Partnerships in Portugal

I found it particularly difficult giving a talk on a topic I’m passionate about in front of so many of my friends. I loved it, though, am happy with how it turned out and I loved the opportunity to be back at a WordCamp.

If you’re interested in the topic of growing a product business in the WordPress ecosystem through partnerships, this 20 or so minute talk is a solid introduction. Check out the slides if you want the overview before jumping in.

On the Edge

I couldn’t have done it without Anna.

There’s a joy and satisfaction in knowing you did your best, even (and especially) when it’s right on the edge.

It was Monday night at CloudFest in Germany. Jet lag was catching up with me and sleep was sounding pretty good.

At an event like CloudFest with hundreds of speakers the organizing team works hard to make sure everything runs smoothly. As part of their planning, they’d asked me to prepare a keynote incase a speaker couldn’t make their time slot.

My title was “An Overview of the WordPress Ecosystem” and I was on track to turn in my slide deck by Tuesday at 6 PM, incase they needed me to step in on Wednesday or Thursday.

I looked at the bed and considered my options. While I felt I had plenty of time and I wasn’t sure if I’d even be needed, I sat down and got to work.

The WordPress ecosystem is a favorite topic of mine. My challenge, then, was to condense it down to the points most worth conveying and to do so in a way that’d be valuable to the audience.

That’s what I focused on that evening, working through the key points and creating an outline to serve as the basis for the talk and for the slide deck.

I continued after breakfast the next day and felt comfortable with having everything done on time.

Around 1:30 PM I got a call from one of the organizers, asking if I could be ready to give a keynote that day at 4:45 PM.

Now, at this point, a few thoughts are racing through my head:

  1. I said I’d help where needed and help was needed here.
  2. I love just-in-time work and this was definitely that.
  3. We didn’t have any slides yet.

I checked with Anna (who’s help I’d need), she agreed, and we said yes.

Minutes later, I was asked to show up at 2:30 PM for tech check to review the deck and make sure we were good to go.

After going back to the hotel to change and returning to the venue, I had 30 minutes to go and still no slides. I found Anna, we sat down in one of the lounges and got to work.

I love working in flow states, where the creativity runs through you and the pieces click into place. I also love the rush of a deadline.

As we worked, I was enjoying the flow and the rush while at the same time feeling the pressure build – a lot more pressure than normal.

Creating slides isn’t my gift – I get too caught up in getting it “just right” and my work becomes inefficient. And as I’m working on a slide, I’m feeling that tension between getting it done (because we only have minutes left) and getting it right.

At one point, with just a few minutes to go, the pressure hit a peak and I felt the start of what might be clinically described as “freaking out”. I recognized how I felt, took a breath, and looked over at Anna who, though moving at a blistering pace, still had a calm about her. I talked myself through it. We’d do our best with what we had and that would be OK.

At 2:30, we closed our laptops and walked over to the tech check. The deck was good, just not yet great. I asked if we could have 15 more minutes, which the gentleman granted and we made a few finishing touches. We turned in our deck.

At this point, we have just under 2 hours to go.

As a speaker, I struggle with the idea of rehearsing. When I speak, I go all in and there’s a uniqueness, an energy, to each performance that, in my experience at least, can’t be duplicated. There’s a part of me that protests, “I don’t want to go all out and it just be the practice!”

Anna and I went to a quiet part of the park and did three things.

First, we focused on priming the material in my head. She asked me questions, focusing on parts that were new, and I worked through it with her till I felt comfortable.

Second, we did a timed rehearsal. I protested and knew she was right. I gave the presentation to her as she advanced the slides and we confirmed that the timing was right on.

And third, I took a few minutes to just sit quietly after it was done.

Minutes later, I was in the back, getting mic’d up and makeup applied. I stood in the dark, off to the side, waiting to be called onstage.

In that moment, I focused on the experience. I remembered my training and I reminded myself what I was there to do, to inform and inspire, to create value for the audience.

