Feature on Patrick Sutton (Director of Ireland’s National Theater School)

Patrick Sutton serves as a perfect example of how business can be used in unsuspecting ways. If you are interested in how your degree and your communication skills can serve you post-Haas, in a number of different fields, then this feature is for you!

Patrick Sutton is the Director of The Gaiety School of Acting-The National Theater School of Ireland. He is also the Director of the newly established Smock Alley Theater from 1662. Moreover, he owns a communications company called, “Communicate with Confidence” and has worked with Ireland’s former prime minister and professionals at companies like Accenture and Twitter.

The responses below have been abridged for clarity:

Can you please speak a bit about the positions you hold in the Business and Theater communities?

“My first job is as the Director of the National Theater School of Ireland, The Gaiety School of Acting. My second job is as the Director of the Smock Alley Theater.” [Smock Alley Theater is a historic theater in the heart of Dublin. Patrick alongside colleague Kristian Marken, restored the original theater of 1662]. We decided to bring it back to life as a resource for Dublin, for Ireland, and for the World. It is the most historic thing I have ever done. I also own a communications company called “Communicate with Confidence.”

How did you decide to start “Communicate with Confidence”?

“About 15 years ago, I was asked by an Irish politician, Bertie Ahern, to coach him in speech delivery and speech writing. We met once a week to prepare him for every speech he ever did. This included speeches to the joint houses of the U.S. Congress and to the joint houses of the British Parliament. [In 1994, Ahern was elected as prime minister of Ireland. He served for about 12 years as prime minister]. He was a huge part of the Northern Ireland Peace process. I have also coached clients in companies like Accenture and Twitter. This afternoon, I am coaching the Managing Director of Twitter for an interview with the BBC.

With your work in political and business realms, has your experience with Theater been helpful?

“I was an actor. Everything I do and always have done has come from that perspective.” The perspective of being able to stand and to be confident in my body and how it operates, in my voice and how it operates, in my gestures as to how they work.” “Ultimately, you’ve got to be able to stand or sit and deliver and own this thing [body] and there is no apology for the performance in the communications work I do.”

Specifically in business and in communications, “ I use a communications model to provide a context, to talk coherently and concisely. I also use this model to present visions. I believe that every presentation is about the future. My vision, as a presenter, is always the future, my vision is never the past.”

Can you speak more about how performing as an actor has helped you as a business man?

“Good acting has a sense of embodiment and ownership. Good acting means that you were there and you were whole and you were full and you were engaged. If you’re not full and engaged with your body, and your voice, and your gestures, and your emotions then you’re at the wrong game, absolutely the wrong game and it is exactly the same with business.”

In a business setting as a company or an employee, it is imperative to “ take ownership of what [you] stand for.” I am a “big believer in the communications game that, if you do not stand for something with a strong spine, strong voice, and clear gesture…there is a danger that you’ll actually stand for nothing. And if you stand for nothing then you are disadvantaged, you are disabled in some sense that you can’t articulate who you are and what you stand for.”

What would you say for students studying Business or Theater?

“At the National Theater School I have designed a course that addresses this question [what do you stand for?] for my students.”

[One of the courses at the National Theater School is called “Manifesto.” It encourages students to create and design their own work. They are in control of the process, presentation and art forms used.] The “Manifesto program is predicated around that concept of figure out who you are and what you stand for.”

“So to students in any realm, I would say figure out what kind of work you want to make and what kind of context you want to make it in. If you can answer those questions, it is incredible what can happen.”

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“Know Thyself”

“Know Thyself.” My time abroad has provided me with the necessary change in perspective to reflect on this phrase. In doing so, I have thought about one specific area of development that runs through every aspect of my life.

Delayed Satisfaction.

The idea of this is often frustrating. We, as business students, do not like to work without the notion of immediate results. But, could this delay actually be a good thing? Here are a few areas in my life where I have identified the value of delayed satisfaction. I hope that this reflection will allow you, reader searching for immediate results, to take the time to reflect on your own life. Maybe, to determine where you seek immediate satisfaction. Hopefully, to figure out how delayed satisfaction is actually valuable to you.

Track and Field:

As a student-athlete, I have continually experienced long periods of delayed satisfaction. It has helped me develop strength. During weekend training, my coach will often check in and ask about the state of our bodies. Usually, following a week of practice, I am honest and say that I feel beat.  He accepts, understands, and then we begin warm-up. Intervals come next. We are coached to push far over our level of comfort. These practices, for me, are sometimes frustrating. I, as an athlete, do not feel springy or fast or fresh. But I realize now that I am not meant to. These practices are about working in a state of discomfort in order to develop mental strength. They are not about immediate reward. I have had to learn that the reward for mental strength may not come in the next day or next month. But the value of this delayed satisfaction lies in the process. You develop the strength to practice when you don’t want to, the strength to push when you think you can’t, and the strength to compete in uncomfortable circumstances.

