Nov 20, 20186 min read

Why online merchants need to go to the theatre.

philip moore headshot

by Philip Moore

What in the world? What does going to the theatre have to do with entrepreneurial success? Well, I’m about to show you.

First, what do you think of when you think of the theatre? I think of the smell of dry ice, tightly packed rows of seats and the nervous anticipation for what I’m about to see. I think of smartly dressed ushers holding overpriced programmes and the prospect of ice cream in the interval. I fidget, I laugh, I cry, I squirm, I gasp, I yawn, I relax. In case you haven’t realised, I love the theatre. I think you should love it too. And I think you should visit your local theatre as much as you can. Not only for entertainment – there’s plenty to be learnt from the stage. Watching Netflix won’t do it, I’m afraid.

You need the real, raw thing.


The real, raw thing

At the theatre, the action taking place mere metres in front of you by vibrant, enrapturing beings with whom you develop a connection to the action in a way that TV can’t offer. It was that feeling of shared experience that hooked me during my first trip to the theatre when I was 8. The invisible line between performer and audience is paper thin; if I had wanted I could rush forward and touch them. In that environment, where art touches real life, you are afforded insights of which years of school education could never dream.

This difference is the key to why theatre stands apart as an art form. The actors portraying the characters inhabit their roles for the entire time they stand on the stage. He’s not Hamlet only when he is talking or when the camera is pointed at him as would be the case in a film. In a theatre the actor is always Hamlet, or Horatio or Orphelia depending on the part. An actor draws on their personal experience to bring life to a role and then inhabits that person every night for performance after performance.

Isn’t that much like the roles we take on in our day to day lives?


Your performed life

Erwing Goffman, in his book The Presentation of Everyday Life, proposed the idea that every human interaction we make is a performance. Think about how you spoke when you last met a new supplier or the way you hold yourself during presentations. In beginning to break down every interaction or action one makes in a single day, we see all kinds of performances and roles that we put on for our own or others benefit.

One might dispute this idea by pointing out that we don’t put on entirely new personas or recite learnt lines to one another. But don’t we? What’s the classic response to the question, “How are you?” Mine is, “I’m good, how are you?” Even if I’m tired and achy and really just need a coffee before I can continue this conversation. And when was the last time you swaggered up to your boss, punched them on the shoulder and asked, “What’s up?” Didn’t think so. We perform our lives, it’s just that some things we’ve learnt so well we don’t notice it in the same way anymore.

We have all learnt a number of roles in our lives and will continue to take on many more as we progress. Co-worker, friend, child, parent, boss, shopper, dog-walker, Game of Thrones-watcher and so on. With all these roles we have developed certain competencies and abilities. But there’s always room for improvement, always parts that can be learnt a little better.

For that, we have the theatre.


The theatre as a school of life

If we accept that we are performing constantly, then the theatre is our school of life. With that perspective, the play is no longer simply entertainment but a lecture on the human condition. The actions of the actors on the stage provide inspiration and insights for behaviour; performances that we in the audience can take and apply in our everyday lives. Watch the way an actor moves across the stage to portray confidence or how effective a soft and slowly spoken speech can capture the attention of those around them. You can’t beat it! But you can match it.

Taking on the movements and styles of the stage is not dishonest or fake, it’s the refinement of your performance. If we perform in our lives then why not do so in a manner that soothes and supports the relationships we keep.

This is true for the e-commerce world too.


Bringing the theatre into your e-commerce world

Behind the scenes of your online storefront are meetings, pitches and negotiations that drive the quality of your service and products forward. Actors rehearse and research to embody a persona to convince us of their authenticity; that’s a model that’s useful for us too. A calm and confident approach to stressful situations is not often something we are born with, but something that can be learnt through practice and repetition. The theatre is a roadmap for convincing the audience that what they are presenting is indisputably real. Learn that boldness.

Want to present ideas in a more confident fashion? Go to the theatre. Want to inspire your team members? Go to the theatre. Want to be more mentally aware? You get my drift. All life is performance, the theatre is just home to exaggerated examples of it. And after applying the movements you see or the tones you hear again and again, it becomes easier to do so. Those tips you picked up might appear in some of your most important life performances.

Eventually you learn the style so well that it’s not an act anymore, it’s you. Just as everything one thinks of as ‘me’ was learnt once upon a time unconsciously, we can create new performances more consciously. As we age and learn more about the roles we want to play, we are able to hone and refine our actions to create the most important performance of all – you.