Ghosting in Theatre

I wasn’t going to write this blog because I didn’t want to carry negative stuff over with me in to this wonderfully positive and creative New Year I am having, but it wouldn’t shut up inside of me. 

I also made a promise to myself last year after 20 plus years in my industry to finally stop swallowing down other people’s bad behaviour and to try and politely call it out instead; so I have decided to let these words out so that negative people, thoughts and feelings can fuck right off. 

I also think the only way for things to get better in my Industry is to share the bad stuff so others may feel they can too.

There were 3 particular occasions last year (but also others not necessarily about producers) that really upset me, where producers that I had been communicating with just completely ghosted me and stopped answering my emails. But I must also say in fairness, I have since received an apology from one of them…

One situation was after a meeting where I had been very open about my work and life because a lot of my work is autobiographical and then an email conversation began. One was after a producer had approached me in the first place, then we had a couple of, what felt like positive meetings with them then inviting me to send them a proposal of ideas for a Festival they were part of curating. And then the last one was after us having been in touch off and on for quite some months. Then just silence at different times, from them all. 

But before the silence there is often an awful lot of tardy communication on their behalf with them taking weeks or months to get back in touch about things, then saying, “sorry I am just so busy!”

What? And am I not?

It is such a horrible and damaging thing for them to do and you go through all of the thoughts of, did they get my email? Are they just too busy and overlooked my document? So you do the exhausting follow up thing with the polite nudges to cover all the bases and inevitably you end up being made to feel like a total desperate arse (and I am not) in the process with them still not coming back to you.

What you also then do (or I do anyway) is, you start to turn their poor behaviour inward on yourself because you think you’d best not speak out about this stuff because you don’t want to appear rude or piss anyone off and so you carry it, you drag it around. Oh the irony and complete ridiculousness of it all.

Of course there are many wonderful producers of all kinds in my life that I deal with as an Independent Artist and who do not behave this way and who are just lovely and supportive and nurturing. But I certainly find them harder to locate…

I am an independent Artist so I have no-one to hide behind. I drive pretty much all of my own communications and projects as well as make the work. I don’t have the luxury and protection of my own trusted producer, a building, an organisation or an admin team supporting me so it can get incredibly busy and isolating in an industry where there is a lot of toxic behaviour and treatment going on. 

But there are many pluses though about being an Independent Artist - I get to be an independent maker and thinker. I am in love with my job, I get to travel and have global conversations, I can multitask like you wouldn’t believe and I am mostly employed to make the work I truly want to make. I set my own rules and standards of what is acceptable treatment to me and others in my industy and that’s a real hoot too…

Throughout the second half of last year I decided to do something unprecedented for me (I am rubbish at asking for help but getting better). I started to reach out to some of my colleagues and friends in the industry who I respect; some who I have known for a long time and some not so long, for advice. Advice about situations that were upsetting me in the Industry or just things I was needing to bounce, say about funding applications or fees and costings for some of my larger projects. All the things that I was finding really challenging as an Independent and I would historically just struggle on with alone. I must add that I never revealed or disclosed personal details to my colleagues as to who was upsetting me, just a general gist of what was going on.

It was a beautiful comfort to me to know that in times of need I can reach out and ask my colleagues for help and get it, because every single one of them that I reached out to all came back to me with support. Some within minutes, some within a day or two but none of them took weeks or months and none of them didn’t come back to me at all. These are all colleagues who have been in the industry like myself for a very long time and who are thought of as successful, respected and also very busy. 

Awesome, all good there!

But it did make me start to think; so what is the problem then within other layers of the Industry? Because there are big problems with transparency and open communication within the Theatre industry. 

Are those, not always but sometimes younger in career producers who range from independent, attached to buildings and organisations being overworked and asked too much of? Are they being treated badly by some of those from above so they are passing it on? Are they being fast-tracked on schemes in their jobs and so not putting in the actual real time it takes to learn the true and vital skills of a brilliant producer? About trust and risk between Artist and Producer, about nurturing and about how to communicate and deal with Artists and others within the industry? Or are they actually just shite humans on a power trip? I don’t have all the answers but it feels good to be asking the questions for things to improve, even if it is just for myself.

I have a strong body of work behind me and a long career in Theatre - I dread to think how this all goes for Artists who are just starting out…

I am now back based in my home City of Dundee after a very long time away and I am in a place where ‘I am really busy’ is just not good enough because I am also very busy, yet when anyone contacts me no matter how busy I am, I always endeavour to respond in a timely manner.

Once upon a time in a previous life I worked in the Chief Executives private office within the Scottish Parliament and I was also the Private Secretary to the Director of Communications and the Head of News within the Communications Directorate in the Scottish Government. Then there have been a million other, some might say, menial jobs and office jobs in the past. It is 2 to 3 working days as standard for a response within Business and if you don’t know the answer, a holding email until you do, then 5 days to 7 days at the most to finally respond. 

Listen up Arts!! 

It’s completely unacceptable behaviour to ignore people and it’s time to change. Just have the manners to be straight and let people know if you no longer wish to communicate with them.

Or if it is that you are struggling in your workload, take a deep breath and speak up - you are never alone! Constantly living your life in your ‘out of office’ or saying people’s emails keep going to your spam box as a reason not to communicate is poor on everyone and we don’t buy it!

How truly open to others are you?

How truly open to others are you?