This is part three. Part one: "Five Minutes for Seven Years" and part two: "Anything for the Theatre" are found elsewhere on this blog
The announcement came again, “Tom Stewart, please report to the managing director’s office.” Seattle Children's Theatre never used that system, except for emergencies. I had told them I wasn’t coming. It was past my shift and I had been warned that if I stayed one second past my shift there would be “consequences”. Yet the managing director sent me an email, which stated I was to report to his office at 3pm for a meeting. I didn’t get the email until nearly midnight, as I had no time to check during working hours so I logged in at midnight against my own rules of not working after hours and found the summons. I told them that I had no time, it was after my shift and as I was would be at 40 hours at 2pm that day, I could not come. Send.
The announcement rang again. I put on my coat, which these days I could nearly wrap around me twice because I had lost so much weight, and hit the push bar on the front door. I stepped out into a slightly breezy day, afternoon sun drifting down onto the Center grounds. I started the nearly 2-mile walk home. Let them find me.
It didn’t used to be this way: I never cared if I worked an hour or two over, as most of us did work crazy hours. Checking email at night from home I used to do all the time. I hated meetings (I used to call SCT the “Meetingest Place on Earth”, but that could be nearly any non-profit) but would never have missed them. All that had changed, and changed for good. They had extracted every bit of care out of me and I no longer had any left for people who had none for me. I turned my CD player on to some Buddy Holly and headed home. I would not be checking my email tonight.
But I get ahead of my story…
In Which I Hire My Replacement
In the previous parts I gave the build up of incidents; one thing stacked on top of the other and not always with me aware of what was going on. In this part the incident starts as a fairly tame one; I lost my assistant house manager. She decided suddenly to move back to her home state, so I would have to find a replacement.
Now usually I would put out an ad, look at resumes, find the best candidates, hire and train that person, like I had done a dozen times before with my staff over the years. But here in the new SCT, I wasn’t allowed to hire anyone without the consultation and approval of the Acting Managing Director, as she had taken on all authority. Now the Facilities manager had just been let go, and it was figured that position would now be a part-time position, but would be combined with my Assistant Manager job to make a full time position. This was presented to me as ‘the way it will be’. I protested that my position would automatically be second to facilities and end up being of little help to me:
“I want you to know that we hear your concerns, and we understand your trepidation, but we feel in this era of tight budgets that this is the way to go with the both of these positions.”
If you don’t speak corporate ego-stroke, this means “Yeah, tough.”
A resume was handed to me. I was told I could interview anyone I wanted to, but I was to hire this person. I looked at his resume. He had been a realtor for several years but no real theatre experience. I talked to him (why bother? Well I wanted to see what I was getting into). He was okay, but left little impression except that he was leaving little impression. You may have noticed that so far in these missives I have left the names of the various persons out. This is on purpose. This person though deserves a name. I will call him “Jeff”, mostly because that was his name.
Within three weeks, I wanted to fire “Jeff”. He was a nice enough guy, pleasant, but I couldn’t find him most of the time during shows. He would disappear to his office and work on facilities problems, leaving the audience, volunteers and theatre to me. I would see him at intermissions when he would open the lobby doors, and then hang out to close them, and then disappear again. He was little help to me and I ended up taking on more and more of his duties. Like I said, I wanted to fire him, but I wasn’t allowed to. For one thing, he’d had been made my boss, not that I knew that. They kept that from me for a reason. Here’s that story:
One Seat Per Child’s Butt
SCT was doing a very popular show that December; “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” It was one of the most popular shows we’d done up to then and was selling out every performance. Now, one of the problems at SCT is having so many families as volunteers. It works great 99% of the time, but utterly fails in December. Most families either leave town during the holidays or have guests, meaning they can’t work their usual shifts. In fact, several shows had no one but my assistant and me; no volunteers, nothing. “Jeff” took this time to take a couple weeks off, leaving me completely alone during the schools Christmas vacation, our craziest time. I often had nobody, especially at evening shows where I also had a line of people hoping to get in, plus the nearly 500 who had tickets. If the fire marshalls ever saw that one…
I took to pulling people out of the long standby line to hand out programs on the promise they could then grab a seat. Sometimes I just set boxes of programs by the doors and let people take them themselves, tearing tickets and running the show by myself.
