Author Topic: Being forced to come in when sick by your SM  (Read 4245 times)

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Being forced to come in when sick by your SM
« on: Apr 20, 2018, 03:02 am »
Hey guys,

I was recently interning (unpaid) as an ASM for a production where I got really terrible food poisoning a few hours before call time and I couldn't even leave my bathroom without feeling like I was going to hurl. I called my stage manager and said that I was really ill and didn't think I was able to do the show that night. They told me to come in anyway and that I'd feel better later. I obliged and said ok I'll give it a go. When it came closer to the call time and needed to leave I still felt the same and was vomiting at least every 10 minutes. I called the stage manager again and said I really didn't think it was a great idea to come in and she told me just to come so they could see my 'condition'. It ended with me having to somehow drag myself to the theatre only to get there and be told by the stage manager - "you need to learn that as stage managers you need to just do the job even when you are sick, the only exceptions are when you need to go to hospital or have had an accident." At this point, I was in tears because I thought I was being weak for not being able to pull myself together, but at the same time I was certainly in no state to work. I felt like the stage manager didn't trust me when I told her I was ill and that really upset me that this is how they thought of me. The director and company manager happened to be there that night and I got sent home by them anyway as they could see I could hardly stand up.

I put a lot of thought into whether I could afford to miss the show and in the end I could justify it as I only had 2 things in my ASM plot, being to open and close curtains, and this could easily be done by one of the stand by staging or lighting crew. The show also had no props and my only job was to sweep the stage and put the first aid kit side stage.

The stage manager only had a couple years more experience than me (in terms of uni graduation) and whilst I did (try to) respect their authority the whole time, there were many times during the production where she would call me in very early in the mornings when there was nothing to do and when I asked they said, "Me (and the lighting/sound crew) have to be here so you should be too." I didn't want to say anything but it felt like a waste of manpower to call everyone in when it wasn't necessary and also felt like I was being taken advantage of since it was unpaid. But would like to know what everyone thinks of this too?

This is one of my first experiences in the industry and it honestly wasn't a great one. Throughout university, the lecturers always told us that our health came first. I've met a lot of "ride or die" stage managers who really put their work first, but they've always only applied that to themselves and not the crew working for them.

So I guess what I am asking is if anyone has had any experience like this? And also whether you have the right to say no to coming in when you are ill or have some kind of family emergency?

Thanks for listening to my vent everyone...

Michelle R. Wood

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Re: Being forced to come in when sick by your SM
« Reply #1 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:22 pm »
I've met a lot of "ride or die" stage managers who really put their work first, but they've always only applied that to themselves and not the crew working for them.

My first thought reading your post was to question why the SM was treating an assistant that way. Now, in full disclosure, I did have an issue once with an ASM who was consistently late/absent throughout the rehearsal process, so when that same person called in "sick" for tech, we had to discuss whether he could/should continue with the show at all. That was more about dependability than any one specific day. My first instinct is to protect my ASMs, many of whom are interns or just started on this path, and any way I can guide them to avoid the pitfalls I encountered is something I strive for. Treating your assistants badly is just bad for the show, period, let alone a bad example as SM.

My second thought was concern that you were told to come in when you were vomiting. It's no longer a questions of just you being sick now, but possibly endangering the health of the entire company. You might be replaceable: the lead getting struck down during the show by illness is going to, for better or worse, be harder to replace. Risking both your own and everyone else's health is a bad idea if it can be avoided at all.

I mostly work in understaffed areas so I completely get the mentality of "I have to be there." I myself have worked shows not feeling great (or even feeling terrible), pushing through the pain. But there a comes a point when you have to decided what is going to help/hinder the production more. A sick ASM who gets progressively worse and infects the rest of the cast/crew is not a healthy situation, in any sense of the word. If at all possible, for the good everyone, I would recommend someone that sick to stay home and rest. That's where prop runsheet documentation is so important: getting someone in that you can teach to follow a specific tract is so much better than just flailing about saying "What will we do? What did they do?"

The truth is: we should be replaceable. The show should be able to go on without you. What if it wasn't just illness? What if you were hit on the head, or involved in a car accident? If you are so vital to the production that they literally can't do without you, there are problems. As I said, I've been there, and I understand it happens, but it is something we should strive to overcome rather than perpetuate out of a sense that nothing can be done.

