The Business of Show Biz: How Do I Change My Image?
Monday, February 25, 2013
By Velina Brown
Q: I think I just wasted a huge amount of time doing staff work, giving artistic support for a theatre company where I really wanted to direct. But now that's over. I just got some news that makes it clear I'm never going to get a chance to direct there. I was paying my dues and waiting my turn. All my loyalty and cheerful helpfulness has backfired. It's obvious they only see me as a good little worker bee who makes great cookies and not as a director. Meanwhile, others have breezed in and stepped right over me. How do I change my image and be seen as something more than "the help"?
| Actor and career consultant, Velina Brown.
A: Let's assume that you are a capable director. I don't have all the details about your situation. However, based on what you've shared, here are some thoughts I hope will be helpful. As the saying goes, "Eat the fish and spit out the bones."
First, it depends on your perspective whether the work you're doing makes you "the help" or part of the engine that keeps the theatre going. Running a theatre company "takes a village," and every aspect is important to helping it survive and thrive. You are not "the help" because you aren't directing. However, you clearly feel like "the help" because you aren't doing what you want to do. Spending "a huge amount of time" on things you don't want to do creates an unclear image of who you are.
Part of how others see you is based on what you teach them about yourself. Did you ever share with the powers that be that you wanted to direct? I ask because often people carry their deepest wishes in their heart but don't ever share them out loud. They hope someone will somehow divine their desires. But when the telepathy never happens they leave in a huff, pointing to others who "cut in line" and got opportunities without "paying their dues." Sometimes the situation is unfair. Often though, all that happened is the person who was clear about what he or she wanted got what he or she wanted. The person who wasn't clear didn't. You teach people what you want by telling them what you want.
Did the folks at the theatre ever see or hear of you directing other places? You teach people what you want by letting them see you go after it.
Based on what you've said, you taught the folks at the theatre that you are loyal, cheerful and helpful, will wait your turn and like to bake. All lovely qualities but probably not the first adjectives used to describe a director.
One way to determine if your behavior choices are helping you move closer to or farther away from your goals is to observe those who are already where you want to be. For example, if most of the directors who work at the theatre frequently bring in baked goods, then clearly doing so is part of the overall culture of the organization. But if the people who direct are generally not the people handing out cookies, then your doing so is probably not helping the decision makers see you as a director.
How do they see you? The most direct way to find out is to ask for feedback. Only ask, however, if you are truly open to receiving it. I'm not suggesting you paint a target on your chest for the haters. Only ask people you truly respect and trust to be helpful. Ask if they are aware of anything you could have done differently that would have been more effective in achieving your directing goals. If possible ask the artistic director for feedback as well. You don't want to put anyone on the spot, and it's not the time to make arguments against the feedback you are receiving. Don't argue. Don't get defensive. Just listen. And say thank you, because honest and thoughtful feedback is a gift. But again, "Eat the fish and spit out the bones."
Finally, try assessing how you feel about your job more frequently. Are you still interested, excited, appropriately compensated, challenged, fulfilled? Based on your answers, make some conscious choices rather than unconsciously letting the time go by until you suddenly awake with a start, feeling like you've "wasted a huge amount of time."
"Waiting your turn" at one theatre creates the image of someone who waits. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The way to create the image of a director is to direct, wherever and whenever you can. When you invest your time and energy in things you really want to do, you'll feel happier and your behavior will reflect an accurate image of who you really are.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at email@example.com.