Learning Curve

I was on the phone with an old friend of mine last night. We both work in theatre, which means that we also live and breath and talk about theatre most (if not all) of the time. I know that for the last several years he has been plagued with a terrible combination: a lazy technical director and a spineless production manager. As the scenic painter he was required to interact with both of them far more often than he cared to, and if the pay had not been so good he would have gone long ago. So when he said, “I have a story about our production manager,” I expected the worst. In fact, the story went like this:

Load in was just about complete for the theatre’s Christmas show. It would tech and open before Thanksgiving, leaving the shops to begin prepping the January show between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that would be fine, except that the designer for the January show had not been returning phone calls. My friend mentioned this to the production manager, who responded that ,”someone needed to get on that designer.” There was a beat, and then the production manager turned back and said, “scratch that. I need to get on that designer.” My friend was pleased by the change of heart, but didn’t know what would come of it.

Three days later, in the paint shop, he got a phone call from the designer of the January show. They talked, answered questions, and basically caught up on all the things that had been poised to fall through the cracks. My friend was happy, and later expressed his happiness to the production manager. “Yeah,” the production manager said. “He (the designer) called because he had not received his pay, and I told him he would continue to not receive his pay until he started to communicate.”

Score one for the production manager.

All of this opened a door for me to start talking about responsibility, and where the buck stops when it comes to making things in the theatre happen. Turns out most of the time it stops with the production manager. It also turns out that a lot of the time, the designer expects this and even wants the production manager to push them into getting their life together. And so the lesson we learned today was that yes, the production manager has to push. Spineless doesn’t cut it.

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