Hark the Cannons Roar! – by Dan Tapper

One sporadic hobby of mine over the years has been acting in community theatre. I’ve probably done a dozen or so plays with roles of varying sizes, ranging from leading roles to supporting roles to very small roles.

It is fun to immerse yourself in a character and work with a group of other non-professional but well-meaning actors with the common goal of entertaining the audience. It’s is a great example of collaboration, preparation and teamwork.

Like a good public relations campaign, a play cannot succeed without full buy-in from everyone involved. The actors and the director and the stage manager and the choreographer and the costume designer and the lighting designer and the sound designer and the musical director and everyone else have to work together. Without that, the show suffers. But if everyone can give their all, it’s a winner.

That means preparation—something we intensely engage in with clients on a daily basis. You can’t just wing it. Learning your lines, blocking and cues is not that far off from coordinating a media event or planning a major announcement or managing an issue: one person’s actions impact the next person’s, and so on down the line. You’ve got to go out there, practice, learn from your mistakes and apply that knowledge to an even better performance, or an even better client result.

Teamwork and preparation—that’s what it’s all about. No individual can out-think a great team. Everyone on the team plays a specific part, so that as the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This brings to mind an old story told to me by a director with whom I have worked many times.

There’s this guy who always wanted to act in a play but wasn’t sure how to do it. One day he walks into a community theatre and says, “I’d love to be in your show, but I have no experience.”

The director says, “No problem. I’ve got the perfect part for you. It’s just one line, and that line is ‘Hark, the cannons roar!’ Can you do it?”

“Perfect,” the guy says, excited and grateful. “I’ll take it! ‘Hark, the cannons roar!’ I love it!”

So for weeks the guy practices his one line. Everywhere he goes he says it over and over again.

Hark, the cannons roar!
Hark, the cannons roar!
Hark, the cannons roar!

At work, at home, putting the kids to bed, talking with friends, talking with his wife, driving in his car, it’s the same thing for weeks. Over and over and over. He doesn’t really bother with the other actors or paying too close attention to the rehearsals. He’s just fixated on his one line. He wants—needs—to nail it.

Hark, the cannons roar!
Hark, the cannons roar!
Hark, the cannons roar!

Finally, opening night arrives. He’s off by himself before the show, away from the other actors, putting on his makeup and getting into costume. And the whole time he’s mastering that one line.

Hark, the cannons roar!
Hark, the cannons roar!
Hark, the cannons roar!

Finally it’s time! The stage manager gives him his cue. The guy takes the stage.
The spotlight shines on him. Suddenly there’s a huge, thunderous “BOOM!!!” of a cannon that resonates throughout the theatre.

The guy jumps and screams, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!”

In theatre or in PR, it’s not just about our individual role, but how that role fits in with the overall team goal. No one wants to be stuck out there like that poor novice actor, alone in the spotlight without any awareness of what others are doing around them.

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