“You’re only as good as your last blog.” Those are the words ringing through my head right now as I fight writer’s block. That’s not a good sign when you’re only on blog #4.
Those words echo what I hear every time I select and direct a show.
“You’re only as good as your last show.”
I know exactly where those words come from. I know they aren’t healthy and, furthermore, that they aren’t the truth. Ironic as it may sound, I *know* my self-worth is not found in my performance. But what I feel… that’s a different matter. Heart over head sometimes, right?
Most times, actually.
We live in a day and age where everyone is a critic. With the advent of the internet, anonymous vitriol is as easy as the click of a button. Don’t like a restaurant? Leave an anonymous review. Displeased with a doctor? Write a scathing diatribe against her practice. Inconvenienced by a store clerk? Send an email to his boss.
And if you’re in the entertainment business? Boy, oh boy. Everyone is an authority.
In my twenty-five years as a director, I’ve heard some doozies.
One patron, after a three-hour show, complained as she was leaving, “Why did it have to be so long? At least they could have told us it would be that long.” We did. It was written in the program. What else can we say? Sometimes we do shows that are classics. And the classics tend to be long.
One didn’t like a rug we used as part of a set design.
One didn’t care for the playwright. Found her annoying.
One said I was “still learning my craft.” At this point, I had two degrees and twenty years of experience.
As recently as a few years ago, I heard a young patron exclaim in the lobby at the conclusion of a show,
“Well, that was awful!”
I was standing right next to him. And I felt the rage climb up out of the dark recesses of my heart and find its voice in my own. I zeroed in on him with cold precision and said, “You need to leave.” He looked at me in complete disbelief. I repeated myself, lest he misunderstand. “You need to leave… now.” Then he understood. Then it registered all over his face. He immediately stammered out, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
“Well, you did. Leave. Now.”
Not my proudest moment. But I did not want my students to hear that. And I did not want my heart to hear that. We had just finished five weeks of 12-15 hour days to launch the show. We had fought budgetary limitations, casting woes, calendar conflicts, rental costume mistakes, and a ton of multimedia issues. Memorization alone was deeply challenging for several of the actors. Sleep deprivation had claimed most of us, but we pressed on; for every minor victory, there seemed to be some major setback.
The play was tough material, to be sure, but worthy of examination. It asked the audience to engage their minds, to sit up and follow the subtle clues dropped by the playwright, and to ask hard questions in the end about life, responsibility, and reality. It was meta-theatrical and self-referential. It’s textbook canon, for crying out loud!
Either this patron wasn’t up for that… or we failed in our attempt.
Did we fail in our attempt?
I don’t know. We seem to forget the kind things people say. Though I am sure there were several for this particular production, I can’t seem to remember them. I remember the putdown.
But it taught me something. It taught me to respect the work no matter who the producing company is. It reminded me to stop and look at the minutiae in the piece. Someone typed that program. Someone designed the artwork for the poster. Someone painted the detail on that set. Another hung and cabled those lights. Still another stitched the trim on that gown. Another choreographed the fights. Another braced those platforms. Who collected the props? Who styled the wigs? Who sound designed or stage managed or directed the show? How long did it take to memorize those lines? It is such a hugely collaborative process that the amount of man-hours invested would be near impossible to count. And that amount of work–that crushing and unyielding amount of work–I will respect that.
Admittedly, we may not like the end result. And I believe differing opinions are valid and healthy. But I will not speak unkindly in their house. I will not speak unkindly in their house.