Bad production, bad projects, basically bad experiences. You’ve encountered them on some level, haven’t you? There has been a time when you have taken part in something that you put on a happy face.
You went at it full effort only to have your face spat in.
Not nice is it?
Now, what I’m going to talk about is my own experience in a bad theatre production.
It happened a few years ago, and I’ve wanted to write about it for a while. Now there is probably some rule about how you don’t trash talk your previous employer.
Where’s the fun in that? You don’t read me for my professional conduct.
Besides, let’s get technical, I wasn’t paid.
If anything it was a cost to everyone who gave up time, petrol and memory space to accommodate the production.
Enough time has passed that I don’t feel bad about what I’m going to share with you.
I haven’t had any contact with the people involved except for one or two of them. Those who I do still talk had a similar experience to myself.
I’m well aware that I’m the asshole here.
Don’t get me wrong I’m grateful for the experience.
It’s always felt like failure is a better teacher than success.
Let’s say that I learned a lot.
The experience wasn’t traumatic; it was more irritating than anything. This is an opportunity to get it off my chest. Let me pass on what I learned in the hope that you don’t make the same mistakes that I encountered.
Be aware that I have deliberated about posting this. It is after all the most middle class of problems: My director wasn’t the best.
I’m aware that this is moany but moan I shall.
I’m going to be moving forward with my production later this year. This will be an excellent reference to keep me on track.
Are we clear?
Good, let’s get on with it.
Things go well
A friend told me of an audition for a series of short Neil LaBute plays.
There’s always a part of me that has to be performing on some level. Let me be real; I’m an attention whore. I could blow smoke up your ass and tell you that, it’s all part of my craft or, as a creative type blah blah blah bullshit.
You think I set up a blog because I have something important to say?
Nothing could be further from the truth. As you sit there, absorbing my words, you’re feeding my ego.
My ego thanks you for the nourishment.
Where were we?
Went to the audition, got the part.
Was excited to be having to learn lines again to be doing something that would be seen by people.
You know, a chance to strut my stuff on stage.
It started well. We met for rehearsals and did a read through (you sit with everyone and read it aloud).
We would meet about twice a week over the next couple of months.
I was acting as part of a three-piece. There was a female, me and a third person who was yet to be cast.
They weren’t cast because the role called for an African American person.
Spoiler alert! Belfast and Northern Ireland isn’t precisely resplendent with black people.
While our director worked on casting the third member, we continued to work on lines.
From good to bad production
We had been rehearsing for a few weeks. There were a few people who came in to fill the role of the third cast member only for them to not show up again.
We were starting to get anxious as to whether the role would ever be cast.
There were other aspects that I noticed.
Aspects such as we still hadn’t got the process on its feet (as in started to rehearse the lines and movement). We were always seated while reading lines. It was boring and didn’t help with learning lines.
Some actors can do that, and they have my respect. For the less disciplined such as myself, it helps if I have a physical action to associate with the line.
The third role got cast, and this was the time for us to finally get it up and into space, right?
I was wrong.
We were still sitting and reading and trying to learn the lines. I had the most. I struggled, but we got it to the point where we had to get it up on its feet.
Once we were into the blocking of the piece things came together but only just.
The director rarely looked up from the page, and when he did, he always looked bored.
Anytime we had a question for the director there were long silences, and then he would look back down to the book.
One time the silence between question and the answer was so long I took it upon myself to suggest some staging of my own. When the director finally looked up, he said “No” and went back to looking down for several minutes.
The direction we got was “This is important because, you know?” I did not know.
The character I played had to threaten a character, but it was a fake threat. The essence of the scene is, “You’re in for it now…a present”.
Now the way the director wanted it played was to draw it out as long as possible. I had difficulty with this because it made no sense to draw it out that long.
My thinking was that if it was being done for the sake of the audience then heighten it further. I purchased a flick knife/comb off Amazon and used it in the scene.
I was laughed out of the rehearsal room.
Now was it a bad idea? More than likely.
For me, that was the last straw as every idea and suggestion that did not come from him was rejected.
Other ideas weren’t even entertained. Now, that’s fine; it’s his show. The reality is that it made me clock out mentally. I was considering doing so physically.
I stayed on because it may have been a let down to the other two. As far as I was concerned, I was out.
Now, you’re reading this thinking; this is some middle-class bullshit right here.
It is but have you ever had a boss who repeatedly refuses to listen to you?
Have you ever felt underappreciated in your job?
Wondered why the hell you’re putting in as much effort as you are?
Now imagine that, but you’re not getting paid.
Keep in mind that this all would have been forgiven if he had packed the audiences in.
Do you think he did that?
You guessed it; he was as good with marketing as he was with working with people. We performed to roughly ten people across two nights.
It was a learning experience and not one that I am in a rush to repeat.
You have a choice to make when you’re a leader
When you’re the boss, understand. When you’re a leader, listen. In this case, when you are a director, you have a responsibility to those working for you.
Let me break it down for you into a neat list.
You have to
1: Make people feel that they are being listened too.
2: Work to people’s strengths.
3: Be quick and decisive when it comes to decision making.
4: If you make the wrong decision don’t feel that you have to double down out of spite.
5: Provide an atmosphere that people feel comfortable enough to do their best work.
6: Do what you can to minimise your ego and pride. If you keep putting up shields with people is it fair to expect them to drop theirs?
7: Micromanaging and handholding will kill off independent thought. Do you ever find your self complaining that you have to do everything yourself? Is everyone is stupid? First, look at your behaviour and ask if you are holding people’s hands too much. If your team feel like they are going to be shouted at for using their thoughts, then they’re going to stop doing that.
There’s probably more, and this list isn’t extensive, but these are some of the things that popped into my head. There’s a chance that I’ll revisit it whenever it comes to my productions.
The main take away is that if you are leading a team, then you have to make people feel valued. More so if they are doing it for no money. It’s easy to take for granted what people give to you.
If you’re not careful, they may end up writing a passive aggressive essay two years down the line.