Author Topic: Adjusting Theater-Sized Expectations for Non-Thespians  (Read 1716 times)

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I find myself having a low tolerance for non-theater people who arrive late, leave early, or take sick time when they aren’t really sick.  Basically, I expect a stage-manager-like work ethic from people who aren’t stage managers, and have jobs with sick time, overtime, benefits, people who can cover for them, the ability to telecommute, all those frills.  This attitude serves me well, even in non-theater work, because employers appreciate my diligence and extra effort.  On the other hand, friends and family can feel put off when I question why they don’t go to the doctor if they’re sick enough to take the day off of work.   

I guess I’m just wondering if others can relate to this, and what works for you in terms of moderating your expectations.
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)

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Re: Adjusting Theater-Sized Expectations for Non-Thespians
« Reply #1 on: Jan 03, 2012, 10:34 pm »
I would not say it has anything to do with being in the theatre - I would say it is more to do with the type of people that theatre/stage management attracts.

I don't do sick. Unless you are unable to actually do your job, I expect people to work.


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Re: Adjusting Theater-Sized Expectations for Non-Thespians
« Reply #2 on: Jan 04, 2012, 12:00 am »
I've had a few actors who came at it from other backgrounds, and the best thing I found was to explain not only what we were doing, but why. For example, calling half-hour, fifteen, five, places before a show, or even a cue-to-cue. Then you also lessen the risk of, say, calling "fifteen" and having someone think that means they have a fifteen minute break (true story).
I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least. -Ionesco


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Re: Adjusting Theater-Sized Expectations for Non-Thespians
« Reply #3 on: Jan 04, 2012, 12:24 am »
A stage managing supervisor once said to me, "Don't expect stroking from me for doing your job well. You're hired to do your job well."

When you're working in union theatre there's four levels of contractual obligations that go beyond the standard social contract.

1. You're doing something you love, and therefore there's a contract of dedication with yourself to respect your own craft.
2. You're doing something artistic, which creates a contract with the audience to create an excellent product.
3. You're doing something that's governed by a union, which mandates punctuality and safety, among other things.
4. You're doing a very unique task in an environment that's probably short staffed, which means there is no safety net and no buck passing.

If they're employed at all, most people are in jobs that they generally tolerate, but do not love. They're doing standard corporate work, under contract with their boss if anything, leaving the concern for the consumer in their boss's hands. They may be part of a union, which might help a bit with the punctuality, but for the most part outside of a work environment they're not going to stick to those habits unless under duress. (I mean heck, even actors are not known for their punctuality.)

Stage managers watch "Return of the Jedi" and find no surprise at Yoda's "Do or Do not, there is no try." Outside of theatre that is less of a mantra and more of a curiosity. I was trained to accept blame in tense situations even if the fault wasn't mine, just to get past the finger-pointing and on to solving the problem. I have NEVER found anyone outside of trained counselors and a handful of other SMs who are comfortable with that idea.

If nobody is depending on you to do something, including yourself, there is no sense of urgency and there is no sense of obligation or responsibility to others. If there are 40 other people in a company doing the same job as you, there's no urgency except for fake intramural competition. There is a very small sense of individuality. Punctuality is a luxury. Caring is a luxury. RSVPing is a pipe dream. Not taking sick days or vacation is grounds for termination and definitely a sign of psychiatric imbalance.

Responsibility is a leadership trait that must be taught and practiced. It requires a Type A personality along with curiosity and autodidacticism. It requires an environment where passing the buck is unacceptable. It requires an understanding of passion and respect. Not everyone is going to be a leader, and leadership sucks sometimes. You're the one who has to ask all the uncomfortable questions and push people to change stuff.

I try to encourage responsibility with a combination of tough love, raised eyebrows, and leading by example. I've had to rule out a lot of friendships with people who don't get it. If a cost of friendship is time and love, I will pay it gladly. If the cost is stress and impatience and frustration I'll go shop somewhere else.

As for expectations. Think of the people you know or have heard of who are really passionate about crazy things. They could be fans of a certain video game or comic, religious nuts, crazy cat ladies, Mac fanboys, political yahoos, people who maintain free websites for their former industries...well, maybe not that last one. ;) Everyone knows someone who is obsessed about something bizarre. Remember how you feel when you think about those people. Now think about the dude that sits at home playing on Facebook all day while the rest of us work. Combine that images with the previous one. That is how many "normal" people feel when they look at us.  Play to your audience.


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