What about the Captain?


Set sail, treasures & mutiny

It’s a metaphor of course – and I’ve only ever been captain of my tiny little boat, one sail, one jib, one rudder and off I went.
Nevertheless, the Captain is “the only master on board after God” – and how I love that phrase!

It is a question of reflecting on the position of the captain of Altair – the one who will run this rather bizarre theatre.

I am thinking about this article because of what I see now – and as I am no longer young, directors, chefs, “with shoulder pads and braids” I have seen a thousand shovelfuls of them. Almost all of them are dull, neutral – rarely competent – sometimes downright harmful to the company.

But I was lucky enough to meet the best manager there is. In two years, this man managed to make our theatre in Perpignan – which had just come out of the ground and without any audience – the 4th largest national stage in France, with more than 82% of the seats sold in June for the following season.

This guy was the cream of the crop. We all worked like dogs – and his theatre became – during his period – a real place of enchantment.

What was he doing?
He was always there. He talked to the techs every day. He knew what was right and what was wrong with everyone.
He made sure that the ‘administrative’ staff didn’t leave the technical staff in charge of dismantling the trays every night. As a result, no one ever came to reproach a technician for arriving the next day at 11 o’clock in the morning. Everyone knew that a technician goes to bed at around 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning.

He let us come up with ideas, experiments, attempts.
And he let us – he asked us – to always tell him when we saw something that didn’t fit at all – even if it came from him.
And instead of feeling offended, he listened – and he took into account the different opinions.
For that alone, he was an exceptional man.

Add to that an unconditional love of the audience … and every year he would come up with such a huge, varied programme for all genres, all tastes, all ages, that it was a real eye-opener.
Thanks to him, the theatre district of Perpignan, which was a dark and sad dead zone, saw a number of cafés, hotels, restaurants and night bars bloom! – may I say “bloom”? – astonishing for the size of our city.
And on show nights: they are full. But full to overflowing.

He is the one who imposed the big party at the end of June/early July, where we present the coming season, where we listen to music, where we dance, where we talk with the public. And for people to come, it was easy: the first glass of wine was free, the entrance to the theatre was free, the music was free. It was full from the first season.
I can tell you that the ones who didn’t laugh were the girls at the box office who spent all night selling tickets.

Time has passed. We have another direction.
Another captain.

He’s very nice – but he gave in to the accountants: so we’ve got no more: big shows, parties, audiences.
It’s sad, isn’t it?
He gave in to fear: don’t even go and see how many people follow our theatre on the internet, it’s to tears.
Yes, but people shouldn’t comment, because of “hate on the net”.
Don’t go and see our videos, I’m not going to get over presenting it and saying we’re pros: we have to throw everything away and start all over again.

Yeah, but the boss is nice, he means well. And he never thought to allow us to criticize him.
So instead of telling him: it sucks, take that off and spice up your video – he reads the messages: bravo! what a great job! it’s great.
And so he must think that everyone likes it.
And it sucks.

I take it a captain doesn’t have to be “nice”. That’s not his job.
He has to be human – yes.
He has to know the crew and their work – yes.
He has to know where we’re going – yes.
And above all, he must not forget that he is not “God”. He is the only master on board – yes – but after God.
So he needs to hear what his crew has to say. It’s absolutely fundamental.
I have never seen a theatre work with just one director: there is a team with him – and for it to work to the maximum, it must be heard. Usually, in these professions, you only have professionals who are passionate. So they don’t often do the “personal problems” or “I want a promotion” thing.
But if the manager hears everyone’s remarks, it also means he can make remarks to everyone.
It’s a simple game – but it only works when it goes both ways.

With that, he has to impose his programming and communication choices.

Otherwise it ends in mutiny.

We’re not there in Perpignan. We’ve been kind too – we’re not hanging the captain anymore. But we’re all looking for another boat, because there we are sandbagged and probably sunk.

And so, in order for Altair to be able to sail in the open sea of the Unknown – since it’s a question of inventing new forms of entertainment, since it’s a question of taking the players from the net, of going out to steal the fans of extremes – it will need a captain who is able to make a team work by working more than it does.
A captain who is able to listen to his team.
And to shut them up when he makes his decision.
And accepting criticism if the decision wasn’t a good one – turning back and getting back on track is always smarter than continuing to throw yourself into every reef that comes along.

That’s a pretty special job description, isn’t it?

  • international performing arts knowledge
  • love of the audience stronger than love of the artists: to select only those shows that are really meant for the audience (and not against it).
  • video game knowledge / video game companies
  • knowledge of the evolution of the virtual reality
  • ability to really interact with a very diverse team
  • ability to innovate, to invent
  • ability to assert oneself in front of those who are afraid (of losing money, of not having an audience, of novelty, of ‘we’ve never done this’).
  • ability to impose oneself in front of those who have a priori habits and rules (on advertising, on shows, on the use of social networks etc.).
  • very fluent English (and that’s it, I won’t be that captain. )

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Featured Image : The Ionian Mission – by Geoff Hunt – National Museum of the Royal Navy – Portsmouth.

As you have seen, I have just shown fantastic sportsmanship, highlighting the Royal Navy – while the history between the Marine Royale and the Royal Navy is still anchored in our memories. I can’t be “sport” all the time. So here is La Confiance, led by Captain Robert Surcouf, capturing The Kent.

Love and annoyance are the salt of the relationship between the French and the Anglo-Saxons…

7 Thoughts

  1. Yes, sometimes, the best thing about a captain – whether Anglo-Norman ;-p French or Breton 😉 – is that they have a clear idea of the destination and direction of travel. Without that, it is just a journey around a provincial lake 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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