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Theater, The Stage Manager, and The Music Director

You'd better buckle up for this one.

This is the first part in a multi-interview series--most of which will be happening over at the Epic Theatre Company Patreon.  If you haven't signed up for Patreon yet, go to www.Patreon.com/EpicTheatreCo and subscribe under whichever tier you'd like.  Even the lowest one ($3.50 a month which comes right out of your account) will get you access to all these interviews, plus tickets to shows and other content.

That's my standard promotional blurb.

Now, here's the interview:

ME:  So what's your position?

THEM:  I'm an actor.

ME:  And we started talking before this whole thing went down, right?

THEM:  Yeah, although when it did, I was like--Now I have something Kevin can write about it.

ME:  So did you instigate it on purpose?

THEM:  For that reason?  Yes.  I'm the cause of all this.

ME:  Thank you.  I really need the content.

THEM:  Anytime.

ME:  How big is the community where you do theater?

THEM:  It's not that big.  We have about six different companies and then there are people who will, uh, put together shows on their own independently.

ME:  You were saying before I started recording that you're a big musical area?

THEM:  Yes, that's the main thing we do here--three of the companies--they mostly do musicals.

ME:  And that's where it all begins.

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  There are two people we need to be aware of in this story--one's a Stage Manager, so we're gonna call them SM and one's a Music Director--so MD?

THEM:  That works.

ME:  We keep it simple.

THEM:  I like simple.

ME:  Both of these people have, uh, what's the best way to say it?

THEM:  Nobody likes them.

ME:  (Laughs.)  Please be as blunt as possible.

THEM:  Even they'll tell you--they're not well-liked.  I think it might even be a point of pride for them.

ME:  Why would it be a point of pride?

THEM:  Without getting too far ahead of things, I think they like that--so, someone like me, an actor, if I'm difficult or people don't like me, eventually that's going to affect me getting work.  In our area, if you're a difficult stage manager or a difficult music director, you're still getting work.  You might not be people's first choice, but there just aren't enough people in either of those categories, so you're still going to get called in for jobs.

ME:  Had these two ever worked together before?

THEM:  No, not until recently, and that's where everything started to get out of hand.

ME:  What happened?

THEM:  [MD] worked at [Name of Theater] with this stage manager named--Should I say [their] name?

ME:  I'll just redact it.

THEM:  That person got hired at a theater in [Location] so they left, and [SM] came in to work on the next show that [MD] was doing.

ME:  Did the sparks fly right away or--?

THEM:  Not right away.  I think at first they got along really well, because they're both such a__holes.

ME:  (Laughs.)  Sometimes that happens.

THEM:  Then, there was a little fight--I think this was during tech.  By the end of tech, it was just all-out warfare.

ME:  What was the little fight about?

THEM:  The little fight was about [MD] being late to rehearsal a few times.

ME:  What was MD's excuse?

THEM:  MD's excuse was--Pay me more and I'll be on time.

ME:  Is that what they actually said?
THEM:  Mhmm.  That's usually what they say about any bad behavior.  It's 'I don't get paid enough to do x, y, and z.'  That's how they are.

ME:  And you all put up with that?

THEM:  Again, they're one of maybe three Musical Directors within so many miles of where we are.  We can't really be choosy.

ME:  Do you think they behave the way they do because they know there's a shortage.

THEM:  Oh yeah.  For sure.

ME;  So the Music Director is showing up late and the Stage Manager gets into a fight with them about it.

THEM:  Which--before you go saying, 'The Stage Manager is right' there's a whole way to handle that and the Stage Manager never handles anything the way they're supposed to.

ME:  What do you mean?

THEM:  They like to yell.  They like to throw temper tantrums.  They're very--they talk down to people a lot.

ME:  The Stage Manager?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  So these two personalities meet on the battle field--

THEM:  (Laughs.)  In the middle of tech.

ME:  Which is such a low-stress environment to begin with.

THEM:  Yup.

ME:  Your poor director.

THEM:  I think [they] checked themselves into the hospital after we opened.  I'm not joking.  That's really what happened, because--every night was just screaming matches.  Every single night.

ME:  And nobody told the two of them to knock it off and be professional?

THEM:  Both of them stormed out one night.  That became a common thing.  Was one of them going to leave or both of them?  You never knew.  So then we're there with no SM or no MD and you're going, Okay, what can we do?

ME:  Do they make it through the run?

THEM:  They make it through the run--barely--the fighting continues.  One night the curtain is about to open and the Music Director won't go in the pit, because the Stage Manager wasn't giving [them] the calls and so the Music Director is saying 'As far as I know, I still have an hour.  As far as I know, the house isn't even open.'  We're all--the cast, the director, some of the run crew--we're saying, 'Can you just please get to where you need to be?'  And the SM is off to the side going 'You're such a f___ing _____.  You're--' all of that.

ME:  That sounds worse to me.

THEM:  The Music Director would give it right back though.  It was really bad.  A few of us have been putting up with one or both of them for years, because if you bounce back and forth between different theaters, then you've had to deal with at least one of them.

ME:  So this was just the worst of all worlds?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  So the show ends, and then what happens?

THEM:  Then it all goes on social media.

ME:  Of course it does.

THEM:  The Music Director makes this big deal out of--I will not be working with [the Stage Manager] again NOR WILL I WORK WITH ANYONE WHO WORKS WITH THEM.

