? No one wants to tell the truth. No one pushes back. Someone has an agenda. There’s some perceived prestige in producing it. I can’t imagine acting in this and not pointing out, “This is old. This is silly. This is obvious. There is no dramatic tension here. Screaming is not nuance.”

Think about this in your clients. We’ve all seen too many initiatives that managed to transit from a ridiculous idea to a disastrous strategy because no one said “Enough!” Meditating in a sweat tent is stupid. Managing a company through it’s compensation system doesn’t work. Money doesn’t motivate. We need to tell people what we know works and what doesn’t—most especially the people in charge.

At the conclusion of the play (my wife convinced me to stay because the second act was only a merciful 35 minutes) there’s a gimmick (a horrible copy of “I am Spartacus” when the Romans catch up to Kirk Douglas in that movie) and the audience is expected to stand in support of the actors in the besieged town. But no one did until an actor actually requested someone to stand. No one cared, no one was invested in the tendentiously obvious.

That should tell you something. The audience wasn’t into it, and they were saying, “Enough!”


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