Author Topic: Rants: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help  (Read 5428 times)

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LJOsburn

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I'm fairly new to this forum -- in fact I think this is my very first post, but I'm at my wits end when it comes to this show and I'm looking for help where ever I can. I have separated my long rant into categories so if you want you can skip to end.

*Background of Me:*
I am 24 years old, a recent college graduate, in Technical Theatre, and have Stage Managed 3 shows. Still a novice but up until this show I thought I was doing well.

I am working at a small theatre in San Francisco with actors with very big egos. I have no running crew. I have no ASM. It has been me, the director, and the cast.

*Background of the Show:*
The director was like no director I had ever met before.
During rehearsal he insisted that it was alright for cast members to show up late and as a result they would call him instead of me because they knew he would be alright with it. I spent a good amount of time convincing actors to call me and talk to me about there conflicts and when they would be late. – Some of them were actually startled that I called them when they were late (tell me that I am not the only SM that calls actors that are not on time?)

The director spent a large amount of the rehearsal time talking about design elements and other things that the actors really didn't need to know. Thinking that this might be part of his “process” I never questioned him in front of the cast but it resulted in things never starting on time. I know that some directors need to take a few moments to ease into directing but this man took over 15 minutes every rehearsal.

 The show has also been changed so many time that I erased though the other side of my script replacing some parts of my script twice in less than 2 weeks. – Some of the biggest changes for both Cast and Tech was during Tech/Opening week when 5 things were cut or reworked completely in the span of 3 days.

We never had a read through of the script in rehearsal. It wasn’t until a week before Tech that we even got though the script beginning to end.

When I would ask the director about my concerns he would say something like “honey, this is how I do shows – the actors are professionals—they will have no problem.”

I was constantly shushed and dismissed during the rehearsal process as being a child.


*Now we get into my problems:*
The tardiness bugged me. I talked to many of my actors about it. I only got guff back. Many of them said “HE never starts on time anyway” or “I just can’t listen to him anymore then I have to” or  “I have an hour and half long commute – EXCUSE me if I am 5 minutes late”

As tech got nearer I tried again to pull in the reigns.

I started sending out e-mails, CC them to people as a paper trail of the conflict, telling people that the call time would be the start time of things happening and that they should strive to be on time or early.

This didn’t seem to change anything.

The Sunday after opening the Artistic Director wanted to talk to the cast right at call time. Less then half of them were there. I was told to give to the missing actors a call and I did.

When the actors arrived I was chewed out (behind me back – I was in the booth and they didn’t see me) then chewed out again when I went to apologies if I came across as being disrespectful. Then chewed out again by way of one of them trying to apologies (I think I heard a “sorry” somewhere in there).

Though it all I have not lost my temper and though my face has been bright red I have not broken down in front of them.

Because of this show I have lost my day job. I work my ass off and then last night was the kicker...

*Last night*
-The leading man was 20min late to call (10min before house opens he waltzes in)! Then gets in a huff because I still want to start on time.
-I was informed by two of my actors that people talk trash about me in the dressing room. -One of the actors yelled at me because I took one of the lighting cues before she exited – and was convinced that I wouldn’t do anything because it was her and not someone else.
-Strangely enough the actor that chewed me out on Sunday was rather nice to me … and that concerns me too.

*The Heart of the matter*
What is the best way to get a cast to realize that the SM is working as hard as she can can for them but they need to pull there weight too? (aka not be late to call time)
Anyone have any kick ass speech I can pull from?

Also has anyone ever put a suggestion box out for the cast? If I am doing something wrong I would rather have them tell me then just complain.

Thank you for your time and insight.
« Last Edit: Feb 11, 2008, 01:09 pm by PSMKay »

thehayworth

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #1 on: Dec 07, 2006, 01:05 pm »
I am pissed off FOR you.  What hell!

To be sure, directors who do not start on time encourage actors to be later, later, and even later as time wears on, even for performance call times.

I am too stunned to tell you what I would do....  I'll stew on it.

Most of my runs are only 2 to 3 weeks so the problem will solve itself for me.  Are you going to have to work with these people / this company again?
"This time for sure."

ljh007

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #2 on: Dec 07, 2006, 01:44 pm »
My first question is: how did you get this job and what were you told before you signed on?
My second question is: why haven't you quit yet?

