The following blog is from 2008, maybe a year or two after I took a little leap and moved on from a theater company I called home. I found this blog interesting mostly because, eight years later, I find myself once again evolving, evaluating my experiences and learning from them. And many of the things I struggle with now are rooted in the same places as these three items. They’ve manifested themselves a little differently, but at their core, they are the same.
I still hold that all three of these are true for me, although I’d qualify: They are lessons I learn over and over again – but hopefully with more nuance and understanding each time I’m forced to learn it. I have changed so much as an artist and a human. But I’ve also become more like myself. . .
THE HARD WAY – MARCH 29, 2008.
Simon over at The Next Stage has sent this meme over to me in which I must speak about three things I learned the hard way. So, here are mine, such as they are:
- The biggest one for me– and it is a continual battle– is to “Beware of Muddle”.
When directing or designing, I really have to work hard at keeping my vision clear, not letting other demands cloud it up. There have been two productions on which I’ve pulled double duty (as both director & actor or designer & stage manager). While in both of those cases, the final product was fine– even exceptional on some scores– the split focus majorly impeded my leadership and threatened to derail a number of very important working relationships. Frankly, it’s a miracle those shows survived as well as they did.
- Beware of Precious.
I have an earlier post on being aware of staging or playing things so that they’re beautiful but lifeless. It also applies to the unwillingness of many directors to EDIT or SIMPLIFY their shows. Early in my theatrical life, I worked with a lovely and talented director who, unfortunately, was simply unwilling to keep things simple and edit things out. Once they had an idea for the show, it was in. And it didn’t matter if it wasn’t materialized until final dress, cutting it was not an option. As her stage manager, this is intensely frustrating. Moreso because I knew that the life of the show was weighed down by the inability to edit and the safety of the actors was compromised by last minute additions. There is a difference between the very precious ideas as they exist in our heads and the form they take on the stage. A good director can’t feel that any element is beyond question. In fact, every element of a production needs to be questioned, questioned, and questioned again to prove its fruitfulness for the story. Having stage managed bloated productions for ten years, I can honestly say I came from the school of hard knocks on this one. Beware of precious. Be willing to kill your darlings.
- Beware of Expectations
My mother has said since I was a child, “Beware of having too many expectations. You’re sure to be disappointed.” I think that just until these last three years or so, I had expectations that if I did good work, people would automatically appreciate it. I expected that if I was “easy to work with and accommodating” people would appreciate and reward ME. And I expected that everyone would come to understand my work. I expected to be given consideration.
I can honestly say I’ve been disappointed on all counts.
Most of the people in the theatre community are not going to sing your praises if you’re doing good or challenging or forward-thinking work. They’re going to feel a tad nervous, possibly threatened. Some will get over it and acknowledge its worthiness, but probably only grudgingly. (And I have to say that I am guilty of this point, which is why I started writing reviews – to force myself to acknowledge good work as well as bad). But still, most of the theatrical community and audiences will pat you on the back, say “good job”, and then proceed to rave about and publicly acknowledge the most mediocre of work. So don’t expect anything different. It’ll save a lot of frustration in the end. Find the real reason to create the art, have high expectations for the work itself, and try to moderate your expectations for everything else.
So, I guess that’s my top three. There are certainly others and there will be more to come, I’m sure. In the words of Shannon McNally: “I never learn nuthin’ but the hard way, cuz at the time it felt SO good.”
From the Archives: As I'm going through some old blogs from well over five years ago, I'll post a few from time to time.