Theater Crew Gimmes

by admin on July 31, 2012

I have worked with a Small Community Theater (SCT) several times, but left because of the overbearing nature of the director. Director has out of rehearsal crying in frustration, worked himself into scene-stealing moments of plays where he had no place, and yelled at cast and crew during the run of the play with audience members in their seats and watching. After two productions in a row of these shenanigans, I parted ways with Director and SCT.

Because I still support many members of SCT as friends, I went to their most recent production last week. Director, again, cast himself in a lead role, which was not surprising, and neither was his overacting in that role. What was surprising was his speech after the final bows. He thanked the audience for coming, mentioned another production would be casting shortly, and then asked the audience to stay behind to help break down and remove the set, costumes, and props.

I was at the play with three other performers in local theater, and our jaws dropped in unison. None of us could remember seeing or participating in a production that requested its patrons roll up their sleeves and become instant back stage crew. All members of the audience paid money for two hours of entertainment, and many (including myself, were dressed in clothes that were not meant to be soiled with sawdust and other dirt from the theater. As much as I would have loved to have spent some time congratulating my friends in the cast, my friends and I made a beeline for the exit. I will extend my congratulations individually when I’m not being asked for free labor.   0729-12

My family has been involved for years in small community theater productions (yes, even me, who played Nurse Bedwin in “OLIVER!”) and I’ve never seen this request made either.   It is understood that everyone involved in the play needs to roll up their sleeves and break down the set after the last show.   There are always people in the audience who pitch in to help but they are the ones who are usually involved in some periphery way with the play.

Plays should probably be like any organized event where you do not plan and build more than your money and labor budget can afford.   Small budget?   Minimal props and scenes.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

StephM July 31, 2012 at 4:41 am

My jaw is hanging open. The director isn’t fit to lead a dog, let alone a play.

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Jenny July 31, 2012 at 6:51 am

Having worked in professional and community theater, you were absolutely right to part ways with this place. I have never heard of such ridiculous and unprofessional behavior from a director. Yelling in the middle of the play? Casting himself in major roles? It sounds like he likes being the king of his own little anthill and treats the theater as “his.”

And yes, break down and load out is exhausting and hard work, but it’s just what you have to do. Or course it’s fine to make the cast and crew stay and ask friends and family to stay, but asking the audience is just unheard of. I doubt the audience was properly dressed to do any of it, and that is just stunning. Safety violations galore there (people in sandals, etc.), and safety should be the number one concern.

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AMC July 31, 2012 at 7:19 am

Ditto what Admin said. I also have a background in theater (acted and crewed all through high school and college), and I’ve never heard of paying patrons being asked to tear down a set. I don’t know how big of a set they were working with, but larger set pieces can be VERY heavy and should only be moved by people who know what they’re doing. I hope the theater has enough insurance to cover any injuries.

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SS July 31, 2012 at 7:23 am

Usually a theatre group like that has a Board of Directors or some other governing group. Have you notified them that this director is hurting their image?

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allrightythen July 31, 2012 at 9:01 am

Our small neighborhood theater group, mostly children, but with some adults–usually has this exact policy. Admission price is low (maybe $5) and we all just chip in because we know the advantages to having this group and how much it has helped the youth in our community. We think nothing of it–and no one thinks ill of the people who choose not to help.

We all do the same thing after church–pick up dropped materials, put books back, fold up chairs, etc. Many don’t help, and that’s okay–that’s their choice.

However, BOO on the director’s dramatics and shame on him always with the lead (but that is common too)

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Library Diva July 31, 2012 at 9:07 am

I did theater in high school. I imagine community theater may be a very different environment, but we had the vaunted tradition of the “strike party” after the show. Our advisors ordered in pizza and soft drinks and everyone who’d been part of the play was to come and help take apart the set, put away the props and reorganize the costume shop that had inevitably been torn apart. It was a nice farewell for those who had made the play their lives for the past three months.

This director sounds like a world-class jerk. I wonder how many more talented people he’s driven away. Enough, I bet, to form your own theater company that works together and doesn’t make the audience help strike…

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Green123 July 31, 2012 at 9:38 am

Wow. As Admin says of course the cast and crew get involved in breaking down the set after the last show, but the paying audience? No! Maybe it’s alright IF they’d seen the show for free AND the deal was clearly previously announced as ‘come for free in exchange for a hour’s work clearing up’, but NOT as a sudden annoucement.

I feel sorry for those genuinely wanting to be involved in this theatre group as it sounds like the Director is putting people off (actors and audiences).