ME:  What?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  So that's like--the MD trying to ruin the SM's career.

THEM:  I mean, yeah.

ME:  And does the SM respond?

THEM:  Yes.  They basically repeat the same thing.  Then the two of them are fighting, and--it kind of looks like--it's just going to end up costing them both their jobs, their work, and we're just going to have to find more SM's and more MD's and that's for the best anyway, so at first, it was just funny because everyone hates these two so let them tear each other apart.  Who cares, right?

ME:  Right.

THEM:  But then, the MD is like--Whatever, I make more than you do anyway.

ME:  Were they making more?

THEM:  It seemed like that was true, and the SM got mad, but what happened was--It got all the other tech people in the area mad as well, like, why was the MD making more?

ME:   MD's usually will make more than the Stage Manager though, right?

THEM:  I--Kevin, I really never thought about it, because I'm an actor.  I always make less, so--

ME:  (Laughs.)  Yeah, same.

THEM:  But, they get into it, but so do the other tech people in the area.  Then, the musicians get involved.

ME:  Oh boy.

THEM:  Then it becomes this thing between the techies and the musicians saying things to each other that are--a lot of it was really--you have two groups that are used to sort of--not being appreciated as much as, uh, the actors and directors are, but they are compensated, but now they're looking at who's being compensated more, and I think, anytime you start talking about money and theater, it gets pretty ugly pretty fast.

ME:  And are there more ultimatums?

THEM:  Yes.  Pretty soon, all of the tech people in the area--including the other stage managers--are saying they won't work for less than the Music Directors--and the Music Directors are saying--If you drop our fee down or you pay them more, find somebody else.

ME:  Did the actors or directors jump in at any point?

THEM:  A few people did, and then it was like, You all are replaceable. You're actors.

ME:  So this got toxic fast.

THEM:  Over two people nobody even likes.

ME:  Who've been allowed to get away with a lot of bs.

THEM:  Because it was that or--what?  We need them.

ME:  You only need the Music Director if you do a musical though.

THEM:  But now people are like--We don't want to take sides.  By hiring someone who was vocally calling out the musicians and the Music Director, it looks like you're siding with those people.

ME:  But what's your alternative?

THEM:  Everything has been pretty much suspended for right now.

ME:  You suspended your season over drama on social media?

THEM:  It's all gotten so out of hand that I think people are forgetting that's what actually happened, because now we have stage managers who are saying 'I will not be showing up for work unless this theater'--and this is midway through the run of a show--'unless this theater shows that they support technical staff and stage managers.'

ME:  But that means--in this context--taking a side.

THEM:  Right, because nobody was saying they didn't support technical staff or stage managers, but you can't suddenly voice support when the stage managers and the techies are fighting with another group of people who you need to work with as well.

ME:  And was there an argument at a wedding?

THEM:  You did the homework.

ME:  I went down a rabbit hole.

THEM:  Somebody--not even in the theater community--was getting married, and the girl playing in the wedding band--the foursome--he's best friends with the Music Director, and one of the guests was a set designer, and she walks up to him--which I do think was wrong--and just starts going off on him about this whole thing, and meanwhile you have a wedding going on.

ME:  I am sitting here stunned at this.

THEM:  It's really--I don't even know what to say anymore.  This has shut down the entire theater community here.

ME:  Were there--could there have been underlying issues though?  Because to have two people just--

THEM:  No, I think what you have is--A bunch of people who have a lot of problems with each other--a lot of bad history--some of us have been doing theater here our whole lives--and all of a sudden, it's open season on saying whatever you want to each other from the safety of your computer, but then forgetting that you have to see these people again unless you don't.  I think that's really what's happening.  People are talking big talk, and then when the time comes to act like adults and sit down to work s___ out, all of a sudden, everybody has anxiety. Everybody is non-confrontational.

ME:  You can have anxiety and manage your anxiety in negative ways like lashing out online.

THEM:  But the problem is, then your real self has to go sort that s___ out in the real world.

ME:  That's what people forget sometimes.

THEM:  So a lot of things were said and nobody wants to take responsibility for getting everything back to where it needs to be, so you have people being like 'Never mind.  I just won't act again.'  'Never mind.  I won't direct again.  It's not worth it.'

ME:  Wow.

THEM:  Because it's not fun and clearly, uh--clearly we all really don't like each other.  That's what--I don't know if it's that we don't like each other, but we've all got issues that we haven't voiced when it was appropriate to do so, and now it's coming out at the worst possible time, and you have people posting #TeamTech and #TeamHarmony.

ME:  I can't believe they went with #TeamHarmony.

THEM:  I know, right?

ME:  So everything's just frozen?

THEM:  Right now, yes.  For actors and directors and for the techies, they get to go do--They were doing non-theater events until a lot of them started getting cancelled because of the concerns over the virus, but I'm sure they'll be fine in the long run, and the musicians have their side gigs, and what are the rest of us supposed to do?

ME:  So you need my help is what you're saying.

THEM:  (Laughs.)  We really need your help.

ME:  I'm excited.  I feel like--These two are a__holes, but I'm the biggest a__hole of them all, so--

THEM:  You might have met your match with these two though.

ME:  Oh, this is going to be fun.

Them is an actor.

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