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Project Management Professor Learned Show Biz from His Kids

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

Dan Heck is the first to admit he doesn’t have much professional experience when it comes to creative industries. But his kids have a ton.

A self-proclaimed “theater dad,” Heck has watched and supported his three children as they’ve gone from participating in high school theater to professional theater opportunities throughout the country. Currently, Heck’s oldest son Bill (pictures above) is starring in the Broadway production of “Cabaret,” his second oldest is about to begin a prestigious two-year dance program in Brussels, and his youngest daughter is in the midst of a successful career working with set designs and costumes for stage productions in Milwaukee.

“They’re perseverant, that’s for sure,” Heck said about his children. “We’ve always pressed them to do their dreams and not make money the go to anchor for the decision and I think they have all done that quite well.”

In September, Heck will be teaching a course for Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. His course will focus on project management skills, which are discussed at length in the corporate world but, as Heck has learned through his children, are just as invaluable outside of it as well.

“It’s a great challenge to mix the utility of project management with the relationship competencies of performing arts mindset,” Heck said.

A lot of project management is learning how to transfer and combine seemingly disparate skill sets, according to Heck. This is as important when working with a group of people in a stage production as it is when trying to make acting or musical skills relevant to another job.

“If we have a theatre person and a violinist, conversations will explore strengths and weaknesses that are transferrable to other departments,” Heck said about the class.

“Awareness and adaptation are always part of the game.” Learning the skills is one thing, Heck says. Figuring out what your passion is, on the other hand, sometimes requires a more meditative approach. “I’ve always encouraged them to lay down with me and look at the clouds,” Heck said about his kids. “Once the realization is there you can act on it.”