Friday, February 22, 2008

Maxwell's Silver Hammer vs. With a Little Help from My Friends

Thursday was a shitty day. But I'm glad it was.

I'll back it up a bit and provide more background info...

I'm in a play at a new theatre in downtown Louisville. It's my first professional acting gig (not counting a haunted house I did three years ago), and my first high-profile show in the big city. Consequently, I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to do this right.

The big drawback in any show I do is when the final week of rehearsals are here, my personal life becomes non-existant. I'm merely a shadow to my wife - I come home when she's asleep, she leaves before I wake up. We barely get to talk right now. She's my sounding board when things are shitty, and I am hers. That's a major part of the "for better or for worse" section of the vows, you know...

Now, enter work. On a typical week, we have enough graphic artists to do a high volume of work when it comes in. However, we had an atypical week - several artists out sick on Tuesday, plus about 100 more ads to design than normal. Me, being a clever manager and turning a negative into a positive, invented a contest with nice prizes to encourage rapid turnaround of work on Wednesday. And like all my brilliant ideas, it worked - by the end of the day, we were caught up and I was a happy camper.

Jump to Thursday. Opening night, and I'm excited to get up in front of random strangers and pretend I'm a Tennessee redneck preparing for WW3 by digging a tunnel and shopping for radiation suits. I'm also thrilled that, for the first time in eight years of working at this place, I won't have to skip out on the high pressure Fridays to do a show - something I've always felt guilty about. Hakuna matata, right?

That's when the ice storm moves in. I've got graphic artists with worried voices looking outside and wondering if they're going to make it home alive. The mayor recommends people go home now to avoid sharing the road with the "frozen death from above" (I'm paraphrasing).

And I'm the asshole that won't send them home. You see, our work comes in from all over the country, and while they might sympathize with our plight, the bottom line is they need our ads back to make the sales - regardless of the frozen conditions around us. I try to help them understand that once the idiots are off the road, it will be perfectly safe to drive if they do so carefully. I don't think they bought it. Hell, I didn't buy it!

Some folks never made it in. Some had to go early to retreive their kids, and never came back. Some had long drives ahead of them, so I had to let them go early. But the majority were unhappy to be there, and as a result were slow workers. All that progress Wednesday, shot to hell.

I wouldn't be able to vent my frustration to RedFaery, since I was going straight to the play - but no worries. Once I got on stage and pour my soul into my role, I'd be washed clean - I've done it many times before.

Then reality sinks in. Ice storm, remember? The opening night's been cancelled because of the dangerous conditions, however it gives us a good opportunity to fix some nagging technical problems, so we are still needed at the theatre.

I got there and immediately go into seclusion until needed. Having no means of venting my spleen, the last thing I wanted to do right before opening is chomp a fellow actor's head off - so rather than risk hurting or offending my new friends that trust I'm a nice guy to work with, I avoided everyone like the plague.

So I raged alone for the better part of an hour, about how this always seems to happen when I do a play. Something at work inevitabily goes "SPROING!" (yes, it really sounds like that, in my head anyway) and I have to figure out how to fix it without compromising the show I'm in. I'm feeling guilty that after telling my staff they have to gut it out thru the ice storm, I head out to my prior obligation and feel like one of those asshole bosses everyone has at some point in their life that like to pretend the rules don't apply to him too. Even with trying to head it off with the contest (which costs my department money, and therefore impacts MY bonus), it looked like my extra work amounted to nothing when all was said and done.

Eventually I came out of my self-imposed exile - not happy, but not a bastard to work with either. A fair compromise. A few of my actors and one of the producers took note and quized me about what was going on, and I did my best to give them the Cliff's Notes version without a helping of drama to wash it down.

We were done in a decent amount of time, and I was able to vent a little to RedFaery before she needed to get to sleep - and as usual that helped. I went to sleep feeling ok, but not looking forward to work the next day.

Friday turned out ok - we weren't as far behind as I thought (the frustration of Thursday probably blinded me a lot), and everything clipped along better than normal. I realize that if we hadn't done the contest on Wednesday, it would have been every bit as bad as I expected - so it still made the impact I wanted. I felt vindicated!

But they best part came from randomly checking my e-mail throughout the day. It started with a couple of pics taken of me in costume, then a simple note of encouragement from our director, and finally some praise from our music director. They took a little time out of their days to send me notes simply because they knew I had a bad day and they thought I could use a few good words. It only made me happier to be a part of the show, and makes me want to act my ass off for them even more.

Everyone needs a shitty day once in awhile, I think, if for no other reason than to get picked up by your pals.

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