Author Topic: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry) (Update #30)  (Read 7103 times)

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LadyStormwing

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Edited for clairty
Monday is the monthly board meeting for our theater group. I'm expecting an attempted character assassination from a particular member.

A bit of background: I was the producer for our Christmas show, which was adapted for the stage by the director (whom I will call Sue), who is a fellow board member. Although I've worked with Sue on various projects over the years, it was always as performers. This was the first time we were ever on a production staff together. It was also her first time directing a large show (we'd both done one-acts before) and my first time producing. Sue turned out to be far more of a perfectionist and Type A than I ever expected, and whether that was from the stress of being a first time director or the time crunch (we had six weeks to rehearse), I don't know. The stress spread to the cast, leading to a near mutiny right before tech week, which resulted in some major changes right before the show opened.

To make matters worse, a major snowstorm, the first one of the year, was predicted for our single weekend of shows. We were only doing three- one Friday night, one Saturday afternoon, and one Saturday evening. Weather reports varied wildly, some stating that the storm would be bad early, others saying that the heaviest fall wouldn't be until late in the evening. Sue was sticking hard and fast to those predictions. It was hard to get her to discuss any contingency plans at all. The closest we came was that we as a production team would make a decision regarding the Saturday shows (Friday was supposed to be clear, and it was) after the matinee.

It was snowing lightly during the matinee, enough for snow to start accumulating on the ground. Instead of watching the snow, I watched weather reports on my smart phone. Reports still varied depending on which station or website one looked at, but the average was that the worst would begin between 8:00 and 10:00pm. Looking out the window, I decided to be optomistic and tell the cast that as of now we'd plan to go ahead with the evening show.

I live near the theater, so I walked home. Many people stayed there, or walked to a nearby restaurant so they wouldn't have to drive. At 5:15-5:30, I got a call from our evening's emcee- he was sorry, but the snow was getting heavier and he did not feel safe driving. He only lived about 2.5 miles from the theater. A few minutes later, I got a call from our box office manager- same thing. I called my brother, who is a police officer, and who had driven from the theater to his home after the matinee- a distance of about 15 miles. Used to driving in all conditions, he reported that the roads were, "treated, but slick". I also spoke with my father, a professional truck driver, who said that he and my mother were having trouble- their car was sliding on the main roads.

That was enough for me. As producer, it was at my sole discretion to cancel the show or not. I had first called Sue after the emcee and box office manager had dropped out to update her of the situation and suggest that it might be in everyone's best interest and safety to cancel the evening show. This suggestion went over rather poorly. I was very uncomfortable with the road conditions. Additionally, our theater does not have its own parking lot and there was an on-street parking ban. Any cast and audience members would have to park at local businesses that, while normally they don't mind sharing, there was a possibility their own plows would be out, and by parking there, people would have to cross one or two very busy streets and walk on unshoveled sidewalks. I didn't want to be responsible for someone slipping and falling any more than I wanted to be responsible for a car accident. I spoke with a few other members of the board, including the vice-chair, and they agreed with my train of thought and supported my final decision. I called Sue back, and not to sound too dramatic, one would have thought I suggested torturing small animals instead.

I immediately sent an email to the cast as a whole, as it was the fastest way to get in touch with all of them. I also walked back to the theater, where I knew most of them were. Signs were put up on the doors, and a notice placed on the theater group's website. Sue also came back to the theater, and quickly made it clear that my presence was not necessary or wanted. I restated (calmly and in front of witnesses) that I had cancelled solely out of concern for public safety and that I was sorry if she took that personally, and left. A few days later, I was "uninvited" to the general cast party, though I did send a pizza through a neutral party. (My thought there was that I still would have liked to be there and this was not the cast's fault. I was afraid if I did go Sue would either say something or make the tension between us obvious, and I did not want to put the cast in the crosshairs.)

/BG. (Sorry about the length.)

So. Monday is the board meeting. It will be the first time since that night I will have seen anyone from the theater group. As sure as the sun will rise, I know Sue will come after me over this. I know I have some supporters, and I stand by the decision I made, but what can I say/how can I prepare to keep calm and cool in the face of what is sure to be emotional blackmail and backlash?
« Last Edit: January 13, 2014, 08:30:21 PM by LadyStormwing »

MummySweet

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2014, 05:20:18 PM »
Ladystormwing, I think your paragraphs are a bit out of order (see para 3 & 4).  You may want to edit for clarity. Thank you!

aussie_chick

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2014, 05:31:39 PM »
Op this is pretty awful for you.
I'm not sure that I can offer much in the way of advice. But I would suggest the following:
Keep your response brief - don't over explain or justify beyond what you need to say and show confidence
You assessed the risk to all concerned based on the information you had - roads becoming slick, huge snow storm, lack of onsite parking for cast, crew and your concerns for safety for everyone involved.
You used your discretion as the producer, based on the information you had, and the fact that 2 key people (MC and box office) were unable to make it and cancelled the show.
Make no apologies for considering safety above all else. You can acknowledge the disappointment of the cast and perhaps patrons but be clear that safety trumps all of that.

