Author Topic: How to deal with an unruly ASM  (Read 2422 times)

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MusicTheatreSM

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How to deal with an unruly ASM
« on: Oct 28, 2011, 04:54 am »
I am currently working with an ASM who I am really struggling to get along with. We will call my ASM Jack.

Jack has a horrible attitude problem that I am not sure where it stems from. Throughout the rehearsal process, Jack has spent very little time in the rehearsal room despite having conversations about things I need Jack to accomplish. My director doesn't want anything to effect the energy of the rehearsal room and this particular company is big on the chain of command, so I took my complaints to the one who signs the paychecks.

Our manager said that everything needed to be in paper form (information, goals deadlines) or there was no real proof that Jack isn't doing his job. I did as our manager requested. Things were still turned in late and it was almost a fight trying to get a simple tracking sheet.

Finally, the other night. Jack was putting away props and told something could not go into prop storage because a fluorescent bulb had broken. Jack was told to store everything upstairs in the theatre. His response was that he was not going to the theatre. He was then told by the production manager that she would take care of things but to get the props out of storage because of the broken bulb.

I was working a special effects scene requiring a lot of props while this was happening. I was informed by the production manager that all the special effect props also needed to go upstairs because of the bulb. I asked my ASM to help me put away props.

Jack, already having a bad attitude because he didn't want to go up to the theatre in the first place, starting shoving props around. We loaded the elevator to get things upstairs and he proceeded to shove things out the elevators and toss things into the theatre. (these special effect props are already very delicate and can't really handle this type of manhandling) In the process, he broke several of the props.

 I told him to calm down, he needed to not throw things, take a breather etc. He did not listen and just made sure everything was out of the elevator and then left without out asking me if that was it for the evening or anything else needed to happen, etc.

I called the production manager after I left the theatre. I was quite fed up by this point with Jack's attitude, it has been a constant problem for me throughout rehearsal and this was my breaking point. My production manager just blew it off and said that Jack isn't normally like that.

I'm at a loss. I'm not sure if I can work with someone who has no respect for authority or the show itself. Jack is typically an SM and not ASM and struggling not being in that position of power according to my production manager. Jack, however, was also fired from a show over the summer that he was SMing. This particular show is cue heavy, prop heavy, quick change heavy, I need an ASM who is on top of it that I can trust. This one I can't even have a conversation with without knowing if I am being lied to or not.

Any advice on what to do, who to talk to, how to handle a situation like this? I go into tech on Sunday and I'm not sure I have the patience to deal with Jack's antics anymore.

KMC

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #1 on: Oct 28, 2011, 09:20 am »
Sounds like you have tried a couple of different tactics to manage Jack.  Have you had the "come to Jesus" talk? 

My view on management is that your actions are calculated and taken out of a position of support for the production/company.  Sometimes this results in the termination of an employee; this is not done out of a position of punishment to that employee, but rather a position of support for the production.

You're in the situation, you're living it - what action can you take to best support the production?  The choices aren't always easy.
Get action. Do things; be sane; donít fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

DeeCap

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #2 on: Oct 28, 2011, 10:23 am »
That is a sticky situation. You have an ASM who breaks props when angry and what sounds like a production manager that isn't doing anything.
I agree with the "come to Jesus" talk. I also think you should have one more conversation with the production manager. Not knowing your comfort level, you may have to go above the PM's head if this doesn't improve.
At this point it might be best to document everything the ASM is doing if you haven't done that already.
Good luck and let us know how it all ends.

MatthewShiner

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #3 on: Oct 28, 2011, 12:17 pm »
It's always hard to give a solution to a long term issue that has been festering . . .  but it does seem like a major conversation needs to happen, and maybe not with just you, but the next layer of management.
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NomieRae

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #4 on: Oct 29, 2011, 06:08 pm »
ditto on the 'come to jesus' talk. Sometimes people don't realize how much their bad attitude is affecting things and they need that wake-up call.

But in the long run if it isn't working out with 'Jack' then let him go. No need to prolong a bad situation.
--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

MusicTheatreSM

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #5 on: Oct 31, 2011, 01:52 am »
Wish I could just let Jack go. However, I am not allowed to make those decisions.

I have spoken to the PM, but she is friends with Jack and that makes this even more complicated. She is just giving me one off answers and excuses for why Jack isn't completing his job appropriately.

Just tonight, we had a production meeting. Jack sat there and played a game on his phone the entire time. Then I asked him about a piece of paperwork that I had given him today as a deadline for. He said it would be done tonight...it is now 12:45 and I still have no paper work. I'm about to go to bed since we have tech tomorrow.

I also specifically requested for him not to include a list of special effects props in the prop tracking sheet he made as they are in one scene and have their own track sheet since they need to be handled carefully. He made the sheet the way he wanted to and included them, even after I said not to.

Any words on how to talk to the PM maybe? Even though she is friends with Jack? Doesn't seem like the "come to Jesus" talk worked with him.

In truth, he now only talks to me if he wants something, TEXTS me instead of talking to me during rehearsals/runs, and has done numerous petty things also. (removed me as a friend on facebook, ( I could care less, he added me in the first place), we used to car pool to and from rehearsals, (I am no longer on his car pool list) and removed my wet shoes from the dryer for no reason so I went home with wet shoes last week (yes I know it was him, I saw him do it)

Again, any more tips?

MatthewShiner

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #6 on: Oct 31, 2011, 07:24 am »
End of the day, you are going to work with ASMs you just don't like or get along with - and it's our job as SM's to figure out how to make it work as a team.  But you are going to run into people who have little or no business being in stage management that somehow end up being on your team, and you have to figure it all out.

