Lessons in leadership from a theatre director

Legally Blonde’s Lucy Moss on creative thinking, clear decision-making and never forgetting to laugh

courtney bowman as elle and ensemble in legally blonde at regents park open air theatre
Courtney Bowman (centre) with cast members of ‘Legally Blonde’ at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Pamela Raith

Lucy Moss is something of a phenomenon in the world of theatre. While still an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, she composed and co-wrote the pop musical Six, based on the story of Henry VIII and his six wives, with her fellow finalist Toby Marlow. They took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was picked up to go on show at London’s Arts Theatre in 2017, before going on a UK tour and subsequently getting its US premiere in Chicago in 2019.

lucy moss
Lucy Moss
Courtesy

“We thought of it as a summer project, but it just became incrementally bigger, and suddenly I was on this rollercoaster,” recalls Moss. Aged 26, she became the youngest ever woman to direct a show on Broadway when the production opened there in February 2020; although the pandemic slowed down its rollout, this year sees Six touring internationally, as well as running in the US and Broadway.

Moss, who is a director as well as a writer and composer, is currently masterminding a new adaptation of the much-loved film Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, which opened earlier this month to rave reviews. Her interpretation, she says, “keeps the heart of the story, which is about not underestimating people or judging them because of their appearance”, while putting a modern, inclusive spin on its key themes and characters.

Here, Moss shares some of the lessons she has learnt as a leader in a highly creative – and competitive – field…

The three most important qualities for a good leader are… having faith in yourself, committing to your ideas and bringing other people on the journey with you. I still struggle with self-confidence, as does anyone who’s in a new process for the first time, but it’s a learning opportunity.

My personal strength as a leader is… the ability to be honest, to accept when something is wrong and adapt to the situation. That might mean stepping back and letting someone else take over, or it might mean acknowledging that something isn’t working but that you have to keep moving, so you’ll come back and solve it later.

I keep my team motivated by… facing challenges with humour and with a sense of the bigger picture. Working in theatre can be very emotional, and when you’re stressed it can really affect everybody, so you have to find a way to stop situations from feeling too heavy. And you’ve got to allow yourself to celebrate when things go well, too.

courtney bowman as elle and ensemble in legally blonde at regents park open air theatre
Lauren Drew as Brooke in Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
PAMELA RAITH

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was… during rehearsals a couple of months ago, when I’d got to the point of knowing that I had to stop trying to solve everything myself and ask for help from our choreographer. It was about putting my ego aside and realising what needed to be done for the good of the show.

An effective leader will always… respond to what their team needs. When I was directing Six, it was just me and six actors, so we could have quite an informal, consultative relationship, whereas on Legally Blonde, it’s such a large team that it’s vital for me to be really clear about my decisions. This isn’t a situation where we can just sit down and figure things out together; my job is to be concise and get to the point. Then if someone suggests something, of course we can discuss it, but you need that initial clarity.

An effective leader will never… create fear, because that’s what kills creativity.

My role model for leadership is… Ellen Kane, our choreographer on Legally Blonde. I admire her courage, her creativity and the way she engages with a script.

The one piece of advice I’d give to anyone working in theatre is… to be clear about what you think when you go into the rehearsal room. You don’t have to stick to it exactly, but you do need to have a sense about what your vision is and why.

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