Don’t worry, I will hide your secrets with my smile

College is the place you go to learn about your craft. To become a student of your passions. I have always been an overachiever, and my college days were no different.

As part of most art based disciplines, my diploma was not only contingent on grades, but on projects and my ability to apply the knowledge that I had learned in practical situations. At my University, all Seniors were required to complete a final Senior Project before they were approved for graduation. I chose to use my Stage Managing skill to feature for this project, thinking it would be the least subject to opinion. If the show happens without incident, I did my job, what was there to debate — give the girl her diploma! Yeah……that didn’t quite go as I planned.

This particular production was a series of One Act plays, written by students and directed for the stage by our playwright professor. Three different shows, with three different casts, and three different playwrights to wrangle. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds, I promise.

Two of the shows went great. Even with a Wrestling/stage fighting component for one of the shows, they were both coming along just swimmingly. It was that third show. The cast didn’t like each other, didn’t pretend to get along and as a result often didn’t show up to rehearsal when they were scheduled. Now, the script definitely held a bit of angst between these characters, so having a little real life hostility come onto the stage didn’t hurt the show, but we needed them to SHOW UP for rehearsal so that we could at least stage it. Learning your lines would also be good, but lets AT LEAST get them to rehearsal first, worry about the lines later.

It got so bad at one point, the Director looked at me and said I needed to start learning the lines of the leading lady. Um, excuse me? Shelley does not act. I can sing, I can step back and forth in time with the music, I can perform first aid on a cast member without blinking an eye while inside I am panicking wondering if their finger is still out on stage, but recite LINES on stage in front of ….PEOPLE? No thank you. I am quite happy backstage in my blacks. Luckily, I didn’t have to go on, but our leading lady was less than cooperative and made most of the production pretty miserable for me, and the rest of the cast. I was beginning to doubt that they would let me graduate because I didn’t have a magic wand to get this woman to fall in line. I was under the impression that a Stage Manager should be part magician/part hypnotist. This was a delusion that I grew out of with some experience, but at the time I was mortified.

Finally the day came, when I had to stand up in front of three professors and my fellow Seniors and discuss my project. I told them all that had happened and all that I had done to try to manage the situation. I answered their questions, and then I got one of what ended up being the most sage pieces of advice I would ever get in my college career.

One of the professors looked at me and told me this. “You will learn in your professional life that the truly talented performers, the ones who truly ARE talented and secure in their gifts, will be the ones that are the most joy to work with. They don’t need to drag you down to make themselves look better, they will do their job and you will do yours and that is where some live performance magic can happen. It’s the ones that will give you trouble, that will try to make you miserable, that will fight you at every turn, that if you can take a step back you will see that they are the ones that really aren’t that talented. They are creating all this strife in an effort to mask the fact that they never had any talent to begin with. Go forward knowing that, and it will make all the difficult times that much easier, because you will know the truth.”

In case you were wondering, I had no trouble getting my diploma. I passed that project with flying colors and received high marks from all the professors in that room.

At the time, I took comfort in knowing that I couldn’t have prevented the chaos that surrounded that show. In my professional career of nearly 20 years now, I have come across many more artists, clients, fellow technicians, etc. that have tried to give me grief and drag me down. But then I remember, and I take a step back and smile to myself, because I know why. Suddenly, the whole situation becomes more bearable, and I can smile to myself. They are just trying to hide what I already know.

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