BWW Interview Part 3: PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY'S New Managing Director Chris Massimine on Leadership and Mentorship by Hal Prince
Part 1 of this series focused on Chris Massimine's background, with Part 2 an interview with Pioneer Theatre Company's new managing director on his vision of the future for the leading theater company. This final installment covers his leadership philosophy.
What makes for a good leader?
Chris Massimine: A good leader takes initiative, paving the way for those to come. A great leader is someone who has the foresight to stand back to get a wide picture of what it takes to ensure the entire team is thriving, that anything missing is found, and gives opportunity for others to set pace under a shared vision. Being present and providing/receiving/seeking mentorship plays a large role for successful leadership.
What does mentorship mean to you?
CM: In short: everything. Without mentorship there's no way I would've become a Broadway producer by age 25, a CEO by 29 and the senior management executive at one of the country's leading regional theaters before blowing out 33 candles. If you're open to learning from those who've been there and done it, you can grow both professionally and emotionally exponentially.
Who has been a guiding inspiration for you along the way?
CM: I've been very lucky to have the great fortune to bask under the brightest lights our industry, including Daryl Roth, Len Soloway, Manny Azenberg, Bryna Wasserman, Jordan Roth, Stuart Thompson and Hal Prince.
You've had a longstanding history with Hal. What was it like to be mentored by Broadway's most prolific impresario?
CM: It was and still is daunting. Though Hal himself never was daunting; well, not intentionally at least. He was the kindest soul in the business. For someone whose reputation was larger than life, he refused to let it show, although I am certain he was aware of the improbable number of contributions and collaborations he brought into existence. For 25 years he answered my calls, responded to my emails and showed up when I needed him most.
Hal knew how to make you feel like $1,000,000, and you could've been so down on your luck that your shoes ran in the opposite direction of your feet. Every word that came out of his mouth rang true. So true and exact, you'd think it had to have been rehearsed. It never was. And it was always presented with a sincere optimism that could not be brought down. I'm sure he had his share of days that just could not end soon enough. The difference is, he created the perception he wanted to see and then saw it through. From his eyes the world was full of endless possibilities. I believe that unwavering outlook, complemented with his genuine and gentle candor, factored largely into the making of a legend and more than that an example of the finest we should strive for in ourselves.
What's the best advice he gave you?
CM: Funny you should ask. I was just thinking about how important it is to know when to ask for help. Easily mistaken for a weakness, we can all improve by learning from people who have had success in experiences we are encountering with uncertainties. As his friend and mentor, I can honestly attest I never regret taking one sliver of Hal's advice. The most impactful of it I've narrowed down to "10 golden reflections" I review on a weekly basis. Here they are:
1. Instead of putting your foot in your mouth use it as an opportunity to change direction.
2. The longer you sit, the harder it is to stand back up.
3. Relish and savoring are for food. Terrific for a chef. Improbable for a producer (or most elsewhere). Acknowledge your kitchen staff. Without the prep, there is no dinner.
4. Giving up is OK. Giving in is an abomination to self.
5. If you must smoke, may I suggest you use your breath wisely. The smoke may move fast and heavy, but will not mask others' decades of adaptation to see past it.
6. Lead always with your heart. If you head is screwed on tight, you already know the logic. The heart is what gives the reason.
7. When flying high, the only thing that matters is that you are prepared for the eminent drop. A clipped wing is only as good as the pilot in the first place.
8. There is more to you than you will ever give yourself credit. That goes for any of us with a fair share of decency. The folks who say they have it all, have little more than they know and much more of what they ought to have less.
9. You must listen and hear. It is only after that you will be heard.
10. Not one thing in this world is more precious than a reasonable today.
What advice do you have for those looking for a career in theater?
CM: I'll share the same words Hal offered me: "If you can make theater your life, you should. author a story from which you can stand tall."