This lack of staff caused problems, but for sold-out shows the biggest problem was monitoring seating. SCT didn’t have reserved seats it was all open seating. I was forever running around, asking people to pull their families coats out of the seat they just stuffed them all into, or telling them if their child was sitting on the floor in front (we had floor seating the Martin Theatre), they could not also save a seat with them. That would be two seats for one child, and unless they had two tickets, that was a no-no. Now if I was stuck tearing tickets with no help, making people actually sit together without the ‘protection seat’ between them was impossible. This slowed everything down. This doesn’t count cast or crew sneaking people in from backstage, taking already sold seats. I ran a lot as house manger, up and down the grand staircase, in and out of the theatre, to the box office and back, in nearly constant movement. I was fast. I was younger then.
Now, why would they keep the creation of a new position over mine, and installing my assistant in it, a secret? They were afraid I would walk and they had no one to replace me. It was the busiest time at the theatre, “Jeff” was on vacation and wasn’t about to fill in for me. They were worried they’d be stuck. And they would. So, I worked extra hours filling in for the missing volunteers and the vacationing assistant and noting odd things happening.
“The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” ended with me drained and stressed. After the last show ended I was called into the new Managing Director’s office (we had one finally, the old Acting MD was now Development Director), along with the Concession Manager, the Gift Shop Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. My Official title was Front of House Manager and I was over the rest of the FOH departments (concessions, gift shop, other house mangers) and in charge of hiring and firing my own staff. I had been advocating my title be changed to Audience Services Manager and I be allowed to hire another house manager to take over those duties from me, but was told I was too valuable and popular where I was. Well, my desire had come true! Jeff my assistant was now to be Audience Services Manager, over me. I had been there five years at this point but had not been interviewed, consulted or even notified this was happening. Of course, it had already happened, five weeks earlier. I was stunned. I had wanted to fire the guy as useless and now he would be my boss. I muttered some phony congratulations got up and walked out, leaving the rest of the staff to shake hands and talk. As I left I was told to check my email, as changes were being made.
I Make a Decision Without Making One
I went to my rarely used office (it was upstairs, in a windowless room through two heavy locked metal doors and inconvenient enough I rarely bothered). I had a couple different emails from the Managing Director and “Jeff”. One warned me about going over 40 hours, something that had not been a problem before. As I was there six days a week, working shows and events, helping out other departments who used the lobby for various things, coordinating rentals and generally on site all day long, keeping below 40 was going to be nearly impossible. I told them so.
The other email was meant to reset FOH policies: paid ushers needed their shirts tucked in, and all shirts needed to have collars; no t-shirts of any kind. No sneakers, no knit hats, no jeans. Frankly, my ushers for the school shows were not paid enough to do anything but scrape by and a new wardrobe would be out of their immediate means. I was now annoyed. I got up, put on my jacket and headed back to the MD’s office. It was on the way home. Kinda.
The Managing Director was an email guy, meaning he preferred to conduct business and people at a distance. I am not. I walked into his office:
He looked startled.
“Uh, hi. Is there something I can do for you, Tom?” He said my name like he had never spoken it aloud before.
“Sure, about this new dress code.”
"Oh, yes, well, I, and the Development Director, and Jeff all think there should be more professionalism in the staff…”
“Which is why I train then to be polite, efficient and sensitive in helping the public. I have high standards. and they meet them”
“Right, well, we got some complaints, letters from parents about how they were dressing, that it was hard to tell the employees from the kids…”
“Oh, okay, can I see them?”
“Uh well, I don’t happen to have them right now. I can’t show you them anyway, but that’s not really important.”
“Well, I didn’t hire the ushers for how they dress, I do ask them to be clean, no torn clothes, neat. If we’re going to require something else this late in the season it might be a problem.”
“Well, the rules are the rules…
“I’m saying these are new rules, and it might be a while before they can be implemented, or we can give them a raise so they can meet the new requirements.”
“I don’t see why this would be a problem.”
“Which is why I’m here. They’re poor kids, barely making it, they might need some time to upgrade their wardrobe.”
“Okay, I really think we’ve spent enough time on this.”
“Me too. Thanks for the time, I appreciate it.”
I walked out. I had made a decision. I knew what downgrading my position meant, I knew what putting “Jeff” over me meant. I had already seen it happen, the ‘non-firing firing’. It was now my turn. I had decided I would fight.
What? Another part? Next time the National Labor Relations Board and the fire marshals get involved and a surgeon pokes a finger into my chest for emphasis.