Once upon a time I did a show at a theater that was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. To say the working conditions were less-than-ideal would be a bit of an understatement. Up until this point, everyone I'd worked with in the past had been incredible and only encouraged my love for this creative field. I suppose that if you work long enough in the acting world, eventually you'll end up working for one of those directors you always hear horror stories about. This show was my time.
Fortunately, my number came up at a time in my life when someone screaming and swearing at me didn't bother me the way it would have if it happened to me in my 20s. It's much easier to keep a professional attitude when you have a loving wife to go home to and the insight that the more someone rants and raves and belittles others, that's more than likely a reflection of their own insecurities.
The girl playing my wife in the show was young and enthusiastic, this being her first professional job out of college. For both of us this was our first time involved with the company. The other cast members warned us about what the director could/would be like, but neither of us could have expected things to turn as sour as they did.
Rehearsals were a test of everyone's mettle. When things didn't go according to the director's exact vision or if there was a line flub, she would let loose with a vulgar tirade that brought everything to a halt. To this day I'm still not sure how belittling and embarrassing someone in front of others is supposed to encourage improvement, but maybe that's just me.
After the show was up and running, things didn't get better. On more than one occasion, she would come swooping backstage during intermission like a foul-mouthed Cruella DeVille to berate actors, swearing TO GOD they were horrible, should never have been hired, and are. Not. Funny (Have I mentioned this was a theater that only does comedies? Yep. Perfect environment to encourage humor, huh?).
One positive product of such a situation is how it fosters camaraderie among the cast and crew. At the time I likened it to the children of an abusive, alcoholic father, huddling together at night, whispering words of encouragement to each other after the tornado swept through. We encouraged each other to stay strong, let those words - all untrue - roll off your back, and not to give in. I assured my co-star that the situation we were in was not reflective of how most people work and at least she was getting her terrible experience out of the way early in her career.
More than once we wanted to walk off, letting the director/theater owner dangle in the wind as the two leading actors just...didn't show up one day. War is hell, though, and you can't leave your fellow soldiers behind. So we stuck it out, did our best, had some great shows, and swore we would never work for them again. It almost because a game, as we threw down some incredible performances and then laughed as the director struggled to find something to get worked up about. Soon the rantings and ravings became just what they were: Hilarious. And fodder for stories such as this one.
In the show, the character I played was Jewish and as a Christmas gift (the production was their holiday show), my co-star got me this mug. After the show's run was over, she went on to work with a different theater troupe, is still working with them to this day (she even met her husband-to-be there!), and it makes me happy to see her working in an environment where she - and her talents - are appreciated.
This mug reminds me that even though circumstances may be crappy, a lot of good can come out of it. And, if you stay professional and do your best, one day that crappy situation may come back to you, asking you to return to work for them and you'll have the pleasure of telling them no.
And, if you're especially fortunate, they'll ask you more than once and you'll have the pleasure of telling them no more than once. I'll raise my Jewish mug to that.