Letting someone go is often not a possibility.

I am worried that perhaps there were so lines blurred, and some of this is personal and petty - I would love to hear his side of the story.

It you can't figure out how to work with him, and you can't let him go, then it's not time to figure out how to work around him.

My hopes are now with the added responsibility of tech, he will rise to the occasion.
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

loebtmc

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #7 on: Oct 31, 2011, 01:20 pm »
Matthew is wise, as always. Here's one more thought: since he thought he shd be the SM and is resenting being the ASM, perhaps one way to approach him is to make him think he is the teacher. That means, regardless of your true belief and all the things you are going to do anyway, telling him how much you appreciate him being your asm so you cd learn to be an sm, and asking his advice or help on things = is this the SM or the ASMs job? can you show me how you'd do it? I am going to do X, can you give me feedback after? Can you show me how you do Y? I have an idea, can you help me see if we can make this work? Thank you so much for that idea....etc etc etc

Yeah, it's manipulative as all get-out, but with someone like this, it can put them on your team, and if they think they are teaching you, are more likely to do their job and let you do yours. It takes vigilance - and you have to keep your truth close to the chest AND you still have to do whatever isn't being done as well as your job, but sometimes this can turn a person who resents your presence into a fan.

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MusicTheatreSM

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #8 on: Nov 03, 2011, 05:05 am »
More issues with my ASM.

Jack has a lot on his plate, this is a very tech heavy show and he is the only crew as well as ASM. Most of the scene changes are done by actors, he does have a few that he is strickly responsible for because of the fly system in place.

There are also almost 20 quick changes. 2 of these quick changes happen in the lobby and not backstage. Jack could potentially run around, but it doesn't quite give the change enough time and then the actor is late on stage. As it was tech adn this is the time to work through these issues, he wanted to practice. We worked it several times and he was still unable to get those last few seconds in to make the difference up. We enlisted the help of an actor who would already be there, as that was his exit, to do the change so Jack only had to focus on the scene change and not both.

Jack did not like me making this decision. He wanted to do all of it himself. It just wasn't possible. Even practicing it multiple times, the timing wasn't getting better. He left the space, very unhappy and this is how the night started.

We took a break between acts, cleaned the stage. the director was getting antsy because we has already started the run half an hour late do to technical difficulties. I went backstage to see what I could to to help hurry along the preset for act two. Jack had two things that needed to happen. An actor needed help getting into costume and a set piece needed to be moved. Respecting that backstage is essentially "his domain" for the run of the show, I asked if I could move the set piece. He said no, and moved it himself. So I stepped in to help snap the actor into his costume. Jack came back while I was finishing the costume about to tie the last section in and snapped, "I got it." and took the ties of the costume out of my hands.

I do not appreciate being walked all over. I am doing my job of making tech go as smoothly as possible. I am still at a loss of what Jack's problem is at this point. He isn't making this easy.

I had an outsider who hasn't been in the rehearsal process at all ask me tonight if Jack and I had problems because he was, as this person put it "shoot daggers out of his eyes every time I spoke" and went as far to say that any time I would say or ask something, Jack jumps in to tell me and the rest of the staff why things can't be done the way I am suggesting.

The frustration that is running through my body is ridiculous. I have worked on 40+ shows as a stage manager and 10+ as a production manager and have never run into these problems before!

MatthewShiner

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #9 on: Nov 03, 2011, 08:06 am »
I am going to be the jerk here.

You said " I am doing my job of making tech go as smoothly as possible", but you are not - obviously there is still a major issue.

You know, you may not appreciate being walked over, but you know what, as stage managers, that is what happens to us all the time.

The givens of the situation are
1) You are the SM
2) He is the ASM
3) Nothing is going to change that fact - unless you quit, because they are firing him
4) You have to tech the show and open it up.

The fact that an outsider is seeing the problems is just proving the the situation is not being managed well; and that's sad.   Management is our job, managing creative, quirky, technical people.  I think it's impossible for one of us to offer advice on what you can do because at the end of the day, this job is about a personal style that you manage with - to give specific advice I would need to your style, observe your ASM, have some history, etc, etc. 

We have all had bad assistants - assistants that have a different agenda, assistants that bad, assistants that are lazy, assistants that just don't know their job.  We all have different techniques to either address the issues face out and solve the problem, or work around the issue.

I think at this point, you have to figure out how to do the show without him - which you already are - having actors help with quick changes, you may need to do the intermission shift, whatever. 

Maybe he will go away on his own, if you can't fire him.

I wish you well, it's a bad situation that has just got worse.
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anole

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Re: How to deal with an unruly ASM
« Reply #10 on: Nov 03, 2011, 04:37 pm »
Man that's a rough situation. I'd want to fire any ASM who broke props like that unless they apologized and had a major attitude change.

You could try sitting down with him privately and saying something to the effect of 'you seem to be frustrated while you're here and I'd like to talk with you and make sure as we go into tech we can work together as a technical team to keep everything running as smoothly as possible for the actors and overall show. I rely on you to be responsible for xyz (calling times, props preset, quickchanges, maintaining a positive energy backstage, whatever) and I want you to be able to be confident in managing these things and in a positive frame of mind while you're here working with us- so what's up? What would you like changed to help you get to where you need to be before we hit tech?'
Then 'negotiate' from there... come up with a few tangible things you both agree on that will change in order for him to step up his actions and mood.

Depending on his attitude it might not be worth it, but in the past conversations like that with an open-ended 'how can I help you do this' question that also include a pointed 'while you're here, I need you to remember to be a positive member of the team we're all on' have helped me solve a number of issues.

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