Just out of curiosity (and not being familiar with snow storms) how long did the storm last? Even if people could have gotten to the theatre for the show, would they have been able to leave again safely afterwards? Maybe make this a point of concern.

Sue's behaviour in 'uninviting' you to the party was petty and pretty pathetic. Does she have the discretion to do that?

If Sue is emotional - you be unemotional and stick to the point that you were concerned about safety. You mentioned that this was opening weekend. I don't know how many shows were going to be after this one but surely cancelling to preserve the safety of all concerned and missing one show was better than potential injuries and people perhaps missing further shows.

Would love to know how you go at the meeting. I hope the Board can see the sense in what you decided to do. Good luck!



bah12

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2014, 05:39:41 PM »
If I understand correctly, you were the producer of the show and Sue is the director.  You cancelled a performance due to the weather and Sue didn't like that.  She then uninvited you to a cast party.

What authority did she have to do that?  If it was your job to decide whether or not to cancel shows, then who really cares whether or not she agreed?  While I don't blame you for not wanting to cause a scene at the cast party, I don't think I would have given her the benefit of not showing up...especially if it's not her job to invite/uninvite.

As for the board meeting, I agree with remaining calm and as unemotional as possible.  Just state the facts, similar to the BG you wrote, as for your reasoning for cancelling the show and the back up you received from other staff.  If Sue wants to act out, let her...it only reflects on her.  Don't mention how she stressed out the rest of the cast as I don't think it's really relevent to the issue you'll be discussing.

kategillian

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2014, 05:42:11 PM »
In my opinion, safety trumps all! The fact that this woman expected not only the cast and the support crew, but also all of the customers who would be viewing the play to go out during a potentially bad snow storm just because she wanted them to? astounding!

EllenS

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2014, 06:09:17 PM »
Former actress and theater producer here. I have experienced a lot of intracompany and intracast politics, and I commend you for both keeping a level head and making a decision in the best interests of everyone's safety, and for being considerate of not wanting to "infect" the cast with negativity and keep your conflict with Sue away from the actors.  Both of those decisions were what a professional and responsible producer does.

However, now you are dealing at the Board level. We are into organizational structure and heirarchy.  You and Sue may both be Board members, but in your capacity as producer, the director is "under" you in the decision structure. Cancelling the show for inclement weather is your decision, not hers.  It sounds like you did the best you could to communicate effectively with everyone and make sure nobody was left in the lurch.  You did your job right.

In your position, I would not go in with an overly-scripted response, because that sounds defensive.  I understand theater politics, but in reality, this is not a "fight" between you and Sue, and I don't think you should in any way acknowledge or indicate that is even a possibility. You do not need to justify, defend, or overly-explain your situation.

Facts: the weather was inclement, street parking was banned, plows were out and your front of house staff had left for their own safety. Cancelling the show was THE ONLY reasonable course of action.  It was your decision to make, and you made it.

At the meeting, I would stay very quiet.  If Sue brings it up and wants to throw a temper tantrum, I would listen and allow myself to be surprised that she would question such an obvious decision.  If other board members have something to say, I would listen. If any of the board members have a valid point about things you could have done better with communication, or even making the decision earlier, etc, listen and acknowledge that it could be a useful thought for next time.  I would wait and, if at all possible speak last.

State the facts. State your decision. Then, if other board members object, I would say something like "I was under the impression that it is the producer's job to make those decisions.  If not, thene we need an official policy on who is empowered to make emergency decisions like this."  If you have bylaws or written job descriptions, I would follow normal procedure (do you use parliamentary procedure?) to request an amendment.  I would take the position that I am happy to follow whatever the Board decides should be the proper policy, but it needs to be made clear and in writing.

In other words, don't get dragged into the silliness- be the rational one and let Sue demonstrate how irrational she is. The crazier she acts the better you look.  Good producers make unpopular decisions, because they are dealing with budgets, time, people, and resources.  You care more about what is good for the company than whether one person is happy at the moment -that's a good producer.

PastryGoddess

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2014, 06:30:20 PM »
Former actress and theater producer here. I have experienced a lot of intracompany and intracast politics, and I commend you for both keeping a level head and making a decision in the best interests of everyone's safety, and for being considerate of not wanting to "infect" the cast with negativity and keep your conflict with Sue away from the actors.  Both of those decisions were what a professional and responsible producer does.

