Truth Be Told or Promotion: Living and Learning
In a few months I will become the Artistic Director for Oklahoma City Theatre Company. (I’m doing my very best not to dance around all the time, but I’ve already bought at least one new dress.) Artistic Director, yes, me, the girl who giggles at inappropriate times and glances nervously at the floor when I have to do something nerve-wracking like pass by a lot of patrons in a hallway as I worry that I might slip in my sassy and very uncomfortable shoes that I’m wearing just hoping to lift my confidence enough to smile and converse pleasantly without bringing shame upon myself and the company I’ve helped lead for the last few years. Or even harder that that? Trying to accept a personal compliment. “Ick, me? You think I look nice tonight? God bless you!” I have just learned to say, “Thank you!”
Yes, I’m shy. Didn't you know that? Shy AND insecure; however, I’m passionate about the Theatre, and I am more passionate than I am shy. My Artist’s Heart is a powerful muscle, and when it’s beating, I surprise even myself. I’m very nervous because I’m not exactly sure what an Artistic Director does…let me run down some of the things I’ve done so far this season and see if I’m on the right track.
1) I helped run auditions because it was the first show of the season, rehearsals were weeks away, and we hadn’t hired a Stage Manager yet. The Director needed someone to shout, “Next, please!” into the hallway. I helped cast the show, in a sense, by helping the Director find one or two additional actors to audition during the second round.
2) I directed a play I had absolutely NO interest in, but I took it on because that’s what I was asked to do. I CHOSE to love it because I respected the name behind it. Agatha Christie did not let me down. What? Not a fan of Dame Agatha? You think her plays are dusty? Out-dated? Boring? Predictable? Melodramatic? Vapid? (Yeah, so did I until I had to delve into her play and direct it.) Try, LEGENDARY and you’ll be in the ballpark. I became passionate about the play (for the reasons stated above) and I grew to love its characters probably because the cast was so damn talented I wanted to kiss every one of them on the mouth just about every night during notes—ALMOST. (Well, they were good. What do you want me to say? It’s the truth!)
3) I threw two smart ass bitches* out of a Preview performance of The Mousetrap because they were talking incessantly, looking down at the clock on their cell phones or texting, laughing at inappropriate times, and they were just a general distraction. The ACTORS could hear them for godsake! I think I yelled. (Don’t tell anyone.) …Ok, truth be told; Yes, I did yell a little—something like “Yes, you should leave. I could hear you talking from way back there, and you’re rude. Very rude!” Well, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I’m sitting there with a Subway sandwich on my breath, my hair in a frizzy pony tail, and I haven’t showered since the day before (and I can tell that for sure because I still have the paint from yesterday on my arm, Your Honor). I’m wearing a shirt with paint from at least 12 productions on it and sweatpants that one of my designer’s aunts sent her during grad school in a hand-me-down-I-thought-you-could-use-these package. Now I get to sit in the Preview and watch these brilliant actors who are just as tired as I am, yet THEY still have to be up on their feet. They’re up there giving themselves to this show. So, yeah! I threw those bitches* out, and I hope they will join us at the theatre WHEN they learn some manners, which will probably be…um…never! (We’re too good for them.)
*Sorry, to use this crude term “bitches,” Mom, but there’s not a nicer word for what those women were. There are worse words I could use, though, so just be thankful that I chose restraint over candor in this instance.
Let’s see…what else?
4) I supported Directors who needed it and I tried to back off too when I thought they’d benefit from my absence more.
5) I went to a lot of Board meetings and tried to tell the truth. Always. I went to production meetings, and I tried to tell the truth. I went to rehearsals and tried to tell the truth. I sent texts and emails and had uncomfortable phone conversations, and I always told the truth.
6) I listened to a Hell of a lot of complaining. There’s a difference between reasonable complaints and complaining, but I listened to both. You have to hear people out so you know which is which. Otherwise, you won’t know the difference, so I chose to listen.
7) I confronted a reviewer! A REVIEWER! (It was in a comment after his article on the web, but still! I used my real name as my username, and I wrote what I felt. I stood up for us. Piss on OUR Directors and OUR Actors? Take personal shots at our Board and our Artistic Director? *F—K you! When’s your next performance? I’ll come and tell you what I really think of your acting, directing, and set design, Mr. 1970s Hair.
*Apologies again, Mom!
8 - 13) Oh, yeah. I almost forgot; I also met with web designers, helped plan next season (Season 13), updated our Facebook page, wrote or edited a few press releases, program notes, actor/artist bio-sketch blurbs for the endless task of producing a nice program for EVERY single show so that the audience will have something to stick their gum in, fan themselves with, roll into a cylinder, leave behind in their seat, throw away without reading 5 minutes after the show, leave in their car for 6 months…you know, the usual. If you go to the theatre, read that stuff in the program. Somebody stayed up until 2:00 am making sure it was correct and accurate, worded creatively, and had no misspellings—someone who might have a Masters degree (and she didn’t get her Masters in “Editing Programs with a special emphasis in Publisher and other Microsoft Office software.” I did my best to tell the truth there too.
Ok, so maybe I have a half-handle on this job after all, but let’s go back and spend a little time with #4 Telling the Truth.
Telling the truth, I’m finding out, is probably the hardest thing and what scares me the most about this position. Telling the truth directly into someone’s eyes with love and with respect and with measured brutality IS what I think a leader should do. I’ve had a
LOT of practice so far this season, so maybe I’ll do ok with that one. But then I remember that speaking the good truth is my job too. I’m going to make speaking the GOOD truth my focus. When someone does something above and beyond the call of duty—something that will really make one moment in the show sing or sparkle or dance or make someone cry, I need to tell them: “You are so wonderful. You are so thoughtful. You are doing your job SO well. I really appreciate you. This company NEEDS people like you.” I need to say this right into their eyes and make sure they know I’m not being sarcastic or flippant; I really DO mean it because I would be NOTHING without people like them. Nothing. I can’t do this alone. This is not a one woman show (I’m not an actor…anymore, anyway), and I do NOT always know best in every situation. If you are sure you’re right, convince me, and don’t shut up until I listen to you! That’s YOUR job too; tell the truth. Please. I do NOT know everything…
But I know some things. There are quite a few things that I have down cold, so pay attention. It’s no accident that I am where I am…truth be told.
Special Thanks to: Mr. Founding Artistic Director Rick Nelson, Loyal Lioness Deborah Draheim, Brenda “Leather and Lace” Nelson, Paul “I-Build-Sets-Like-a-Machine-and-Design-Like-a-Rock-Star” Huebner, the Incomparable-Queen-of-SEEMINGLY-Minute-Details Suzette Sroufe, Doug Van Liew (the man, the legend), Donna and Harvey (We’ll never forget you, Harvey. We miss you.), Layla, Ian, Anna, Brooke, Emily, Megan “Ninja-Design-Skills” Skinner-Shrock, Ms. “Manners” Erin Singleton (always composed, always gentle), Stage Manager Smartass Extraordinaire and Stickler Kelsie Morris, the Board of Directors and Board President Harry Kocurek (who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves sometimes), ALL the actors, and last (but certainly not least) my Big Daddy Josh Irick.