#1341: “How to keep the DRAMA out of drama?”

Good Morning,

This post was originally on Reddit but for several reasons the mod didn’t approve of my question so I’m sending it off you you, Captain.

I belong to a Theatre Company that has had some shakeups in the last year. There was an issue with a man who allegedly had relations with a minor, and then the woman who had the party where the minor was given alcohol. They were both discharged from the company.

Now, the remaining millennial friends of the people in question want to get rid of the “old people”, and make the community theatre a SJW protest theatre.

The first member of this company was a woman who went on FB bemoaning her personal life, saying that she can’t have happy relationships because she’s bi-racial. In actuality, she’s a tall awkward woman who lacks some social graces and makes poor decisions. After a rehearsal one night, she got drunk and blabbed about how she had some action with a guy in a convention parking lot and how hairy this guy was in bed. I posted in her open thread that perhaps it would be in her best interests not to air her dirty laundry in public, because she might lose respect from some people, make other people laugh at her behind her back, and make people think that she is a whiner. Well, one of her friends, who I’ll call “Kelli” responded to me, calling me a virtue signaler, and berated me for my actions. In the past, I’ve counseled and listened to this first woman when she was depressed, and also the same with Kelli when they fell upon hard times.

The second one was also involving Kelli and her BF, as they were going to attend a BLM meeting in Boston. Being white, I recommended some tips from a friend of mine to have them have bail money, a lawyer on speed dial, and in a joke to have good medical insurance in case the protest got violent. Kelli then again told me to mind my own business, even though they changed their minds and didn’t go.

The third instance was with a friend who I’ll call Stan: Stan was co-directing a play with an experienced director named “Jane”, who I’ve directed with. I gave Jane first billing in all the promo materials. Stan’s wife Lani did the same but did nothing for their show yet took first billing and took all the credit. Well, I asked Stan if it might be courteous to give Jane first billing because he is the intern director and it would be polite and respectful. Again, Kelli busted out again to me with virtue signaling accusations. I did apologize to Stan, and he total got where I was coming from.

So, AM I THE jerk for caring about my friends and trying to prevent any drama in the theatre company?

Thank you for any and all insight.

Hello there and thanks? for your question? 

I can’t lie, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. “Allegedly,” “SJW” and “virtue-signaling” scattered among a  series of incoherent tales of All The Times I Was The Best At Feminisms, Not Like Those Unappreciative B-words probably doesn’t add up to both of us having a good experience here. You do not seem to be a regular reader of this website, and I don’t know where you got the notion that I run the Am I The Asshole? Reddit Court of Appeals. If the good moderators of that community decide you might be too much of a jerk to even post there, who am I to disagree? 

And yet, I’ve been humming this song all week as I answer variations in the classic advice column genre “Dear Captain Awkward, who is more right here and why is it me?” from people who feel unappreciated by the other people in their lives, and your letter has helped me articulate a single guiding principle: 

When people don’t appreciate or reciprocate things you go out of your way to do for them, the first step toward rebalancing the equation is: Stop doing the things. 

Stop putting effort into things that make you resentful and unhappy and that other people don’t appreciate. Definitely stop doing things people have told you outright that they don’t appreciate. Let go of your end of the rope. Be free of the effort, the inconvenience, the bad feelings of resentment. Relinquish the illusion that “I’m only doing this for your own good because I care so much” is a gift to other people, when it’s more about your need to prove your importance.

You can’t control how other people will feel or what they’ll do, but you can control the part where you stop, so, stop. 

The rest of this post will be a list of things to stop doing and suggestions for what to do instead. 

Stop working on theater that doesn’t interest you.

Now that they’ve cleaned the house of some creeps, it sounds like your theater company is going in one artistic direction and your interests lie in another. People outgrow artistic collaborations all the time, so maybe find some like-minded souls and create theater that you won’t describe with open contempt. Theater still has tons of parts for the aging white man, juicy roles that were just waiting for you to grow all the way into your type, so dream big and trust that your “Glenngarrier Glen Ross” or “13 Ballistic Blokes” is still out there. 

Stop focusing all your social and friendship energies on your theater company and pursue (or rekindle) ties and interests where you won’t be so tempted to cross all of the streams all the time. Friends your own age who make you feel appreciated and who don’t need you to Know All The Things At Them are where it’s at. 

Stop  “listening” to the personal problems of young women in your theater. It seems to make you very angry and resentful, and your “wise, benevolent mentor” persona sort of falls apart if you dredge up all the stuff they told you in confidence (mental health issues, sexual history) every time they don’t behave in a way you approve of.

If you sense someone is about to cry on your shoulder in a way that you’re uncomfortable with, it’s fine to say “Oh, wow, that sounds rough, I hope you figure it out” and go home before they get into all the “dirty laundry.” 

Stop assuming that someone wanting help with one thing has invited your input on everything. If I ask you to install my towel rack today, it doesn’t mean you can let yourself in tomorrow and mess with my garbage disposal, and it doesn’t mean you get to speak to me and about me any way you like for the rest of time and expect me to be grateful. You say that you’re older than many of these people, which means you have more experience than they do with some things, but it doesn’t mean you know more than they do about everything, and it especially doesn’t mean you know more than they do about how to run their own lives. 

Stop trying to be the resident Black Lives Matter protest expert. “Being white, I recommended …”   Being white, if someone tells you your “joke” is kinda racist and unwelcome, your best bet is to say, “I’m sorry,” and then stop talking for a while, because the likelihood is that you know less about whatever it is, not more. 

