• Sherryl-Lee Secomb

Don't stew the fish.

How do you deal with difficult people in the theatre? You know the ones; always rude or short tempered, who seem to have no concept or care about their impact on those around them.

If you’re anything like me, your first reaction is to smack ’em round the head with a wet fish. Of course, your second reaction should be to fry the fish and move on but you don’t. You stew the fish instead, having the conversation you wish you’d had, over and over in your mind.

Snappy smack downs that make you look like a hero but totally destroy the dignity of the offender. Yep, that feels good for about a minute and then you remember it’s all in your head and nothing has changed. You still have to turn up to your next rehearsal and live in the real world, only now it’s worse because all you’ve ‘rehearsed’ is your verbal destruction of the other person.

Good grief, I hate passive aggressive behaviour. I hate it because I’ve done it but I’ve realised that this approach to life is a complete waste of my mental energy. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out but I want to share 4 lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

If you want to get on with those you work with in community theatre you have to accept these 4 truths – 

  1. Not everyone is going to like you.

  2. You can’t take offence at things that don’t matter.

  3. Respect for others is required to live with 1 and 2.

  4. You’re a grown up.

Not everyone is going to like you. When I started the Idiot project I was determined to be myself. That meant owning what I said, telling it like I saw it and loving the people I write for – the people of community theatres. That’s who I am and I speak what I believe. The reason I do this is because I am so passionate about encouraging community theatre to be more. I love everything about what we all do and I am determined to make an impact while I am on this planet.

That said, I’m human and if I let my guard down, I can creep into people pleasing mode. Ironically, the blog posts that have the most impact are the ones where I am true to myself, strong and not aiming to please but rather to equip.

Be truthful and honest with yourself otherwise you’ll miss many great years, too busy being a version of yourself that you were not meant to be. Be brave and own it. The world needs the real you.

It can be tough to realise that not everyone you meet will like you but if you want a full life, you’re gong to have to accept that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea – and that’s ok.

Can we please stop behaving like 14 year olds when someone steps out of line and offends us. You know what I mean – someone makes an off hand remark that is insensitive and instead of maturely challenging them on it, we clam up and behave like a school child in the principal’s office.

How about we try being grown-ups and set some boundaries for ourselves. The truth is we can allow people to speak to us that way. If they are insensitive and rude, that’s on them. But if we allow them to continue to be insensitve and rude, that’s on us. By the way, stand up for those who are fragile and unable to set boundaries. “Use the force for good, Luke”.

Be a grown-up and quietly tell them that you don’t allow people to speak to you that way and that they need to find another way to communicate with you – you have that right. 99.9% of the time, they will be shocked, mortified or at least embarrassed.

The trick is respect. As difficult as it is, you have to swallow that tirade you’d like to unleash. Be unemotional, speak quietly and respectfully. You may not end up friends, and that’s ok. Your objective is to set up boundaries of communication that allow you both to work together.

Here’s a secret: you don’t have to love everyone you work with but you do have to treat them respectfully. Theatre people get way too emotional far too quickly. Keep your heads, people.

A note to those of you who speak from a heart of contempt for others or are just insensitive, arrogant and rude – get your head out of your arse and learn that you are not the centre of the universe. Respect those around you as people with lives outside the theatre, with difficulties and struggles, and open your eyes to the potential in every person.

If you truly don’t like what you’re doing, get out and find where you’re really meant to be. If you are accidentally insensitive or so stressed that your words are a reaction to your life, own it and apologise.

Finally, a word to leaders/directors – company culture comes from the top down. The group reflects the leadership. Make sure you’re reflecting the right stuff.

Now, I need a red wine.

Sherryl-Lee Secomb is An Idiot On Stage. The Idiot exists to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary.

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© 2020 by Sherryl-Lee Secomb

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