Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Do As You Would Be Done By

I have two modes of interaction with strangers; I'm usually friendly-polite and occasionally rude. I say "please" and "thank you" frequently. I'm not impatient and I don't barge in front of people in queues or on motorways. If someone sends me an email I almost always acknowledge it, if only to let them know that I have received and read their missive. If I'm asked a favour, I'll think about it and say yay or nay. I will help when I can, even if it causes me some inconvenience because I realise the request is important to them. In short, I try to behave towards others with the same consideration that I would like them to behave towards me. Of course, I don't always succeed and occasionally I respond to a stranger's selfishness or insensitivity with anger and rudeness. It satisfies me for a brief moment, and I regret for much longer that I allowed another person's stupidity to rile me.

It would make life easier if everyone working in the theatre had the same attitude. Some do: there have been theatres where it has been a pleasure to work and colleagues whose mere presence puts a smile on my face. The Etcetera, where the latest run of Tadzio Speaks . . . has just come to an end, is an example of the former and Carolyn Lyster an example of the latter. More often, the atmosphere is professional - we all have a job to do and let's get on with it - which is almost as good. Sometimes, however, I come across institutions and individuals who are neither polite or helpful and whose role in life appears to be always promising co-operation and delivering obstacles.

Top of the list is the theatre with a top-heavy administrative team which demanded a very large sum in production costs then made the minimum effort in providing production assistance, refusing storage space for props and providing almost no publicity. The cream on the cake was the artistic director who on the day of the technical rehearsal swanned in, delivered a few patronising remarks on how the show should be presented and wafted out again. Did any of the administration actually come and see the show that had given them so much money? Did they heck...

Then there was the theatre manager who spent an enthusiastic hour discussing various proposals I offered him. Great idea, might do it differently, but we could talk about it. Send us scripts; both I and the literary manager will get back to you. Did they? No. Respond to emails? No. Respond to texts? No. I'm prepared to accept that he considered the scripts rubbish, that I should be barred from every theatre in existence and my hands cut off and tongue lacerated if I ever dared suggest that I have any theatrical talent - at least that would be a response. But utter silence, refusing to send even an "It isn't for us" email, is the rudest, most unprofessional way of dealing with others.

He isn't the only one. I spent some time cultivating the acquaintance of another manager who showed some interested in Californian Lives. There were problems in communication but he did respond to texts and emails. What he didn't do, however, was provide me with all the facts - either that or his story changed towards the end of our discussion. It seemed that we had agreement to put on the production, then he suddenly told me that he was not responsible for the final decision at which point silence fell. I never did meet meet the mysterious person who could take that final decision and no, the final decision never came.

Individual actors stick in the memory. The young woman who slurped soup noisily and banged doors while just off-stage. The older man who took offence easily. The middle-aged actor with a youthful appearance and petulant manner. Several actors who were not as good as they thought they were - and one who was much better and who insisted on upstaging everyone else. The actor who was always late. They are easy to deal with - you know their personalities and you can work round them, relying on the team as a whole rather than the individual. It's those in positions of power - the managers and administrators who demand more than they give, who have little or no respect for others that they cannot make use of - who irritate me most.

There's a common denominator with this last group - the adminstrative team that had no interest in the production that paid them, the manager whose enthusiasm died so quickly, the manager who never revealed the whole truth of his situation; they're young, just under or just over 30. They haven't learnt that to earn respect you must first give it. I'm not sure that it is a lesson they will ever learn. They have wormed their way into positions of (minor) authority without understanding the obligations that authority gives them. With such an attitude, it will be interesting to see how much further up the tree of theatrical production they can go.