This weekend the Walterdale Theatre Board of Directors will be meeting to work on our policies and procedures. This is something we have been loosely working on for the past 3 years and in the last year we became much more focused and directed in terms of getting it all together. My hope is that we will produce a document that can be a good guide for the various teams that come through the building and that it will offer assistance but will still be flexible to allow for a variety of personalities. Because this is the challenge. Every team that comes through the theatre is unique and has it's own style of communication and ways of doing things. There are some people that might be the same from team to team, but change one designer, one ASM and you get a slightly different dynamics. And I have noticed that because these teams come from different levels of training and experience there are plenty of people who break the rules. Here are two extremes that I have seen that make me cringe and make me wish for a usable document.
1. The "Director is God" school of thought - in this dynamic the Director dictates everything. This Director confuses design with concept and dictates ever element of the show to all their designers instead of letting them design. This Director often steps outside their areas of concern, dictating set/costume design, the sound design, the program design, the media for the show and how the theatre as a whole is run and operated. Sometimes this Director will interfere in the middle of the construction process because the set/costumes do not look like they want and they will throw tantrums and yell. I get scared of this type of process as an actor and an AD. Where is the collaboration? Have you ever been in a show where the director literally tells you to say this line, take 3 steps and on the word shampoo, turn and wink? If this happens, it can really obliterate anything organic within the production. Everything feels orchestrated. What bothers me about this model is that all those other people who have something to bring to the production are stifled. It becomes about one opinion, one point of view, and the discoveries that could be made by listening and sharing are lost.
2. The other extreme - "Everyone Can Have a Say' school of thought - In this model everyone offers their opinions willy-nilly to everyone else. There is no guiding concept, but rather every decision is based on a discussion that everyone can chime in on. I have been in shows as Director where it was clear to me that I was working with people (actors, stage managers, musical directors, production managers) who thought that it was perfectly appropriate to give me note a about things that were part of my artistic vision. These same people would think nothing about giving actors notes and directing the costume designer to change their design. This drives me crazy. I am sure to them I looked like a real diva when I excused myself to calm down, but that is the only way I know how to deal with that other than yelling at them for insulting me and the process. The majority of people like this, but not exclusively so, have come from a less formal training background. They often do have valuable input, but by sharing it inappropriately it adds to frustration and distress within the production. They may not always understand the layers of process going on. As a director I am hardly going to give line notes the first week of rehearsal, nor am I going to be a stickler about blocking when we are working on the relationships. I will give those notes when it is the right time, and sometimes the actors just needs time to figure it out and own it themselves. There are very good reasons for Assigned Roles with dictated areas of responsibilities. First it means someone is looking after a specific area and you shouldn't have to worry about it and second it means that if everyone knows what is going on, no body's toes are going to be stepped on. Now wait you say, what about collaboration? Didn't you just say that was a good thing? Of course, but there are lines of responsibility and it is not the Stage Manager's job to design the costumes, nor the actor's job to pick the chairs for the set. There is a time and place for discussion and sharing, just make sure you are not over-stepping your boundaries.
Anyhow, those are two of the extremes that make me hungry for this document to be finished and hopefully used. I know I cannot break other people's bad habits for them, but I just hope that people in the theatre take it for what it is meant to be - a helpful tool that will hopefully make it easier and less stressful to get things done.
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