Haas School of Business (UGBA 100):

As a class representative for UGBA 100, I learned that delayed satisfaction is valuable training for the professional world. In this class, we were often given an assignment that had minimal direction. Yes, we knew the length, the font, and the margin requirements. We knew the ultimate goal but were unclear about how to get there. And…that was the assignment. Figure out how to get from point A to “successful pitch.” At first, I was frustrated. I asked for more instruction, more details, what exactly do I need? Near the middle of the semester, our teacher explained that there is value to be found in working “in the dark.” Working to produce a finalized, quality assignment without a blueprint. That in the working world, we will not be directed around every turn. There will be decisions we need to make for ourselves. This practice of working without robotic delivery, strengthens our confidence in our instincts as educated students.

Study Abroad at The National Theater School of Ireland:

Through studying conservatory acting, I have learned that delayed satisfaction is valuable due to the process it forces. That is, the process without immediate result. A large part of my curriculum in Ireland requires memorization. From Shakespeare sonnets (Sonnet 137) to Greek speeches (Antigone) to plays (Othello), I have had to memorize countless lines. The process of memorization involves a huge amount of delayed satisfaction. True memorization, for me, is about repetition. Memorize. Say the lines in a quiet room, say them with a beat, sing them, say them while running, say them in an elevator, say them while trying to listen to your favorite song. The process is long and frankly, it is often irritating. Often, the point of it is to put yourself in situations of mental or physical stress in order to see if the lines are truly memorized. The value is finally recognized in performance, on stage, impacting an audience. The lines are clear, the groundwork is laid, and the process pays off.

So, I know, this is my reflection, my view of delayed satisfaction. I realize that my experiences may not resonate directly with yours. I encourage you, reader still looking for immediate results,  to think of areas in your life where you have felt frustrated with a process. Where you have been  frustrated by the time it took. Search for the strength you’re building, how this might help you in the future, and what you are gaining from laying the groundwork. There is often value in delaying satisfaction, we just need to find it.

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Accounting, Banking, Consulting, and … Conservatory Acting?

When I say that I am double majoring in Business and Theater, my words are usually met with confusion and a number of questions. Namely, “Why?”, “How?”, or even “Really?” Realistically, I’m not surprised. This unlikely duo seems, on the surface, to be wildly unrelated. It is true, that Business and Theater have a number of striking differences ( I don’t need to tell you that), but it is also true that there are a number of ways in which these two subjects connect.

Studying at Haas and at Ireland’s National Theater School, the Gaiety School of Acting, has allowed me to recognize how these vastly different realms collide. Here are a few ways in which my studies in Theater have helped me develop skills for the business world.

Reading people

The success of any business endeavor relies heavily on team dynamics. Consider Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks or Henry Ford and Clarence Avery. These teams were successful largely because of the way their members connected. On a smaller scale, think about group projects in UGBA 100. You make your first choices about success or failure when you pick your group. On a larger scale, think about starting your own business. Your initial success will be highly dependent on the way in which you and your co-founders work.  As such, reading people is a skill that I have learned is vital in business. Being able to distinguish sincerity from insincerity or flattery from honesty is integral to picking partners. As existential as it may sound, studying conservatory theater has taught me new ways to read people. By studying film acting, I have learned to identify how and when people lie. By participating in movement classes, I can recognize the importance of breath patterns as they relate to emotion. Moreover, by practicing improvisation, I have learned to analyze eye contact in order to determine intentions. Yes, right now, I am using my skills to better inform my characters and my acting style, but these skills are applicable in every situation in which it is integral to read people.

Targeting your audience

In my first week of drama school, my ensemble and I studied theater of clown. “The Clown” as we know it is meant to entertain. But the clown also does much more. The clown is meant to represent all facets of a human being:  good, bad, stunning, and ugly. On stage, the clown receives signals and energy from the audience to inform his or her performance. As such, the clown must constantly be in tune with the audience’s reaction to their performance. If the audience seems disconnected or uninterested, it is up to the clown to edit their approach in order to engage the audience. The same goes for any investment pitch, job interview, or group presentation. If your audience (teacher, class, or investor) is disconnected, it is your job to recognize, reset, and retry.

Being Creative

Want to be an entrepreneur? One of the keys to success is creativity. Haas encourages us as students to challenge standards because we aspire to improve our creative and entrepreneurial brains. When I came to drama school, my brain was challenged in a completely different way. In one class called “Manifesto” where students are encouraged to create their own art, we were given an assignment. It wasn’t the usual problem set or product pitch but rather, the prompt read “Make me feel something.” Pause. What? I could use any art form I desired (dance, singing, or poetry) and my art installation had to operate for 15 minutes. That was all. This work was something that stretched my mind in emotional, artistic, and generally unusual ways. I know that I can incorporate these aspects into my business education. From marketing to how I pitch ideas, these activities in creativity will positively inform business experience.

So I know that you as a reader may not study conservatory acting or even anything in that realm. But, I do believe that there are ways in which your interests outside of business can influence your Haas experience. I hope this post brings your attention to the connection between these two seemingly unconnected areas and encourages you to explore these three basic skills in the way that best suits you.

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