Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I made a big mistake with Listen To Your Mother.
It feels good to get that off my chest.
In the past two years I have been privileged to read in the NYC LTYM show. In 2013 I was selected from the pool of people who auditioned and this year I was selected as one of the two members of our production team invited to read. Both years I promoted the show widely and with passion but often qualified that my time on stage was brief. I talked up the stories of the folks I was onstage with but let people know they wouldn't see much of me. I said that a lot, as though it was relevant.
It's not relevant for a lot of reasons. The other stories have been so wonderful that I've wanted people to hear them, too. As a whole the event comes together in a way that takes the audience on a journey that a night of fewer storytellers with more time each simply couldn't. This year, there was an even bigger reason and I didn't realize it until the show was over.
The background here is that I used to do a lot of work backstage in theatre. I was a stage manager, I was a production manager, I was an assistant, I toted and carried and supported and scheduled. I scheduled a lot. And I did it before email. I was pretty good at it, too. I was good enough that I was hired by a big name theatre company. I was requested by production managers. I was trusted by actors, directors, and designers alike. I was even a decent teacher to people coming up behind me.
The drawback was that I hated the work. More than that I hated who I became when I did the work. It's the sort of work that pushes all my buttons about making allowances for divas, changing perfectly crafted plans, and deferring to someone else even when you know their way will only result in coming back later to do the task again your way. When those buttons are pushed I get snippy with a patina of martyrdom to make my complexion really glow. I have a hard time liking anything in my life because these kinds of jobs in this medium require levels of commitment that make it hard to balance other parts of your life. Eventually I went away to graduate school for acting. I put an ocean between myself and the people who kept requesting me with the idea that I would come back and remake myself as a performer.
That plan has had varying levels of success. I find that my day job is in the same vein as stage management. I find that getting footholds into work I love, even dog training, uses a lot of the same skills. I am able to balance the things I dislike better in these contexts, though. No one has requested my stage management skills specifically in years but if they did chances are I would say no. However, I am still keenly aware that the amount of time one spends onstage is not analogous to the amount of time or energy one has put into a show. I know enough to look at a show and see what my friends behind the scenes have contributed as well as those in the actual spotlight.
I know better.
When I was asked to join the LTYM NYC team as a producer I was surprised. I've never produced anything outside of my own small and solo shows. I am not the kind of person who people shower money upon and I am terrified of making those kinds of requests. They already had someone with those skills, though. She was a rainmaker, a miracle worker, a silver tongued darling. The more I learned about what jobs they needed done the more I realized that what I was going to do was manage. Sort of project manage, sort of stage manage, sort of company manage but manage at many levels. These things, of course, I knew I could do.
When I realized that's what I'd be doing we were already entrenched in the process and I honestly didn't know how I felt about where I'd landed. I had made a commitment and I was going to see it through so it didn't entirely matter how I felt about the day to day work. As I went on, though, I remembered the parts of managing that are challenging in a good way. I remembered the importance of how we leave people on our lives feeling and the ways I knew to build relationships and sustain them. (Starting a relationship I'm terrible at. Sustaining one I have skills for!) I was, I am, proud to be part of this particular LTYM team and the national movement. It's worth the work, whatever kind of work.
A couple of days ago it came to me. This is what I should have said when people asked about the show, "I'm stage managing again. If you know me at all, and you do, you know I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't really believe in the show. I believe in the show. It's so good that I'm stage managing again. That's pretty fucking good. Now go buy your ticket."
As told by Kizz Robinson at 1:57 PM