However, now you are dealing at the Board level. We are into organizational structure and heirarchy.  You and Sue may both be Board members, but in your capacity as producer, the director is "under" you in the decision structure. Cancelling the show for inclement weather is your decision, not hers.  It sounds like you did the best you could to communicate effectively with everyone and make sure nobody was left in the lurch.  You did your job right.

In your position, I would not go in with an overly-scripted response, because that sounds defensive.  I understand theater politics, but in reality, this is not a "fight" between you and Sue, and I don't think you should in any way acknowledge or indicate that is even a possibility. You do not need to justify, defend, or overly-explain your situation.

Facts: the weather was inclement, street parking was banned, plows were out and your front of house staff had left for their own safety. Cancelling the show was THE ONLY reasonable course of action.  It was your decision to make, and you made it.

At the meeting, I would stay very quiet.  If Sue brings it up and wants to throw a temper tantrum, I would listen and allow myself to be surprised that she would question such an obvious decision.  If other board members have something to say, I would listen. If any of the board members have a valid point about things you could have done better with communication, or even making the decision earlier, etc, listen and acknowledge that it could be a useful thought for next time.  I would wait and, if at all possible speak last.

State the facts. State your decision. Then, if other board members object, I would say something like "I was under the impression that it is the producer's job to make those decisions.  If not, thene we need an official policy on who is empowered to make emergency decisions like this."  If you have bylaws or written job descriptions, I would follow normal procedure (do you use parliamentary procedure?) to request an amendment.  I would take the position that I am happy to follow whatever the Board decides should be the proper policy, but it needs to be made clear and in writing.

In other words, don't get dragged into the silliness- be the rational one and let Sue demonstrate how irrational she is. The crazier she acts the better you look.  Good producers make unpopular decisions, because they are dealing with budgets, time, people, and resources.  You care more about what is good for the company than whether one person is happy at the moment -that's a good producer.

Pod to this.

You were the boss and you made a decision.  You do not owe Sue an apology for making that decision.  You were also privy to information that she may not have had.  I would stick to a few facts and repeat them over and over again. Cut and paste if you will. 

In this case there is no need to JAD...you may need to E, simply because you are speaking to the board and they deserve to know your thought process behind the cancellation.  But again as the producer, it was your call.  Not Sue's.  You did her a favor my keeping her in the loop, but you certainly didn't HAVE to do so. 

SPuck

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2014, 06:47:21 PM »
Facts: the weather was inclement, street parking was banned, plows were out and your front of house staff had left for their own safety. Cancelling the show was THE ONLY reasonable course of action.  It was your decision to make, and you made it.

You should probably just say this actually.

camlan

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2014, 07:06:26 PM »
Facts: the weather was inclement, street parking was banned, plows were out and your front of house staff had left for their own safety. Cancelling the show was THE ONLY reasonable course of action.  It was your decision to make, and you made it.

You should probably just say this actually.

This, but do add that you consulted with a few members of the board. You were not making this decision lightly, but checked the weather conditions, considered those people who had already made it clear they would not be there and consulted with the board.

Sue may be upset that the performance was cancelled. But that does not mean that she is right.
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!” –Audrey Hepburn


kckgirl

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2014, 07:07:02 PM »
Ladystormwing, I think your paragraphs are a bit out of order (see para 3 & 4).  You may want to edit for clarity. Thank you!

I agree. I was a little confused because you hadn't mentioned a storm when you started talking about making decisions. Maybe you edited and got the paragraphs out of order. This makes it easier to understand:

************


That a major snow storm, the first one of the year, rolled in our opening weekend did not help matters. It was very difficult to get Sue to even discuss contingency plans should the need to cancel a performance arise. Each weather report differed as to when the snow would fall heaviest and how much we would get. Friday night was fine, and Saturday's matinee I spent watching every weather report I could find on my smart phone. At the end of the matinee, it looked as if yes, we would be able to get the evening show in without too many issues, but we would cancel the cast party scheduled for that night just to be on the safe side. This was at about 4:00.

The closest we as a production team had come was that we would make a decision by the end of the matinee. Nothing was said about the storm getting worse in between the matinee and the evening performance, as Nor'easter tend to do, because Sue was sticking hard and fast to the reports that the storm would not get bad until late in the evening.

************

You absolutely made the right decision. Sue should be able to see past the end of her nose to recognize that it was unsafe to go forward. I think stating the facts should explain very nicely to the other board members. They obviously live in the area and know what the weather conditions were.
Maryland

LadyStormwing

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2014, 09:11:47 PM »
In this case there is no need to JAD...you may need to E, simply because you are speaking to the board and they deserve to know your thought process behind the cancellation. 

What is "JADE"?