Is there a producer/production manager you can discuss the situation with? It may be the theatre has policies in place that should have been applied in this scenario. If the theatre doesn't, I'd approach both the SM and any higher authority with "Hey, this happened, and I hope it doesn't happen again, but if it does, what should be done? What's the correct thing for me to do? How do we address this issue?" Try not to cast blame but show you're being proactive. After all, it might not just be you: what if someone else on the production team gets sick? How we they handle it?

Knowing the places I've worked, that kind of conversation might still not bring about a solution, but it could potentially get the ball rolling. Sometimes, alas, the only thing to do is to strive to work elsewhere.
"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." -- Thomas Edison (Harper's Magazine, 1932)


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Re: Being forced to come in when sick by your SM
« Reply #2 on: Apr 24, 2018, 12:20 pm »
I don't think it's appropriate to have someone who's vomiting come in to run their track. No one benefits from having someone who is that sick come in. It would be different if you just had a cold. This is not the same thing. If I was in your position, I would have escalated matters to the production or company manager.

When I was younger, I worked through extreme illness a few times, and it honestly wasn't worth it. You know yourself, and you have to make a judgment call about if you're well enough to come in. Your health is more important, and in this case, it's the company's responsibility to figure out how to cover your track. As previously mentioned, no one should be "irreplaceable". It is smart to give as much notice as possible so that the company has as much lead time as possible to find a cover.

If you have a family emergency, you should talk with the person who hired you to work out a leave if needed. That situation is so dependent on the circumstances that it's hard to say exactly what should happen. But as the SM, if I had a crew person who had either a family or health emergency, I would work with the PM to come up with a backup plan.

As for coming in for an early call where there's not a lot to do, sometimes that's just the way it goes. I would try and find a way to make use of the time. Clean up your paperwork, make glo-dots for tech, prep prop tables, offer to be a light walker, etc. Bring a book or knitting if needed. No one likes to feel like their time is being wasted, so it's understandable to feel frustrated by it. If it's worth it to you to have a conversation with the production manager, you could. But my inclination would be to accept that sometimes there's some sitting around involved in the job. During tech, I sometimes come in early to sit in the room while other people are prepping for tech- it lets me see what is going on in the space, be available for questions, and do my own prep work.
« Last Edit: Apr 24, 2018, 09:01 pm by Maribeth »


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Re: Being forced to come in when sick by your SM
« Reply #3 on: Nov 07, 2018, 07:50 pm »
I have, so far, been mostly lucky. The only time I've been sick was very early in the rehearsal phase (we had barely finished auditions). In that case it was definitely the best option to stay home, even though I was healthy enough to do my job. The last thing anyone wants is to make everyone else sick.

Later on in rehearsals and certainly while running the show, in my experience everyone comes in no matter how sick they are. I've seen people vomiting into a bucket seconds before and after going on stage, but somehow still performing so well you couldn't tell from the audience. The last time I saw that happen was someone with a minor role who could easily have been cut from the show and nobody in the audience would notice.

Sometimes major changes have been made to reduce the workload of the sick person. Ranging from swapping two crew members to cutting out physically demanding parts of a show to having someone who lost their voice just mouth the words while someone behind a curtain spoke their lines and sang their songs.

The only time I can remember someone missing a performance it was the sound operator, who was in hospital with an illness so sudden we had to find a friend in the audience, who had never even seen the show, to operate sound that night (and she came back every night for the next week). For scenes with complicated sound cues we had a second person who was familiar with the show, but didn't know how to operate a sound desk, sitting next to them helping out.

For me that night demonstrated how critical it is for everybody to strictly turn up by the final call time. And when I'm Stage Manage anyone who is especially irreplaceable is given an even earlier call time, so that if they don't turn up I have as long as possible to figure out how to deal with the situation. I have had complaints about unreasonably early call times, but most people are happy to relax in the greenroom for a while.

I sympathise with your stage manager. If you really are too sick, then it would be really really helpful if you could somehow still come in even if all you do is spend a few minutes telling your replacement what they need to do.

In an ideal world, I agree nobody should be working while sick. But sometimes that's just not an option - and when you do call, rather than saying "I can't come in" try to approach it as a discussion of how the situation can be dealt with. You're likely to get more sympathy that way, and maybe they'll just say "No worries, we can manage without you. I hope you feel better tomorrow!"
« Last Edit: Nov 07, 2018, 07:52 pm by abhibeckert »