Have you ever heard someone say, “If the audience is looking at that, then the actors aren’t doing their job.”? Do you know what that means? It is an excuse to do poor work. It is a way to pass the blame onto someone else. I’ve said it, and I’ve heard it at least once everywhere I’ve worked. And I am tired of it. When we do this, we are failing the company we work for, the team we lead, and we are failing ourselves. We have to do better.
In 2007 I was working at a summer repertory theater, it was about a third of the way through the season and we were getting ready for tech. Tech rehearsals here begin at 9pm and run until 2am, and we had been there since 3pm to do the changeover from the previous show into this one. After tech we would do another changeover back into the first show for rehearsal the next morning, leaving the theatre at about 5am. Then we would do it again the next day. It was double changeover season.
After the first changeover we had notes that we needed to work on to finish the set. There was a project that a crew member and I were struggling on. It was a piece of edging that was being added to some stairs, and we couldn’t get the piece to fit properly. We asked our supervisor what to do. He wasn’t sure, so he asked the Technical Director (TD). The TD came up, took a look, and proceeded to cut off about an inch (we didn’t know we could cut it), and of course it fit. But it was cut too short, producing about a half inch gap and it wasn’t square. Granted this piece was somewhere around mid-stage, which at this theatre is really far from the audience. At about 50 feet, the audience was unlikely to notice the space between the edging and the adjacent scenic unit.
When it was finally installed the TD said, “Theatre is macro, not micro.” Bingo! This was the excuse we were looking for. We were tired after working 16-hour days with no days off in about three weeks. Now we didn’t need to put in as much effort to get things done. There can be gaps, things don’t have to line up properly. From that moment on we didn’t need to worry about some of the smaller details, and as a result the quality of our work suffered. You know what we said? “If the audience is looking at that, then the actors aren’t doing their job.”
Leading is a full-time job. No matter how tired or stressed we may be as leaders, we cannot let the short-term solution guide us. When the TD let us get away with that little gap, we were basically told that we can take the easy route. It would have taken about four minutes to get a mark on that piece of edging, walk down to the shop, make the cut, then come back and install it. I would have gotten more satisfaction from my work, and I would have been prouder of what we were able to achieve. You are not doing yourself, or your crew, a favor by choosing the easy path. Take ownership of the project and push for higher standards.