Tech Week

This is a very short horror story.

You’re at the final point of your Big Project. You’re exhausted. You tell yourself you don’t even care anymore, and you might even believe it.

Except you’re also spending hours obsessing over the end result, or cursing decisions that were made months ago that put you in this position, and cursing out your collaborators. Or your loved ones, who aren’t even involved. One thing’s for certain – this didn’t have to be this way and you’re never going to work this way again or with that person. You’re done.

Except you’re still up at 4am┬ábecause you’ve finally figured it out! The one thing that you couldn’t figure out before, you’ve figured it out! This is it! You did it! You can’t believe you were so stressed out – honestly it’s a little embarrassing. It’s just because you’ve been up so late and haven’t been eating right or exercising because you’ve been spending so much time on this project. But now you know it’s going to be fine – and it really was silly of you to not just go to the gym on Tuesday, because that extra 10 hours you put in didn’t turn out to be worth…

Crap! Something disastrous just happened and nobody knows why – at least, nobody will admit it’s Jerry’s fault again – and it’s going to be a disaster, and now you have even less time to fix it and why is my face wet oh god when did i start crying?

Sound familiar? Sure it does. Everybody has suffered through the nightmare of a Project Gone Wrong. And while I’ll admit there’s a wide range, I’ll also tell you if you think about it, every single project you’ve ever cared about – personal or professional – has had moments like this occur before a major deadline.

But I bet you didn’t know it has a name: Tech Week. In the world of theatre, this is the final week just before opening, when all of the work that’s been done before begins to solidify into something magical or collapse entirely…or sometimes even collapse into something magical. There a vanishing number of days left until real live people arrive to see what you’ve made, including the press, your family, and that guy/girl you invited to the opening for reasons you no longer remember. All of them will be staring at your stage expecting a show.

Except now you’re adding in costumes, lights, and sound. Your budgets are thin or exhausted but you just realized that the lamp in the corner wouldn’t have been invented yet and you’re not sure where to get one that would have been. Your favorite lines are being cut ‘for time’ and now moments you’ve had in your head for weeks are coming out all wrong. It has to be this way – it’s the nature of the work and the reality of economics. You need the space, designers, and technicians, but you don’t get to have them all the time, or not always all of them at the same time. When you finally do, during Tech Week, part of your job is to manage the resulting chaos.

People who have no framework for this mistakenly assume that it can be avoided. Surely, they think, with proper planning beforehand, or the right group of people, or enough money, one can arrive at this point and have everything run as smooth as silk. This is highly, highly unlikely. So we accept it as part of the process. And part of that acceptance is learning to let go of certain dreams you had when you started the whole enterprise.

Perhaps when you began, the vision you had in your brain was of a row of golden statues lining the center of the stage. But as you moved forward, you realized that there was no way you were going to be able to choreograph the final, climactic sword-fight between the hero and villain with all of those statues in the way. So you cut half of the statues. Then most of the statues. Then you keep just one, off to the side, and you realize that this was always the best choice…you just couldn’t see it until you started running the whole show at once. What becomes clear is this: You can’t have everything…so you make choices about how to keep the most important things.

Think of your major business projects. Think about how you prioritize your goals. Is it more important that your logo be exactly that shade of blue you once saw on vacation, or that your customers can buy your products easily online? Do you need to spend five hours looking for the perfect image for your marketing campaign, or are those hours better spent shaping the message in the copy? Would you rather wait six months to get everything “perfect,” or would you rather be talking to potential clients now about what you have to offer? It’s the pain of these choices that inform the final push for any project.

So why do we go through it, when we know how taxing and difficult it’s going to be? Because more often than not, it’s worth it. You open the show and discover that the audience loves it, and all of the doubts you had all week evaporate completely. And you never would have arrived at this point if you hadn’t braved the storm to get here.

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