If you had been told early on that the director worked this way, or that promptness wasn't really important to this theater company, that would have enlightened your expectations from the start, and you could have decided if that was an environment you could work with. If you had been able to meet the director and ask him about his rehearsal process, it could have spared lots of nasty surprises. Or even if you could have asked around about other people's experiences with this theatre, you might have learned a lot. I know this doesn't help you now, but maybe background checking can spare you this misery in the future.

I have found, in my experience, that there's not a whole lot you can do in a situation like this unless upper management (like the Artistic Director) is aware of the situation and 100% supportive of your position. So when I encounter an environment like this, I work to inform the management about tardiness, wasted rehearsal time, excessive changes and adjustments, etc., as early as possible. I pop in their office to establish a relationship with them - so they know my face and learn that I'm not a hysterical mess of an SM. That way they believe me when I report problems in rehearsal. Ok, so this doesn't help you now either, because it's a little late for all this strategic positioning... (but you can still talk with the Artistic Director, and I would encourage you to do this anyway - and soon)

So why haven't you left the show? I know it's a really hard decision, and that we dedicated and perfectionist SMs feel like we are abandoning people who need our help - or worse, we feel like we failed at our job. But this has nothing to do with you. You cannot change this situation or force others to behave a certain way when they clearly refuse you. You have done the best you could do; others are determined to have their way and you have paid for it with with stress, sweat, tears, a lot of unhealthy anger, and now you've lost your day job. Is this really worth it? Trust me, you won't be ruining your career. There will be other companies and other gigs. I hear from some of your rants that you aren't being permitted to successfully perform your job duties. I would certainly agree. So if you aren't allowed to do your job, you should leave. If you're spending sleepless nights and miserable days, you should leave. But you can't expect payment if you quit, and of course this will end your relationship with this director - that's probably best. It might end your relationship with this theatre, so I would recommend you speak with the Artistic Director about this right away. Things will end better if you can provide a replacement (but can you really recommend this situation to even your worst enemy?). I mean, you don't have to stomp away from any meanie company who won't do things your way. But there is a limit to how much anyone should have to tolerate, and you probably crossed it even before tech week.

If you think you can ride this out for the rest of performances, do. But distance and protect yourself. Do your job and go home. A riot act read to the cast won't help. More hand-holding (reports, calls, and emails) won't help. Just live through it if you can. This is a really hard position you are in, and you have my complete sympathy. Others would give you different advice. But me, I would get myself out of there as fast as possible.

philimbesi

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #3 on: Dec 07, 2006, 01:58 pm »
LJO

I'm as speechless as thehayworth...

First of all... you are never evER EVER out of line asking for professional people to act in a professional matter, from what you've posted you've crossed no lines and you've done NOTHING wrong.  

The person at fault here is the director.   He left you high and dry by not at least requiring a modicum of respect.  He created the environment that you're living with right now, not you.  He set you up, so don't for a second think that you're wrong.

That being said... a cast meeting might be the best thing (if you can get them all there on time) be ready to listen to problems... but open it with a speech, it might sound corney but something along the lines of (shamelessly paraphrased from The West Wing)

"We're a group. We're a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories are sweeter because we did them together. . . . You're my guys and I'm yours --- and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you.  When I ask you to keep me in the loop, when I ask you let me know what's going on it's not because I'm trying to boss you, it's because I'm a member of this team to, and it's information I need.  I'm not asking you to like me, or even agree with me, but I'm asking you to work with me, I'm asking you to give me the respect as a professional that I've given to you.  In the end... the show is what counts, and theres no one in this room that doesn't benefit if the show runs smoothly."

Something along those lines.... might get you laughed at... but it might work too... if not then I have another West Wing Quote

"Set fire to the room... do it quickly"  ;D

Seriously though... you're not not the problem here... dont' take it personally, chalk it up to the wack job director.  You're doing anything wrong.  

Mac Calder

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #4 on: Dec 07, 2006, 03:09 pm »
I am all for the cast meeting really. philimbesi's "monologue" was a lot tamer that what I would have said - as a lot of my talk seems to do, it would probably ruffle a few feathers, but here is what I would say.