Thank you all for your responses. I did edit for clarity; sorry about that.

To answer a few questions about the storm- it was a chancy one and as I said, predictions varied. As it turned out, it definitely got worse before it got better. By midnight or so things were very messy and by Sunday morning, though it stopped snowing around 8:00am, many churches (the only places open around here on Sunday mornings) cancelled services. Roads were clear by the afternoon, but any wet spots iced over when the sun went down. Welcome to the North.  :o

I'm pretty good about keeping my head, so I think as long as I do that, I'll be fine. I know I have the support of at least some of the Board, so we'll see how it goes. I'll keep you posted.

TootsNYC

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2014, 09:20:48 PM »
I'm totally w/ EllenS here.

Sue is completely out of line, and everybody knows it. So there's nothing to argue about.

Give her enough rope, and let her hang herself, so to speak.

Have one sentence, maybe: "The safety of our staff, cast, and audience were my concern. I acted within my authority as producer of the show."

Cut and paste.
Seriously. And let silence be your friend.

Be surprised.

Former actress and theater producer here. I have experienced a lot of intracompany and intracast politics, and I commend you for both keeping a level head and making a decision in the best interests of everyone's safety, and for being considerate of not wanting to "infect" the cast with negativity and keep your conflict with Sue away from the actors.  Both of those decisions were what a professional and responsible producer does.

However, now you are dealing at the Board level. We are into organizational structure and heirarchy.  You and Sue may both be Board members, but in your capacity as producer, the director is "under" you in the decision structure. Cancelling the show for inclement weather is your decision, not hers.  It sounds like you did the best you could to communicate effectively with everyone and make sure nobody was left in the lurch.  You did your job right.

In your position, I would not go in with an overly-scripted response, because that sounds defensive.  I understand theater politics, but in reality, this is not a "fight" between you and Sue, and I don't think you should in any way acknowledge or indicate that is even a possibility. You do not need to justify, defend, or overly-explain your situation.

Facts: the weather was inclement, street parking was banned, plows were out and your front of house staff had left for their own safety. Cancelling the show was THE ONLY reasonable course of action.  It was your decision to make, and you made it.

At the meeting, I would stay very quiet.  If Sue brings it up and wants to throw a temper tantrum, I would listen and allow myself to be surprised that she would question such an obvious decision.  If other board members have something to say, I would listen. If any of the board members have a valid point about things you could have done better with communication, or even making the decision earlier, etc, listen and acknowledge that it could be a useful thought for next time.  I would wait and, if at all possible speak last.

State the facts. State your decision. Then, if other board members object, I would say something like "I was under the impression that it is the producer's job to make those decisions.  If not, thene we need an official policy on who is empowered to make emergency decisions like this."  If you have bylaws or written job descriptions, I would follow normal procedure (do you use parliamentary procedure?) to request an amendment.  I would take the position that I am happy to follow whatever the Board decides should be the proper policy, but it needs to be made clear and in writing.

In other words, don't get dragged into the silliness- be the rational one and let Sue demonstrate how irrational she is. The crazier she acts the better you look.  Good producers make unpopular decisions, because they are dealing with budgets, time, people, and resources.  You care more about what is good for the company than whether one person is happy at the moment -that's a good producer.

TootsNYC

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2014, 09:24:19 PM »
JADE = Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain



It's normal, when questioned about our activities, to justify them, to argue our point, to defend ourselves if criticized, and to explain things.

All those are reasonable ways to approach a conflict.

But they can get out of hand if we rely on them too much. And using them too much indicates that you think you have a weak position. So don't use them (as EllenS so wisely suggests). You're in the right, and you don't need to justify what you did, or argue, or defend yourself, or even explain. The explanation is super-clear.

(And, if you are facing an unreasonable person, then JADE-ing simply gives them ammo to continue the argument. Plus, it signal that *you* think you have a weak position, and that *they* are the one who has the right to decide whether you have chosen an acceptable path.)

Free Range Hippy Chick

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2014, 06:27:07 AM »
I agree that you shouldn't go into too much detail but I think PastryGoddess is correct that you may need to explain a little more than you otherwise would simply because it's a Board. I would mention specifically that you took advice both from a police officer and from a professional driver - this wasn't just you being a wimp, this was the professional judgement of people whose opinions were likely to be better founded than either yours or Sue's.

dlws92

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Re: Need help with a prepared response (long BG, sorry)
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2014, 10:06:06 AM »
I pod the previous poster who says to just "JAD" but do explain.  Be sure to point out that you had already lost people who were going to work on the play and that you didn't wish the theater to be liable for any injuries/accidents to staff or patrons.  While you understand Sue's disappointment, the theater's greater responsibility has to be to the safety and well-being of all.