Home Forums TP Talk I had the best of times and I had the worst of times.

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    AM the SM

    I became involved in community theatre at 13 – I’m now in my early 50’s. My whole family had been involved for several years in the early days – it was a huge part of our lives. Over the years the rest of the family took on other interests and drifted away from community theatre involvement – but I stuck at it eventually studying stage management then working professionally as an ASM and stage manager in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. I loved working in the theatre and collaborating with directors, designers, actors and other production personnel in bringing a script to life; my work received much praise and respect and I became affectionately known as ‘the quiet achiever’. Unfortunately, stage management jobs were extremely seasonal and, as a single person, it was difficult to accrue any assets or ‘rainy day’ funds. This was a little worrying as I matured so, after a 10 year professional career, I adapted my skills to the events and facilities management fields.
    Eleven years ago, having spent a number of years away from any real theatrical involvement, I returned to community theatre becoming involved with a company on the Mornington Peninsula. Since that time I have stage managed or worked on props for quite a number of musicals with this and another company in the area; here too my work received much praise and respect.
    With a craving to try ‘straight’ theatre again, in which I had spent a lot of my professional career, I approached a local non-musical theatre company and was allocated the roles of costume & props coordinator and ASM for a drama based on true events during World War II. As with everything I do I threw myself in to these roles with much gusto, studying the text and researching the period. Unfortunately, my involvement in this company would turn out to be the beginning of a series of horrible events which I never want to experience again.
    My involvement in this production ended prematurely with the director refusing to listen to my advice regarding the costumes and props and then ridiculed my questioning of aspects of the production that I had observed and found confusing. The director’s response to my observations not only proved to me that male chauvinism is sadly still alive and kicking in the 21st century, but his statement ‘you are just the wardrobe mistress nothing more, so keep your nose out of other aspects of the production’ was extremely insulting. As I had come to this company with a fair amount of experience I was expecting that my skills and knowledge would be shown a little more respect than this, especially as this director had already expressed his collaborative philosophy. I offered my advice and feedback in good faith and for what I believed was for the benefit of the production and certainly never imagined it would be dismissed in this manner or that I would be dramatically accused, in front of the entire cast, of ‘pressuring’ him for providing advice and feedback. With no assistance forthcoming from the committee or other production team members, I left the production before being insulted and embarrassed further.
    Upset but still passionate I moved on to my next project – stage managing a musical with the company I had worked with for 10 years. Over my time with this company I had felt I had proven my abilities, knowledge and commitment however, I was extremely disappointed when I received notification that my application to fill the role of assistant director on their next production was unsuccessful. Further disappointment came when I discovered that no assistant director had been appointed to the show. When did community theatre start knocking back offers of assistance? Where else can someone with a desire to direct productions learn and develop if it’s not within community theatre as an assistant director? This rejection was not only unexpected but most hurtful especially as my application to SM the show was also unsuccessful.
    Saddened but still keen I decided to look for other companies in my area in the hopes of fulfilling my community theatre ambitions however, although promising at first, my experience was far from pleasant and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
    Having obtained my dream role of director and then also took on the role of choreographer for the junior musical, more than half way through the rehearsal process the president of the company dismissed me from the production without due process or due cause after firstly accusing me, in an email to the entire cast and their families, of acting unprofessionally and inappropriately. My professionalism is one of my most praised and respected attributes, so it has been extremely distressing and humiliating to have my good name unfairly and wrongly denigrated in this way. Apart from extreme jealousy or just plain malice, I cannot understand why a committee of a community theatre company, especially one which mainly works with children and young people, would behave in that way or treat me as they did. Early on in the rehearsal process, unbeknownst to me, the production coordinator (also president of the company) instigated a ban on all communications between me and the rest of the production team; all of whom were also members of the committee. She would later claim that as director I was only in charge of the on stage action, that she, as production coordinator, was in charge of everything else and that the production team did not have to consult me. Anyone who has worked in theatre would know how frustrating a communication shutdown would be for any director and choreographer not to mention how negatively this would impact on the production itself, especially as neither the production co-ordinator nor the production team seemed interested in attending rehearsals so had very little idea of the production’s requirements. After many attempts to get information and assistance I voiced my disappointment with the lack of communication and consultation and the very next day the president/production coordinator dismissed me from the production via an email – no warning, no discussion, no hearing, no JUSTICE! My attempts to initiate the disciplinary and grievance procedures provided for in the companies Rules and the Associations Incorporation Reform Act as well as my requests to undertake formal dispute resolution mediation were all refused by the committee so I was forced to seek legal advice. Unfortunately I was soon to discover that, even though this company’s actions were confirmed to be breaches of the law, unless I was willing to spend a lot of money taking the matter through the courts or even in bringing the breaches to the attention of Consumer Affairs (because they will only act if approached by a lawyer), this company can get away with ignoring their Rules, the Associations Incorporation Reform Act and Common Law because, as with many things in this world, justice can only be served if you have deep pockets! Further, as my role of director/choreographer was purely voluntary, any money spent on legal council is not recoverable even in a winning case.
    The correspondence that I have received from the committee of this company since my dismissal have been the most distressing as their absolute hatred of me was quite palpable. These letters were clearly written with a poison pen by people who are insensitive to the feelings of anyone but themselves and whose loyalties to each other far outweighed their loyalty to the company, their duties as a committee and any sense of common courtesy, compassion or respect.
    Being denied the opportunity to see through to opening night the production which had been my world for more than 6 months was utterly sole destroying. The committee’s refusal to meet with me and discuss the matter fairly and rationally has been extremely disheartening and was further compounded by the lack of support from Consumer Affairs.
    I became involved in community theatre out of a passion for the performing arts and with a desire to create, to develop, to impart, to have fun and build friendships. I certainly never expected that during my involvement I would be bullied, insulted, embarrassed, humiliated, disrespected, excluded and denigrated.
    I tried to involve myself in another company after this incident but, although my work was valued by the group, I found I was distrustful of people and feared that my opinions or advice would be treated with contempt. This was both frustrating and uncomfortable for me and I knew then that, because of my quiet and reserved personality, my community theatre desires and ambitions would never be realised. This, coupled with the knowledge that the Rules of an incorporated association are no protection for members, has tainted my desire to be involved in community theatre any further; my passion has been crushed and my confidence sapped.
    Prior to 2014, I had some great times, was involved in many amazing productions and worked with some beautiful and talented people but unfortunately these memories will forever be infected by the unnecessary ugliness that I have experienced over the past year and a half.
    The performing arts will always be part of my life, but from now on it will be from the safety of a seat in a theatre’s stalls or dress circle.

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