"My job, as a stage manager, is to ensure this show runs as well as possible. To help you, the cast, and the creative team to provide the audience with the best experience possible. It is my job to make sure you turn up to rehearsals on time, my job to know almost everything that is going on so that I can make sure people are all on the same page, and my job to attempt to solve any problems that come up. How can I do what is best for everyone here, when people REFUSE to act like decent human beings. All I ask of you is that you turn up at the time I have asked, that you call ME - not the director, not Front of House, ME,  if you are going to be late, and turn to me if you have an issue. I am here to help you! I don't do this job for fame and glory, because there is none. I certainly don't do it for the money. I do this job because I love it. Never before have I wanted to just throw up my hands and leave a show, but I can assure you that this one has brought me damn close. I want you all to take a good hard look at what has been going on these last few months. I was told you were professionals. Act Like It! It's not just for me either, but for everyone who does the right thing and turns up on time. Now I appologise for ranting, but I feel it needed to be said. If anyone has an issue with what I have said, then please come and see me."


LJOsburn

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #5 on: Dec 07, 2006, 03:24 pm »
My first question is: how did you get this job and what were you told before you signed on?
My second question is: why haven't you quit yet?

I worked at the same theatre last year before I graduated and had a blast! They loved me so much the booked me for the next show I could do -- which wasn't for a year because I had to finish up annoying graduation requirements that could only be done at night.

Looking back I was warned. But no where near strongly enough as needed. People told me that the director needed "a foot on the ground" and someone who would "check in on him" all these words should of clued me in because no one says anything bad about other people in theatre (at least in SF) but I didn't get it.

I did meet with the Director. A week before rehearsals started. He had already met with the cast for photo shoots (I was working on another job that night). I asked him the standard questions and each of them were met with off handedness and a stunning confidence that I believe I will never fall for again.

The thing that completely though me was when I asked "what do you need from me to help things run smoother?" He replied "What do you need from me?" ... I think I laughed and said "Direction"  ;D ... :'(

It took me almost two weeks to get him to commit to a calender and only in the broadest of strokes. I finally learned that I had to determine the schedule (something that I haven't experience in since my other directors had a clear idea of what they wanted to do each night--usually a week in advance), but even when I checked in on him on the calender he would change his mind on what we were doing nulling the schedule entirely.

I have a fairly good relationship with the Theatre Manager and I did start talking a little to the Artistic Director (though we rarely had anytime to talk).

As for the quiting. I love the theatre.... Everyone -- but the director and 5/9 cast members....I'm also a gluten for punishment...and co-dependent...  <.<    >.> And no. I wouldn't give my worst enemy this job.

It is wonderful to know that people hearing this as completely flustered by this as me.
This has been a great learning experience...that much I can say.

Biggest thing I can share from all this is DO NOT let the Director undermine you. I heard a lot about not undermining the director but sometimes they do that enough on their own (can't fix that dam). You got to have a little pride for yourself and you have to be willing to stand up for it or you will find yourself just being walked on.

So I ain't leaven.
It's nice to hear that it wouldn't ruin my career if I did -- and I'll keep it as a "happy thought".
 
I'm getting together a good start on the speech from the other posts -- the more in put the better.

LJOsburn

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This just in: I don't have to care!
« Reply #6 on: Dec 07, 2006, 04:33 pm »
I just got off the phone with the Theatre Manager.

I had been complaining about how late everyone is and she wanted to know who the problem children.

I told her who and she point blank told me "If this was an Equity house I would say, meeting, big talk, be scary, but we are not and people are more or less donating there time -- don't worry about it." :o

True this doesn't solve the fact that the actors haven't been keeping me in the loop on what they want, but hey I have been pulling strings for them this whole time -- maybe soon they will realize I'm not just a Nazi with a stop watch.  ::)

It could happen.

Maybe the suggestion box will help...

Thank you everyone for your help and insight.

"Set fire to the room ... do it quickly"
« Last Edit: Dec 07, 2006, 04:37 pm by LJOsburn »

hbelden

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #7 on: Dec 07, 2006, 05:06 pm »
I've worked in several small theatres in San Francisco - although it has been a while.  It could be that I know some of the people you're working with.  Send me a message if you would like to meet for coffee or something.

