IN REAL LIFE, THEATRE PRODUCTION isn’t as difficult as some people insist on making it. No, really. This shit isn’t that hard. I understand, however, that, in any and all kinds of life, there are those who don’t feel real unless they create drama. It follows that a field of work devoted to making drama would be conducive to making more drama than is needed to, uh… make drama. I prefer my drama scripted. I like calendars. I plan things. I make art. I work with people who make art. I also work with technicians and managers. Most of them want to get the job done, and done well, without more stress than necessary. I’m there. That’s what I want, too, and I work toward that, beginning with my first contact with everyone I’m going to work with on an upcoming project. I let them know from the get-go that I really want things to go smoothly.
It can’t be that tough. Really.
It seems that at least ninety percent of the professional work I’ve done in my life has involved some form of customer service. That’s not special, but I think calling it that is a bit of a broader view than most people take on what they do. Basically, you and someone else are engaging in a transaction in which they’re trying to get what they want — usually by paying you or your company — and you’re trying to give them what they want because you’re getting paid to do so. You got the goods, they got the dough. It’s up to you to provide everything, including what the other person doesn’t know about but should. That’s basically customer service. (By the way, no, sales is not customer service, although it’s been called that for decades, at least. Pitching somebody something they don’t actually need, or even want, until they cough up money isn’t “service” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s domination.) You’re paying attention to what the other person wants or needs and trying to get it for them. If you’re both doing that, you’ve got a relationship developing. That can go a long way to the both of you getting things done now and later. Compassion is involved here, empathy, that sort of thing. It can be very productive. It’s mostly a matter of paying attention and, frankly, giving a shit.
Like I said, it doesn’t have to be that hard.
IN RENTAL VENUES, ESPECIALLY, I find production personnel to be the happiest when they’re working a show that is well organized, appropriately scaled to the facility and staff, prompt but easygoing — in short, professional. The relationship is developed here, in those planning emails and phone calls, during the load-in and rehearsal. By the time we all get to the first performance call-time, venue personnel should be both prepared and relaxed. Who doesn’t do well when they’re enjoying the work? If your show is the least stressful thing they have to do this month, the venue staff will want you back. Next time, it’ll be even easier for everybody.
Oh, sure, there might be some tech or manager or admin who just can’t be bothered to do their job, thus making others’ work harder than it needs to be. Ideally, that person doesn’t last with the organization long, or, at least, gets cut out of some of the jobs. Commonly, trouble like this can start at the top. If so, unfortunately, a good, professional tech staff can’t very well tell the artistic director to stay the hell out of the way. That’s an internal problem, and I’m coming in from outside that troubled world to work my own relationships. As a client, I expect professional treatment. As a collegue, I give just that. The negligent, the abusive, the unprofessional I do my best to avoid. No good relationships are available there, nope. Waste of my time.
Live performance productions can be very, very complex, yet big groups of people with disparate skills and motivations get ‘em up and running all the time. I’ve worked on teeny tiny productions that were painfully difficult to put together because there was at least one key person who refused to develop civil relationships with anybody else. Any size production gets done because people pay attention to one another and cooperate. Kinda like… Real Life.