Greetings from New York City and Happy Summer Solstice to you all.
It’s amazing to walk around NYC and notice how relatively clean and cheerful the place happens to be, especially compared to the circa 1989 iteration. Back then, I worked in advertising at offices on the corner of Madison Avenue and 59th Street. Thirty years ago, trash piled up outside our tony location in Midtown Manhattan while delirious “squeegee men” terrorized the Bridge and Tunnel Commuter Class.
It was the world we dream about versus the world it happened to be.
While visiting this fair city we saw Hadestown, the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical that is based on the Greek myths of Hades and Persiphone and Orpheus and Euridyce. It is understandable why Tony Awards judges lauded this musical; Hadestown gets in your head and never leaves with wonderful songs and orchestration, an amazing book, dazzling stagecraft, and stunning performances from the Tony Award winning portrayer of “Hermes,” André De Shields, and others cast in a tight ensemble of actors.
Our connection to Hadestown is notable; years ago, we first discovered creator Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown song tracks on iTunes. Then, late last year, we saw the musical during its successful run at London’s National Theatre. The show’s pivot from the NT’s expansive stage to the one half its size at the Walter Kerr Theatre is simply jaw-dropping. Anticipating a big Tony win, we bought our tickets several weeks ago—a fortuitous move given that the show’s tickets are now very hard to snag.
In the future, I imagine that theater arts master’s degree candidates will write thorough dissertations on Hadestown, which offers striking parables of modern-day existential crises such as poverty, disenfranchisement, and climate change. Immediately, what I found truly remarkable is how Hadestown relates meaningful work and life lessons, beautifully described in three parts by De Shields in his Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award acceptance remarks.
The Tao of Hadestown:
“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming.”
So often, we choose work out of expediency, to provide immediate cash flow but also to ease extreme financial burdens from student loans, credit card balances, and year-to-year earning power gone retrograde. When we accept such assignments, we often find ourselves stuck in toxic workplaces doing meaningless work. In his remarks, De Shields teaches us to take a different path that perhaps pays less well but in contrast provides unlimited support through meaningful relationships with people who care and noble purpose.
“Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.”
Hadestown followed that slowly-is-the-fastest-way model for success to a tee. The production’s journey started in 2006 when Mitchell took her Greek myth-inspired folk songs—the basis of the Hadestown book—to Vermont country fairs and coffee shops. Encouraged by positive audience reactions, she added new elements, axed numbers that didn’t work, and fixed the ones that could. In the years that followed came Hadestown theatrical workshops, an off-Broadway production, the production in Canada and finally the London production we saw in December 2018. Even into 2019, and anticipating the Broadway premiere, Mitchell, director Rachel Chavkin, and the Hadestown ensemble reworked the show to improve the storytelling. And the result, benefitted by time, focus, and boundless patience, is brilliant.
By contrast, ambitious careerists (like so many Broadway shows) are often in a hurry to hit the stage. And when their progression up the career ladder doesn’t happen as planned, they may pivot to another role with more responsibility and more financial reward, but also more risk. Problem is that the quick progression often causes burnout and, two years in, the careerist is forced to turn their attention to a new role, and, they may never reach their long-term career goals. So, agreed, slowly IS the fastest way to get to where you want to be.
“Three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next—so keep climbing.”
This is such an important insight. So often, careerists achieve a positive outcome, gain a promotion, and then get lulled. But so much of meaningful work is process-oriented. That is why De Shields’ insight to never stop climbing is so important, especially in meaningful work that exists in the areas of resource sustainability and social responsibility; our achievements lead to the next challenge to overcome. Or said another way: we must be content that our achievements sometimes create new challenges to overcome.
If you enjoy Broadway theater and anticipate a future trip to NYC, then I do hope that you get to experience Hadestown. When we heed the three insights of the show’s “Hermes,” then this I know: our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Image credits: Hadestown, Matthew Murphy for Washington Post; Walter Kerr Theater marquis, Dan Smolen; Red Carnation, iStock Photo.