I've never faced the situation that you're in, I feel so sorry for the bad vibes.  It all sounds like Iraq - there's no viable exit strategy.  At this point, there's no way in which you can get the respect and harmonious working environment that you want.  Since you've decided to call a meeting (try and do it after a matinee before an evening show, if that's possible) I would suggest you practice what you're going to say, like an actor would rehearse a monologue.  You're going to have a lot of adrenalin running through you as you talk to them, and rehearsal will help you make the points you want to make. 

As far as content, my suggestion is to stay away from your personal feelings and hardships about the process.  I don't think your cast is in a sympathetic place.  Stick with the achievable goals, and come from a position of helping them.  The lateness thing during showtime is truly ridiculous and completely UNprofessional.  Point out to them that if they missed half-hour call in an Equity Company their understudy would be going on for them.  Remind them that producers remember whether an actor is dependable or not.  Tell them that they must sign in by half-hour from now on.  If an "act of god" prevents them from doing so, they must get in touch with you so that you can deal with any consequences.

I would also say get the Artistic Director's support before you meet with the cast.  It'll be a real help if you can say something like "Tony Taccone has asked me to list tardiness specifically in every performance report.  He wants to know who can't be counted on."

Best of luck, and message me if you want to talk,
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hbelden

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #8 on: Dec 07, 2006, 05:08 pm »
Sorry I missed the last post - sounds like you're going to just ride this out - the offer to talk is still open.  Good work talking to the Theatre Manager (assuming this is the "Artistic Director" person for your company).  Maybe after the show closes you can ask that person for more feedback.
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LJOsburn

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #9 on: Dec 07, 2006, 06:29 pm »
Thanks for the kind words hbelden. (and everyone else too!)

Lord knows I would love to get some more SM friends and learn from them (I'm in a vacuum since I graduated).

The Artistic Director is out of town, but the Theatre Manager is his second and I did call her before I sent out a call for a meeting.

I totally had a speech drafted up and was getting ready to rehearse it old drama school style, but now its in the recycling.

I've been very lucky with the other 3 shows I've done. I've always said that. My luck was bound to run out.

I can work though it and learn from it. And be better for it  :D

smsam

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #10 on: Dec 08, 2006, 12:19 pm »
I agree with what everyone has said and you have my greatest sympathies. For what its worth it sounds like your tackling the situation marvelously!!

One thing that could help for now though; is the director still attending every show and is he always there by the half? If not I would tell the cast (who are obviously hiding behind the directors tardiness) that he's gone now and the show is your responsibility and its your ship. They report to you, they ring you, they keep you in the loop and most of all they never slag you off behind your back. Tell them of they've got a problem with you, and you might as well say you know some of them have because you've heard them talking, then they come to you and tell you! See if this improves things but if not then there is nothing more you can do, sit back grin and bare it and do the minimum required until its over.

Also for what its worth this company sounds like a group of horrible people. In your talk I wouldn't try the sympathy/ upset rouet ("you've really hurt me, do you know what you've done?") I would (like Mac) take the hard-line strictly professional, almost angry aproach! They are behaving like children so treat them like children - thats what I say!

Sam xx (who has unfortunately done quite a few of these speeches before!!)

PS- Eye contact in the speech is also going to be very important. As your talking about each problem just fix your gaze of the pessistent offenders. They'll get the message!
Sam x

LJOsburn

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For those that want an update/ending (maybe?)
« Reply #11 on: Dec 08, 2006, 04:25 pm »
First to answer Sam: I now think that the cast might have been coming late to avoid the director! They heard Wednesday that the director wouldn't be there on that day or the next and last night many of them came on time!

Thank you to everyone on the forum for your support the other day. I was touched by the quick aid and support.

The stress of this show had been immense. Between Sunday and Wednesday's performances I really thought I was going to loss it.
It was wonderful to hear that this situation is ridiculous -- from people that know the profession. Your comments also gave me a good mind set to start from (aka "I could always quit" "I'm not getting paid enough to deal with this" "setting the theatre on fire --though not an option-- is tempting"). It also great to hear that the situation was not except able, I would hate to think this is the norm.

Here is how I handled it last night.

I went in god awful early (almost a standard for this show) and reworked the call board.
Placing on it a SM Suggestion "Box" (large envelope) with a note that read:

SM Suggestion “Box”

Have a suggestion?
Can’t find a time or place to make it?
Feel you can’t say it?
Don’t get frustrated.
Write it up and drop it in.

