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How We Do Business

My high school theatre teacher had a strict moral code of expectations for members of our theatre community. Some of it exists in the contract we sign at the top of a show process, but most of it exists in verbal lore – he referred to it (and continues to refer to it) as “how we do business”.

Nothing in it was unreasonable or out of the ordinary – “how we do business” stretches from how to treat one another, to how to take care of woodshop equipment. I’ll give you some examples:

  • show up 15 minutes early, (that’s how we do business)
  • always throw away used screws because recycling them for another use is unsafe (that’s how we do business)
  • no eating in the theatre (that’s how we do business)
  • respect one another (that’s how we do business)
  • eye contact and names (that’s how we do business)(it goes on and on.)

it’s essentially like a spine, or a mission statement. every action can be held up next to and measured by “how we do business”. if a cast member, technician, or student at our summer program, is being unkind to others, or eating in the seats of the theatre, etc. the language “that’s not how we do business” gets straight to the point.

i still find myself heavily abiding by this spine, without even knowing it. i can’t help but greet people by name over and over, even if i’ve seen them three times already, and i am a giant scared-y cat about even opening a cough drop in the audience of a ‘formal’ theatre space.
this experience gave me a strong sense of justice. someone could be the best actor in the program, but if they show up late for strike, eat in the PAC, or act like a jerk to their peers – they would not be rewarded with role opportunities. straight up. how we do business. (there were a few exceptions to this, but in four years, out of the 100+ members of the theatre program at any given moment, i could count them on one hand.)

this phrase has returned and echoed in my mind recently, surrounding the hip hop team i am on – and have written about at length in prior posts.
this semester, i was truly ready to devote half my heart, time, and energy to it – an enormous commitment given my class/rehearsal schedule. however, in recent weeks, i have found myself supremely disappointed in my team.

at the top of each semester, each member of the team signs a contract. the contract is extensive, and lays out the entire structure of the team, semester, and expectations of each member. our very own “how we do business”, if you will. don’t show up late, be a positive member of the family, present choreography once per semester, etc. over and over again in the contract and in the lore of the team, “family” is emphasized. we’re all about family. our hashtag is literally #fufufam.

as i mentioned in a previous post, every member of the team has to learn and audition for every dance in the set. myself and my fellow BFA team member, Cam, have to miss practice once a week, which means on average we miss learning somewhere around two dances and miss two auditions each. this means that in order to get the choreo, we have to schedule extra help sessions with choreographers and submit audition videos, or find time outside of practice to audition for our pieces.
i am rigorous about this. i communicate with choreographers asking for notes, teaching sessions, and audition times. this semester especially i worked at this, and trusted myself in dance more than ever – as my previous posts also alluded. i was so excited to be an integral and involved part of the set, as a hard working senior who is a consistent, communicative, positive member of the family.

then, two weeks ago –
saturday night i had looked at the choreography spreadsheet, where each choreographer lists every person they have put in their dance – and i saw myself no where. i read the lists again and again, and my heart sank and sank. i saw the names of freshmen, the names of negative ensemble members, and the names of people who are serially late for practice. but my name was no where to be found, not even on the “people in dynamics on the side/back” lists.
i had two performances on sunday, one at 10:30 AM and one at 7pm, and a 9pm show to attend after. (also, it was the week before showcase!! yikes!!) I performed in the morning, then met with Cam at panera to work on our choreography – then showed up for 1-4pm dance practice with my all-gold show makeup still on.

from 1-4pm, while three out of the six dances in our set were staged, i sat there. unused. i literally could have been grocery shopping or doing laundry or washing off my makeup, but there i was. i felt like a fool.
i watched my peers, my generation, omit me from their pieces. again and again i sat in heartbroken disbelief. but felt like i was potentially overreacting.
that is, until a freshman scootched over to me and whispered, “can you not perform this semester?” “no, i can!” “oh … then why the fuck aren’t they putting you in any of these dances?”

i walked calmly to the bathroom, and broke into a million trillion pieces. i wept like an infant. my feeling of injustice was validated and seen by someone who has only been on the team for a few months. to this moment, i still don’t understand why i am not even placed in the back of some of these dances. i really can’t be that much of a detriment to these pieces? am i a Big Dance Eyesore? i never thought i was too bad but maybe????

Cam, angel that he is, checked in and encouraged me to confront the executive board (made up of our generation), because he felt something was seriously amiss as well. Time and time again Cam has confronted the executive board for their actions and words not lining up – i never have, but this day i did – mostly crying. he sat next to me the whole time and any time i ran out of words, he had more to catch me. i was not speaking to EBo expecting to be re-staged into the dances, i simply needed to purge my feelings of betrayal, disbelief, and invisibility before i could move forward as a positive artistic collaborator.

one of the reasons i was given for not being placed in a piece was: “i watch every audition video and just look at the bodies in space and how they do the dance. every year it gets personal and someone gets hurt, but just know that i stage it blindly without thinking of who the specific person is.”

these magic words perfectly illuminated exactly my feeling of injustice.
i responded, (stay with me, it’s gonna get weird for like one millisecond)

“right now, there is an issue that is pervasive surrounding this word ‘blind’ in the theatre community. it’s called ‘color-blind casting’ – (i explained the phenomenon, i’ll spare you) – essentially, the problem with ‘color-blindness’ boils down to making casting decisions while purposefully omitting the vast contexts beneath the human beings that you are putting onstage. it is ineffective and hurtful no matter how you twist it. my experience is totally different and has nothing to do with race, but the concept of ‘blindness’ seems to have a through line. the contexts beneath me – as a hard worker, a positive energy, a senior, and a member of your generation – were traded in for anyone with seemingly better dance skill. even if they were a negative energy, a freshman, or constantly late to practice. so of course this got personal. i know we used to operate as a team that staged seniors first and worked our way down to freshmen” *he nodded*  “and since we have stopped doing that our team has gotten a lot better and more recognized” *he nodded* “but i think that means that we have to revisit what we say we care about (family) versus what we may actually care about (winning).” *the color drained from his face*

it’s truly not about ego or how many dances i am in. it is someone preaching one version of “how we do business”, and practicing another version, that utterly shakes me to my core.  (which also explains why i was recently so enamored by the consistent alignment of Taylor Mac’s spoken beliefs and behavior)

my feelings towards the team have moved from passionate devotion to disappointed indifference in a matter of weeks. injustice completely deflates me. i am going to carry out the semester because i love to dance and i love the individual members of the team. i guess it’s the establishment i’m raging against? i don’t know. i have to remember that not everyone studies empathy, humanity, and collaboration for 12 hours every day. i also probably have to get off my high horse about that and remember we’re all learning. ????????  i don’t know. that’s what I got.

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