What I learned… producing local theater in Japan, with 2Heads' Nick Rosier

2Heads' Nick Rosier on his time producing (and acting in) theater in Japan / Copyright Masa's Eye Photographs; Image via Nick Rosier

Nick Rosier is digital and content director at experience agency 2Heads. A veteran of agencies in London and Sydney, what you won't see on his CV is that in his twenties he found himself in a successful Japanese community theater troupe. We sat down with him to find out what impact that experience had on his career.

Hi, Nick! We know you best from your role at 2Heads…

I’m the digital & content director here. Everything that has a digital flavor comes through me and my team, from creative technology to integrations to streaming content.

Tell me how you ended up in Japan.

I moved there when I was twenty-one. I’d had bit of a career in broadcast, traveling between Australia, the UK, and the US. I’d just been shooting and editing for Venture Motor TV shows in Australia on (no joke) Camper Trailer Touring and Caravan Mother Home.

I was ready to move on and wanted to visit Japan, with no real plan when I get there. I went on a working holiday visa for ski slopes, but I didn’t get that far. I didn’t see the snow for two years! I ended up in Nagoya where a few friends lived and survived off freelance work from Sydney.

Nagoya is a manufacturing hub for Toyota, so it’s quite removed. My Japanese wasn’t great and I became quite isolated. By complete coincidence, I met two Americans in the local ramen shop, and we started talking. They worked for an international digital media agency 5 minutes’ walk from my house. They’d just picked up Toyota, so I started working for them on video and 3D content.

Later, we started making local theater – next thing I knew, I was an actor and producer.

That sounds like a steep learning curve?

Nagoya had a tight ex-pat community thanks to the local American Chamber of Commerce. We drew from this group to form a company of thirty volunteer actors from all walks of life, from the US consul to local students, from six to sixty years old.

Putting on Shakespeare in Japan was not easy. It was a real baptism by fire. We had to produce the shows, raise money, create online ticketing websites and payment gateways. Often, we were making it up as we went along.

Learning how to market and do business in Japan was difficult. Booking theater space in Japan, for example: they use a lottery for big spaces, literally names in a hat.

The theater got pretty big. Budgets exploded to over $500,000 per show with professional actors and a crew of two hundred. The theater became a massive event for expats and locals, with even the mayor of the city performing.

Sounds like a lot of learning very quickly. What’s stayed with you?

One thing I learned is the power of good leadership. Working with the founder, I learned how good leadership can get people from all walks under one flag. A great fundraiser, he transformed the community with just his vision and a drive for progress that I aspire to mirror. I now realize how hard it is to be that optimistic driver.

Also, the value of budgets. The theater was funded by the community. Agencies are always spending other people’s money, but if you’ve spent hours fundraising, you are very aware of the value of every cent. You want to make sure it is spent well.

And the strength of networks. We started small and grew from the network we built. Our funds and talent came from relationships and community businesses, even our clients donated to the shows. I hope we gave back as much as we got.

Stage experience must help with pitching…

It was the most amazing training. As silly as theater might have felt to me, it built my confidence hugely. It broke down some of the internal barriers I had, including some self-consciousness.

The theater was, basically, a start-up. We bootstrapped it from nothing to being everywhere – TV, radio, press. I saw all the components needed to get something off the ground. It’s less daunting once you’ve seen it work.

I also learned giving to the community is often the best way to promote a business, as it creates the spark for conversations. Though harder to do in London than in Japan without an expat community actively working to break down barriers, the media and experience agency community still provides a great network. When I started my own business, I again became part of the collective – lots of small businesses together are much stronger than the individual.

Would you recommend Japanese theater as a training ground for agencyland, then?

Yes! Maybe not working in theater in Japan specifically, but to take opportunities as they come. Say yes more and you might be surprised. You won’t have regrets. Getting stuck into a variety of things early is crucial to having a good career.