In hopes to constantly improve my performance as Stage Manager,
I leave this large envelope. Please feel free to drop a note in.

No need to sign. Anonymous is fine.
The important thing is that the information gets to me.

And I’ll see what I can do.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Then I got things ready for the show.
When the actors arrived I was already to work on some sound cues from the lead (big Drama Queen and also the leader of the whiners) and with joy in my heart I added two new sound cues almost a week after Opening (when things are suppose to stay the same from there on out). Then I worked on a number with the cast --ignoring what the director had said-- and changed the time I hit 2 of my cues. (I know I should try to keep with the directors vision but really I think the "vision" was slightly blurry).

I also didn't care about time so much (since I was straight up told not to)-- I just told the cast what time it was (they know that the show starts at 8pm) and would say things like "so its looking like we got 10min until I have to start the show -- you going to be there? ;D"

The biggest whiners didn't say a bad word about me (that I could hear). It didn't hurt that the show was fantastic last night and the director was no where to be seen.

The cast seemed happy. The overall feel of the show was good. And at the end of the night no notes in the suggestion box.

The trick: I could say a lot of deep things but to put it bluntly -- "I don't have to care".
Its a new realization for me, but it was the caring about what actors thought, the caring about the quality of the show, the caring about how the process had been difficult that was really getting to me and in the end backfiring.
Some amount of caring is of course necessary -- but I don't have to.

Thanks again everyone. One day soon, I hope I will be able to add something more helpful then a horror story. Who knows maybe some other SM on the board will learn from this too!
:-*

Cheers,
LJO

philimbesi

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #12 on: Dec 11, 2006, 09:24 am »
No No No No Noooo LJO

You have to post some of the more colorful suggestions you get  ;)


and I didn't advocate setting the theater on fire.... just the green room  ;D

reds

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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #13 on: Dec 11, 2006, 12:28 pm »
Ok....this post will probably get me killed...but here goes.
First of all, I'm glad you are working things through....doing this is just too much work unless you are getting some satisfaction out of it.  I stage manage and I direct in a CT setting.  I am orgainzed, dedicated and respectful in whatever job I am doing.  I feel that part of your problem is that you felt you should do your job one way and the director another.  If the director is ok with some people coming in late, then let it go.  To make a fuss over it only puts you at odds with the director and causes the cast to "choose" a winner.  If the director wants to spend 15 minutes talking about set design or costumes or whatever, it's not really up to you to decide what he should be doing.  It is not your responsibility.  You may be right but being right has no value if you have to get upset and stress out all day.  I'll be honest, when I am wearing my director hat, the last thing I want is a SM telling me what I should do with my cast.  When I am working as a SM, my main job is to ask the director "what do you need?" 
I know there are good casts and bad.  I've had both.  If you have a nasty cast that loves a good drama, then being at odds with them will give them lots more to talk about.  As for being trashed behind your back....I hate to say this, but it's part of the deal.  You can't please everyone, and the ones that can't have their own way will blame someone and most often it's you. 

Bottom line is.....in CT there is little you can do ....they are volunteers, and maybe they really are driving an hour or have a sick child and they have a day job too.  Just do the best you can with what you have and try to not focus on what "should" be but on what "is".  You are half right...you don't have to care on an emotional level, but you need to care from a job point of view.  You don't have to care if they like you, just care that you did the best you could with what control you have.  Focus more on what you can do and less on what you can't and things might lighten up.


I'll go hide behind my desk now..... :)

   
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Re: First Hard Show with Difficult Cast -- Please help
« Reply #14 on: Dec 11, 2006, 01:46 pm »
IIn your talk I wouldn't try the sympathy/ upset rouet ("you've really hurt me, do you know what you've done?") I would (like Mac) take the hard-line strictly professional, almost angry aproach! They are behaving like children so treat them like children - thats what I say!

I agree that when talking with the cast, it is important to be professional.  However, I don't feel that treating the cast like they are children is helpful.  More often than not, treating them like children makes them ACT like children...  I try to manage them the same way I'd want to be managed - and perhaps when you treat them like adults, it will remind them that they are adults and will act as such.

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