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Justin July 31, 2012 at 9:43 am

This would be an incident that would cause me to contact the theatre management and let them know I would be unable to patronize their theatre as long as this individual was involved. When I am attending a play I am always dressed up with a jacket and tie, so tearing down sets is not in the plans. I live in an area with a lot of theatre and have season tickets to one of them. If I was unhappy with how one theatre treated patrons I would not have to give up seeing plays, I would just have to go different places.

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Cat July 31, 2012 at 9:47 am

I volunteered to man a table for a charitable institution that has donors who send money each month to support children living in third world countries so that they might have food, education, and medical care. I have been involved since I became an adult and got my first job and was happy to help.
I was to work for four hours. I was called at the ninth hour to come in twenty minutes early for training. I arrived, found my table, but no trainer. I waited for ten minutes and then called her. She said I was at the wrong church. I told her that I was at the right church and had found the table all set up but there was no one else there. She said she’d be right there.
I waited for an hour and called her back; she said she’d be right there.
Some ladies at the church told me that, since I wasn’t doing anything, I could help in the kitchen. I was not dressed for kitchen work. I was to speak to people interested in becoming sponsors of needy children.
I got in my car and left. The trainer called me and asked where I was as she had now arrived for my training. I told her that, since I was not needed, I was going home. That’s the last time I voulunteer for that group.
No, I would not expect to break down a set after I had paid to watch a performance.

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spartiechic July 31, 2012 at 9:53 am

I’ve been involved with community theatre almost my entire life (on the board, as a director, as a performer, etc) and I’ve never, ever, seen anything like this happen. Oh, I’ve seen the swelled egos and the abusive directors, but I’ve never seen any of them treat an audience like that. We have one director in this area (who shall remain nameless) who casts his daughter in all the leads and has an ego the size of a large city. He constantly complains about the lack of publicity in the press, but fails to realize that the press doesn’t come to his shows because of his disrespectful attitude and the fact that his daughter always plays the lead. I could almost imagine him doing this…almost, but I think even he would see this as over the top.

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Susan July 31, 2012 at 9:55 am

And most venues, for insurance purposes, do not let non-cast/crew backstage. How would normal, ordinary people know how to work backstage anyhow? I’ve worked many shows in NYC in theater and I’m still learning.

I think not. Did anyone from the audience help?

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Cat Whisperer July 31, 2012 at 10:03 am

I don’t know a lot about community theater, but it’s my experience that in any small, largely volunteer organization, there can be people who join who want to act out their own little power trip. It sounds like the director fits into that category.

I don’t know what the answer to this kind of situation is. About all you can do is what OP did– if the ego tripping gets to the point where you aren’t enjoying the volunteer experience, you leave. Sad.

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--Lia July 31, 2012 at 11:03 am

Ditto what SS said about reporting the behavior to the board, but if the board doesn’t help rein in this power tripper, you still have to wonder why the rest of the volunteers put up with it. What happens when no one tries out for the next show because they don’t enjoy anything about the rehearsals or the performances? What happens when no one wants to buy tickets because, as they explain to the person selling them, they were too flabbergasted at being commanded to strike the set last time?

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Carnation July 31, 2012 at 11:07 am

Hi Admin, from one Nurse Bedwin to another!

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PrairieTown July 31, 2012 at 11:09 am

Egos in theater are immense – a local group recently celebrated a landmark of years of performance – favorites of the board mentioned numerous times – the truly talented were never mentioned.

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TylerBelle July 31, 2012 at 11:12 am

Wow. I echo a lot of the same sentiments here with having been involved with some of the theatre productions (high school/college/community) in my area. The director requesting the audience help with striking the set after performance never has happened here to my knowledge. The people involved have always done so. Also it’s incomprehensible to think of someone going to the extreme of yelling during, thus interrupting, a performance. That just doesn’t happen, or isn’t suppose to. Mistakes are going to be made from time to time, I’ve seen myself such as missed cues, props / sound effects failing, an actor getting the giggles, etc., as everyone who has every been involved with the theatre are sure to have as well, but those were discussed or handled afterward, not during the show with the audience looking on. I agree also on how this director’s behavior is quite shameful, not to mention jaw-dropping.

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TheaterDiva1 July 31, 2012 at 11:48 am

Are there ever critics in the audience? This can’t possible make for good reviews (assuming this director pays attention to them).

