June 10, 2016
Intolerance for mistreatment doesn’t make you incompetent
This article (content warning for literally every variety of abuse) is all over my news feed this week, and I’m not terribly close to the particular situation at hand, but I wanted to highlight something that was more obliquely addressed in the article than the acute issues of physical and sexual abuse. (This is adapted from a previous Facebook post of mine.)
And because people on the inside never talked to people who had left, and because they were so inexperienced themselves, they thought that the way things were done at Profiles was the way theater was supposed to be. They weren’t paid because young artists were supposed to suffer for their art. They stayed up all night painting sets because young artists were supposed to be devoted. The interns worked full-time hours because Cox and Jahraus told them they were the “lifeblood” of the theater. The theater didn’t provide safety goggles or other gear because in a gritty place like Profiles, doing things the proper way was a luxury.
I just really, really want to emphasize the above paragraph from the article to everyone who is a new graduate, who is new to their city, who is an intern or young performer or stage manager.
If you’re being yelled at all the time, if the way you’re being criticized is belittling or demeaning or condescending, if your ability to do your job is being constantly undermined, if your concerns about basic safety practices are mocked or brushed off, and someone tells you “That’s just the way it is in the real world” and that you just have to be able to deal with it, know that that is not true. In my experience, someone who says that–That’s just the way it is in the real world and you’re going to have to learn to deal with it–is almost always trying to take advantage of your inexperience to make their misbehavior or incompetence or just plain meanness seem normal. It isn’t. These things really are not normal or okay features of the professional world. Not being able to deal with them does not mean that you just can’t hack it.
If someone lies (to you or to the cast) and misrepresents what’s going on all the time…If someone expects you to help them ignore or break Equity rules…you are not too uptight or too scrupulous or too “by the book” for not being able to go along with that. (Young stage managers especially–your actual job is to uphold that rule book. Someone doesn’t get to hire you and then expect you not to fulfill the most basic requirements of your job so they can get away with whatever they’re trying to get away with. If the terms of the contract weren’t acceptable to them, they shouldn’t have signed it.)
You will always have to deal with conflict and criticism in theater, but that’s not what this is. All of these things do happen in the professional world, but that does not make them accepted or acceptable.
There will probably be times when these things will happen and your best bet is just to keep your head down and do your best and get through it. There may be a time when you decide you need to leave the situation.
But what that doesn’t mean is that you’re just not good enough or smart enough or tough enough to work in theater.