Darden's Freeman Teaches Leadership Through J-Term Theater Class

January 12, 2010 — University of Virginia business professor R. Edward Freeman has again successfully transformed Darden School of Business MBA students into actors and directors to teach lessons about leadership through theater.

During the final 36 hours of his one-week January term class, "Leadership and Theater: Ethics, Innovation and Creativity," 24 students – six women and 18 men – wrote, cast, produced and performed an original stage play titled, "Till Death Do Us Part."

The play included 14 scenes focused upon death, marriage and relationships. The live performance took place Jan. 8 at Darden's Abbott Center Auditorium.

After the hour-long performance, which received several ovations, Freeman introduced Darden visiting lecturer Randy Strawderman, who has directed theater on the local and national stage and worked with the Darden actors. Then Freeman suggested that the audience ask questions, taking the actors by surprise.

Just as in many business situations, the students had to manage the limitations they were given and work together to create a cohesive production from what started as chaos.

The students commented on what they had learned through the team effort and described a "messy process at the beginning." To pull the show together in such a short time, the students had to hone their acting skills by learning how to react comfortably to their classmates, shape many great ideas into one production, and determine one theme after 17 initial themes were proposed. One student said, "We started as a group and ended as a company."

Student Jacki Fritz compared the learning process of participating in the theater class to corporate experience.

"I learned about the importance of a director," she said. "Without one, 24 people would be working on different projects without a single focus for the play. A CEO holds a much similar role in a company, as he or she is charged with seeing the bigger picture and coordinating all efforts into a single long-term vision.

"I also learned how important it is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. By knowing who is better in certain leadership roles, we were able to accomplish a huge feat in an extremely short period of time."

"Yesterday there was nothing," Freeman said. "You don't think of the incredible, creative side of MBAs. The students worked unbelievably hard to create this play."

He also thanked the audience. "We've got the best students, the best staff and the best community around," he said.

The class was one of seven that Darden offered during the January term.