The hosts introduced me and it was showtime.

No More

The stage where we made our magic.

We had our final show on Sunday and a get together after that went into the evening. I got home after 1 AM and I felt it Monday morning.

A day later, there’s still a sense of sadness, of loss, floating around me.

A few minutes before we went on stage, I had a moment where I realized part of what makes live theatre so special. What you experience as a cast, creating art together, is a unique experience that, by its nature, can’t be reproduced.

That group of people, the place, the time, the story we’re telling, the audience. You might have a similar experience, and never the same.

My final scene, singing No More, was my best ever. I performed it well, technically, hitting the pacing and notes I wanted. Much more, though, was how I felt. I felt the character, hearing his son express grief at a father he’d never known, and his response, feeling the pain and yet offering the best he believed he had in his appeal to run away.

I sang with tears in my eyes and ended strong, hitting the harmony we’d been working on and reaching out, grasping my scene partner’s shoulder just before walking off.

Backstage, the emotions of the scene began to wash off and were soon replaced by the emotions of the experience as a whole as we moved towards the final songs. By the time we got to No One Is Alone, most of us backstage had tears in our eyes.

What an experience. A cast member after shared the quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” While easier said than done, it well represents my conclusion. And while this particular experience will be no more, I’ll be forever impacted by what I had the privilege of experiencing.

Showtime

It’s quiet in the green room. Most of the cast is in places and the music is about to start. Evan, Emme, and I and have a bit of time before our scenes.

Tonight is our fifth show. We opened on Friday, did two shows on Saturday, and another on Sunday. We’ve had a few days off and now we’re back at it with ten shows to go over the next two weekends.

I’m really enjoying it. All of our hard work has paid off and we’ve got an excellent show. I still feel some nerves. It’s been important to keep practicing, keeping the lines and lyrics top of mind. I’m excited, though, and am looking to experimenting with subtle improvements to my characters over the next shows.

It’s been a lot of work. It’s been worth it, though, and now we get to enjoy the payoff of all that work. I’m almost up now. It’s showtime!

Nerves

An illustration from Jensyn Wold (8)

Last Thursday, I got back from an overnight trip to Florida and made my way to rehearsal. I’d missed the previous few days and wasn’t where I wanted to be with my performances. No regrets – I’d done my best with all the time I had available – yet I knew I didn’t have it yet.

We began the run and I waited backstage for my queue. A minute or two in, I noticed that my nerves were a wreck. I wasn’t feeling it. The first act was fairly strong. The second act, though, I just didn’t have. I had the lines nearly memorized, yet the timing and sequence was off.

About halfway through the night, while I waited for my next queue, I hit my low point and had the “run” feeling. “What am I doing here? I’m not ready for this.. I should run and hide.”

I acknowledged the feelings and took a breathe. This is what I signed up for. This is the discomfort I sought. I knew it would be hard. I also knew I could do it. And I knew that I just have to keep going.

As I waited to go on again, I reminded myself to smile. I directed my energy into focusing on what my character was feeling. It didn’t take all the nerves away, but it helped.

At the end of the night, our director called us together. She was frank about where we were at and let us know it wasn’t pretty. She also encouraged and affirmed us. We’ve worked hard over the past few months – now we just have to pull it together.

Tonight, a week later, is our last rehearsal. We’ve been at it 4-5 hours each night all week and, as intense as it’s been, it’s paying off. The cast is doing incredible. I know my lines. My singing is improving. I’ve felt a lot more comfortable with experimenting and trying new things with my two characters, taking in feedback from other cast members and just fine-tuning the performance.

Tomorrow night is opening night. I feel the nerves. I also feel a confidence that comes from putting in the effort and from being part of a team. The guidance, the feedback, the tips, and support from the cast and crew has been invaluable and I’m excited to see it all come together.

Tomorrow night we go Into The Woods. If you’re anywhere near Liberty Lake, Washington, get your tickets and join us.