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Emmy July 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I remember one time at a very small theater I was volunteering at the audience was asked to remove their folding chairs. It was a free show, and the audience was mostly made up of family/friends of the cast/crew. The way it was phrased was “If you are able to, it’d be greatly apperciated if you’d move your folding chair back to the wall, and then we’d love for you to come enjoy some refreshements in the lobby! We’ll meet you out there as soon as we’ve tidied up a bit!”, it was just in the program. Some helped, some didn’t, some used it as an excuse to chat with the cast/crew a bit longer. But again, this was a very casual free show where everyone pretty much knew everyone.

The other productions I’ve worked with, never would’ve thought to use the audience. Oh, there were audience members that were friends that showed up at the strike party the next day, but they were usually part of other productions and wanting to help out/hang out with friends. But the night of, no.

And that director, he sounds horrific. He needs to be removed before he ruins the entire community theater for everyone.

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Puzzled July 31, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I stage managed Oliver for our community theater. Oom Pah Pah rolls around and one of the folks in the tavern got popped in the head with a tankard and knocked out on stage. The rest ad libbed carrying a drunk out. However, guess what? No one would have even considered asking for audience participation in the strike. Wow, just wow.

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gramma dishes July 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I am puzzled only by the fact that this Director apparently is able to continue to get people to participate in his productions. I would have thought that most of them would have moved on to a new theater group by now, or even started a brand new one on their own!

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kingsrings July 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I’ve been doing theater all my life. This is tacky and rude at the least and very litigious at the most!! This guy’s insurance co. would have a fit if they found out he was enlisting audience members to strike the set! So risky and dangerous. I’ve never in my life heard of this happening anywhere, anyway. Mostly it’s the entire cast/crew that strikes the set, or certain workers with the theater. And honestly, I actually can’t remember the last time I helped strike a set because of the latter going on now in my area. But in my college theater days, it was required as part of our grade to help strike.

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Floweramon August 1, 2012 at 2:52 am

Oh my God. I’m a theater major, and the way this director acted seriously offended me. Even putting aside all the prima donna bullshit (seriously, interupting a play to yell at the actors?!), the fact that he would request that the audience help strike the set is appauling.

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Enna August 1, 2012 at 8:41 am

I think the cast should go on strike – a dirertor can’t direct if he has no actors. Maybe complain to the board? Surely there must be away that the cast can get rid of him? Start up a new group which does not involve him?

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JacklynHyde August 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Hi, I’m the original poster of this story! To clarify, the yelling happened before the main action of the show happened, but Director decided to make it a concept that we were having a dress rehearsal before moving to a bigger theater (instead of just calling it a studio production). He yelled at the orchestra, which was NOT in the script. The violin player walked out at intermission. I didn’t blame her.

There is no board for this amateur group. The producer was in the audience near where I was sitting and she didn’t say a word. While I’ll miss working with the cast, I’m done with the company.

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Cat Whisperer August 2, 2012 at 12:32 am

JacklynHyde, I don’t know anything about amateur theater, so I don’t know if this suggestion is out of line, but if the “producer” is the person who funds the group, and this person has decision power over who directs, couldn’t you send the producer an eMail or note or something, basically expressing your concerns about the way the director is doing his job? Since you’re not involved any more, you aren’t vulnerable to retaliation, so maybe you could try to give the producer a “heads up” about this?

My husband is a commissioner for a small local museum that relies heavily on volunteers to organize and put on fund-raising functions. Some time back, they had a person who had worked her way up to director of volunteers. This person had never been unreasonable to work with when she wasn’t in a position of power, but once she got put into a spot where she had authority, she turned into a little tin tyrant and was treating the other volunteers very badly. Which is why they started leaving in droves. (Because they were constantly recruiting new volunteers, the high turnover rate wasn’t immediately apparent, and the tyrannical director of volunteers had very plausible excuses for why people weren’t staying on as volunteers for long.)

My husband and the other commissioners weren’t really aware of how bad things were until they were made aware that they were losing volunteers left and right, and then they had a couple of people who were long-time volunteers who spelled out in detail for the museum commission just exactly what was going on. The commissioners did a little investigating and found that they needed to get this “tyrant in a teapot” out of her position of authority. And that’s what they did– they basically created a “staff” position with a fancy title that didn’t involve having power over other volunteers, moved her into that, and got someone better to actually work with the volunteers.

Sometimes it may seem obvious that someone isn’t suitable for a position of authority, but that may not be clear to people who aren’t being bossed around by the person.

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Snowy August 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I seem to our directors recall offering the same invitation when I was in high school. But it was more of a social thing, like the drama department’s version of a barn raising. Yes, there was work involved, but unlike a barn raising, no one was expected to do it. It was work that would get done anyway, it was just a social way to make the load lighter.

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