Shannon Manning is a writer, producer, and performer. She has written and produced for TV news and weather, the Chicago Bulls, LifetimeTV, Fuse, Kraft, and more. She helps manage the Charles Mingus nonprofit organization and touring bands, is webmaster for Pathetic Geek Stories, published and edited Pipe Up! Magazine, was the Corporate Cash Manager for a major multinational newspaper and internet company, and recently helped create a web and stage show with Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show. She has taught, directed, and performed improv at Second City, IO, Upright Citizens Brigade, Magnet Theater (which she also co-founded), and Drinkytown, and has performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
After a recent stint as New Media Deputy for Obama for America, she returned to developing her artist collective/production company Sparkle Television, which launched a music/comedy/art webshow called Beauty Love Truth in April.
1. How did you get started doing what you do?
I’ve always been a DIY-type – this is my fifth company. First was a computer/video animation company with my mom, then two companies with my sister – one creating weather graphics for TV, and another as one of Chicago’s first web design companies. I came to New York and, ten years after falling in love with improv from studying with Del Close in Chicago, co-founded the improv school and venue Magnet Theater.
I currently freelance on TV projects; producing, directing, shooting, and editing webshows and pilots; sometimes acting; and, trying to put all these experiences into Sparkle Television to produce comedy, music, drama, and art for art’s sake! It’s a way to work with people I admire and with whom I share creative goals.
2. What is your biggest joy and what is your biggest headache?
My favorite thing in the world is to see someone develop or build on an idea of mine, or to watch someone that I’ve taught, promoted, or worked with find success. My own accomplishments always leave me immediately thinking, “Ok, cool, but what’s next?” That’s the freelance/entrepreneur default mode/psychosis…always hatching the next plan, looking to the next project.
Most of my projects rely on collaboration. That’s a joy and also a challenge. Working with other people inspires me, and makes me accountable for my time, ideas, and integrity. Working with talented people makes me step up! I also like to take the reins on a set or project, and create a beautiful, efficient machine with a happy team that feels proud of their work and the final product. Creative people often thrive with structure. When they are in a safe and trusting environment, they can just focus on their work. Creating that environment is always a challenge.
The biggest challenge in collaborative efforts is to clearly define your role, so your role does not get defined for you, and you don’t get stretched too thin! I am great at stepping into multiple roles, and welcome input and change; but then I have to step back and make sure I’m on my right path and make sure communication stays open and honest. And if it’s not working, and obstacles seem insurmountable, I have learned not to spend too much time trying to fix it. It doesn’t have to be dramatic (the band is breaking up!), it’s just the nature of collaboration. There’s always another idea, project, opportunity, even if I have to create it myself.
3. Where do you spend most of your time online (business-wise)?
I try to focus on spending time creating rather than consuming online. I like to use productivity tools like Bubble Timer to keep me focused. 43 Folders is also a great productivity-meets-creativity blog. I use social networking to see what friends are up to performance-wise. Mediabistro, Freelancer’s Union, and LinkedIn are great sites and communities for freelance issues, professional development, political activism, and job postings. I also like Cynopsis – it’s fun to gawk at the money that’s getting tossed around to executives in the latest gold rush to monetize the web and creativity.
My latest trick is to work on my own priorities before even checking email, and to avoid being immediately responsive to every email or phone call. It was hard at first, but this way I get to choose which things get done first instead of technology doing the prioritizing for me.
4. What is the one thing, person, service or resource you can’t do without?
The internet on/off button. There’s so much information, entertainment and interaction available, I have to be vigilant and step away. I need to recharge with real face-to-face community and activity. I need to go to live music, theater, comedy, and political meetings, to remind me why I live in New York! I need to get my news from professionally edited newspapers and magazines without user comments, and I need to write with pen on normal paper.
But then I have to turn the internet back on because it is a constant reminder that there are no gatekeepers anymore; that there is nothing to prevent anyone and everyone from creating and publishing and, yes, even monetizing your own creativity. You don’t need a stage, a camera, or any technical abilities, as long as you have good ideas and friends who believe in them and also in you.
5. What do you wish someone had told you the day you started your business?
“I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s. I will not Reason & Compare; my business is to Create.” -William Blake
I love that quote because “reason” and “compare” do not usually get a bad rap in business and management, but they are great hindrances to creativity. So is relying on old systems or paths, especially when they are broken or littered with unnecessary obstacles. On a practical level, I discovered it is helpful to work in two different roles: one the Big Picture, thinking, planning boss, the other the efficient loyal employee. The boss writes everything down, from top level goals, objectives, processes and priorities, to clear tasks for the employee. If I’m feeling inspired, I can just write or plan or jot down my crazy ideas without judging the practicality because I know that my employee will try to make it work (she’s great!) And if I’m not feeling inspired or having doubts, I can just tick things off the list and trust that the boss knows what she’s doing (she’s great!) It took a while to learn that when you work for yourself you have to have discipline, but when you are creative worker, you also have to learn to listen to yourself so you’re not forcing yourself to work counter-productively. That goes for the real people I work with, too. Always trust them, always communicate, always treat them like poets and geniuses (so said Del Close); then, together you can overcome any obstacle and create whatever system is needed.