About the series of “virtue signaling” feedback you’ve received, my read is that multiple people are telling you that they perceive your contributions as insincere and unwelcome attempts to score points. If you want to be involved in discussions about race, gender, and other social justice topics, find another role besides “Eminent Sage Who Explains Stuff To Other People And Gleefully Points Out Perceived Inconsistencies.”

Howabout “Earnest Newcomer Who Listens Far More Than He Speaks” for a change? A throwback to your ingenue days, to be sure, and possibly a stretch, but are you not such stuff as dreams are made on? You’ll never know what’s possible if you don’t try.

Stop giving advice unless you’re asked. Interpret “Was I asked?” extremely conservatively.

“But how can I tell for sure if someone’s asking when they post things publicly for all the world to see?” you may ask, and I will gladly break it down. 

  • Are there question marks and key words like “Advice needed:” or “Can anyone help me with ____?” No = Then keep scrolling. Mentioning a problem or a feeling does not equal wanting feedback about it. 
  • Are there question marks and did they mention you by name? “[Name], do you happen remember where we got the thingamajig?” No = Keep scrolling. 
  • Do you have the specific experience and knowledge they are asking for? Skinny people, you do not know where to buy fat people clothes, “I just get my jeans from the thrift store for $3.00” is not a transferrable experience. If you visited Chicago once, I’m glad you liked it, but it is unlikely that you know the best thin-crust pizza joint in my far-from-downtown neighborhood. PC users, you do not know where to find the best Mac thingamajigs and vice versa, and that is okay, you don’t have to know everything, but also, hush.
  • Know your history. Does giving advice to this specific person tend to make them bristle and cause an argument? Has this person told you that your advice, jokes, etc. are unhelpful and unwelcome in the past? After what you’ve described here, I think you can safely assume that “Kelli” and your other young colleague are all set for the rest of time, so stop advising them, period. 

I say this from the heart as someone who had to channel my “But I can help!” impulses into a whole decade-long Thing: People generally need you to be kind and treat them like authorities on their own lives way more than they need you to be informative or “right” at them. If someone wants your advice, they can ask. If you don’t weigh in on a general ask, and the person decides they want your advice after all, they can always find you later. Whereas, if you weigh in constantly where your advice is unwanted, you will come across as a patronizing ding-dong. Stop. 

Especially stop advising your colleagues about professionalism and “public” perception of their private behavior.

You mention that you’ve directed shows toward the end of your letter. Theater is a small world, as you know, and if I were in a position to hire or recruit theater directors in your area, and I saw you respond to a younger colleague who opened up about how race plays into her personal dating woes on her personal social media page with something that can best be summed up as It’s not your race, sweetie, it’s your personality,” calling her post “dirty laundry,” and issuing threats that she’ll “lose respect from some people (i.e. you), make other people (also you) laugh at her behind her back, and make people (you again, I’m pretty sure) think that she is a whiner”  as well as finding ways to bring up her body and sexual history when relating the episode later?

Yeah, good luck directing sock puppets in your laundry basket after that, ’cause I wouldn’t let you near a rehearsal room. 

Stop defining ‘DRAMA’ as ‘something other people create when they don’t listen to me and love what I tell them.’ 

If you want to reduce interpersonal conflict in your theater company, then start with your own contributions. 

Stop bringing up things people told you in confidence when they’re talking about something else. Stop inserting yourself into conversations that aren’t about you.

Stop mixing up people’s personal lives (including their problems) with their artistic contributions, and let their public reputation be their own affair. Conversely, if you think a colleague  is being inappropriate by sharing sexual stuff and commenting on a sex partner’s body during theater work time, then say so: “Whoa, too much information!” But don’t save it up and marinate it so you can toss it back to them in an unrelated venue. 

Pro-Tip: Between years of teaching and advising students and doing this job, I encounter lots of people when they’re just learning how to behave in certain environments and/or at low points in their lives and need a friendly ear, and one way I try to handle that trust and responsibility is to not bring up every mistake they’ve made or vulnerable thing they’ve ever told me whenever I interact with them. 

Stop concern trolling, by which I mean, the shady practice of pretending to be worried that “other people” will think a bunch of mean stuff about someone as an excuse for you to say all the mean stuff you think.That is classic Iago shit-disturbing behavior. Knock it off. 

Stop resurrecting zombie arguments. I had a hard time parsing – or caring about, to be frank – the dispute about theater billing, and I’m a film person, not a theater person, but I feel pretty sure that “How to properly credit co-creators in theater” is a question whose answer does not solely depend on who is the most right about what y’all threw together last time. If you want to be constructive, research professional billing practices and draft a consistent policy so nobody ever has to fight about it again. 

Stop having any online arguments with any people in your theater company. In fact, I suggest that you interact with them as little as possible online from now on. Unfollow their personal feeds, meaning you won’t see anything they post unless you are tagged. Keep your digital interactions with them focused on artistic collaboration and promoting shows. When mixing the personal and the professional is clearly not working, take a break! 

Verdict: The stories you tell about yourself are very consistent, in that almost none of these arguments would exist if you minded your business, so if an Asshole must be crowned to complete the ritual, congratulations on this sparkly tiara that spells out “BLESS THIS MESS” in rhinestones. You got the part. :bangs gavel:

However, that doesn’t have to be permanent. If you can stop doing most of the things that the people around you have failed to appreciate, I predict an immediate improvement in your own peace of mind and a collective sigh of relief from your fellow players. Break a leg out there!