My early theatre training and experience gave me the groundwork for the adventures I’ve had. My entertainment career has been a wild roller coaster ride of travel, working with amazing actors, directors, designers, and technicians, and more.

Every project I work on is, in some form or another, a SHOW. Each show involves a script, casting performers, hiring designers and technicians. Extensive preparation is always required – the show must be staged, rehearsed, and finally put in front of an audience, a collaborative effort by all. The theatre training I received in my high school, college, and early professional theatre days ALL come into play with what I do now.

Michael Shann courtesy of Carlos Gonzales (Star Tribune)

Theatre Training 1.0

My high school years were a long time ago, class of 1970 (Yikes!). I attended two high schools, one 9th – 11th grade and another for my senior year. I was on the varsity debate team at the first, very large, school. A major musical, with a full student orchestra, was produced each year but our debate traveling schedule didn’t permit me to do both. My senior year was at a much smaller school in a much smaller town, allowing flexibility for theatre and debate participation.

By the way, music and/or dance training – combined with your love of theatre – can bring you satisfaction and success in whatever you eventually decide to do. You never lose this kind of experience. My time spent endlessly practicing the piano as a kid – although I disliked it at the time – made a difference as I made my way through the professional world.

Theatre Training 2.0

In college, it didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t the most talented actor on the stage. BUT I seemed to “really get” directing and stage management. The theatre program, and a supportive faculty, gave me confidence that I could succeed. After graduating with a BS in Theatre and History, I landed a high school teaching position, a job that gave me a chance to work with high school actors. I’m still in touch with a few of them! My confidence followed me to graduate school, coming out on the other side with a Master of Fine Arts Directing degree and landing my Actors Equity Association union card as a Stage Manager.

For the Love of Theatre

Why does anyone choose to get involved in theatre? Well, it is competitive and fun, to start with. For some, it is a dream that might lead to fame and fortune. For others, it is a way to connect creatively with others and have your voice heard. And for many, many of us – theatre is a safe place to be different and express ourselves. No matter where your life choices and career take you, the love of theatre will always be there. Whether you become an actor or director, or a teacher, truck driver, accountant, or CEO, it will stay with you and help guide you.

For me, the theatre training brought a chance to travel and work in different parts of the country. I stage managed regional professional theatre, corporate theatre (called Industrial Shows), dinner theater (not many of these around anymore) and multiple musical theatre tours. After five years working professionally, I landed my first full-time entertainment job, stage managing for convention shows at Walt Disney World in Florida.

The Walt Disney Company and I spent a little more than 20 years together. My people management skills grew, as well as my technical and operational understanding of what it takes to entertain large crowds of people. The experience also helped me understand the film and television side of the business. It all begins with the story.

The Power of Networking in Theatre

As you continue your journey, your theatre network expands. Keep in touch with your theatre friends, share your experiences, and help each other. It takes a village! My theatre/entertainment contacts led me to where I am today. I was hired to produce the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, in Russia, through my network of contacts going back many years. The next year, other members of my network helped me to secure the Producer role with ceremonies for the Pan American and ParaPan American Games in Canada. My first opportunity to produce an NFL Halftime Show came from, again, my network of theatre and entertainment contacts. The friends you make in the theatre world, in school, and beyond, can become some of the most valuable people in your life. 

Connect with Michael Shann via LinkedIn or on Facebook.

Michael Shann is a live event producer with 30+ years of experience around the globe. His productions include large-scale sporting event ceremonies, conferences, product launches, arena shows, film premieres, and cruise line speaker/entertainment. Check out more of his work at Casting Spells Productions.

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