Sunday, July 22, 2007

Crazy Dictator Syndrome

If I put a little more effort into it, I could probably have other people produce my plays more often. Currently a group out in Pueblo Colorado wants to do my adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, but that’s it.

I’m currently working on an adaptation of Jane Eyre that I plan to produce myself. Producing theatre is a big money pit, but it’s worthwhile to me because I get to have control over everything associated with my play, and more importantly, I get to avoid people with an advanced case of crazy dictator syndrome.

I work for Corporate America which has its share of people with authoritarian personalities. But those dictators have nothing on the crazy dictators. While dictators may have arbitrary, stupid, pointless rules that must be followed, or else, what truly distinguishes crazy dictators is that they have secret rules that must be followed or else.

I have two competing theories for why the world of the arts has such a high percentage of crazy dictators. One is that the world of the arts is to an extent a dumping ground for the insane and the incompetent. Which is probably not an entirely bad thing for society. A badly written play doesn’t kill the way a badly performed operation does. Although I’ve seen plenty of plays that made me want to rip my own head off, but it hasn’t come to that. Yet.

My other theory is that the crazy dictators are aspiring or practicing artists who find themselves in a bureaucratic position of an arts organization and they resent the hell out of it. Of course they have to keep the job, because arts administration pays much better than actually doing anything artistic. Also, chances are they got the job because they know some bigwig associated with the arts organization who had to pull a few strings and it would seem ungrateful to quit too quickly.

So they’re gonna keep the job so they don’t have to work for Corporate America to pay the bills, but they sure as hell are not going to become some dull gray efficient little bureaucratic. They are still an Artiste, and as we all know, Artistes don’t concern themselves with details, and hierarchies and time schedules.

So they approach the issues of details and hierarchies and time schedules with what must surely be deliberate incompetence.

I recently worked with a crazy dictator, and from the very first meeting with him I sensed that things would not go well, by the way he refused to discuss details about the theatre in which my group would perform. I kept asking questions, and I kept getting these vague responses and shrugs and “we’ll sees.” He did make some vague mention about a platform on wheels that we could use, but since he wouldn’t give me anything definite about the platform, like, say its dimensions so that I could determine whether or not I could use it in my set, I ignored the platform suggestion.

Now the Artiste crazy dictator abhors a rigid hierarchy, as long as everybody knows that the crazy dictator is at the top of the heap. But it isn’t enough to be at the top of the heap. The crazy dictator wants to believe that those below truly want the crazy dictator to be on top, out of admiration and affection. And so it is doubly difficult to challenge the crazy dictator because to even hint that you aren’t thrilled to submit to him is to admit that you don’t adore the crazy dictator. He will mark you as one of the Ungrateful.

The crazy dictator I mentioned, we’ll call him Mal, must have got it into his head somehow that I did not admire and adore him, and he responded by being continually bad-tempered and nit-picking. I worked hard to make sure my group – we were part of a festival so there were lots of groups – observed all rules and were as courteous and considerate as possible. But there were those secret rules, which Mal would only reveal to us after we broke them. Through the use of secret rules he was able to remain in a constant state of indignation towards us.

Of course, as is common with dictators, we were held to much, much higher standards than the dictator himself. Like the time that he scheduled us to rehearse in the theatre, and then left us out in below-freezing weather while another group – friends of his – used the theatre to rehearse during our scheduled time. Whether this was sheer incompetence and carelessness on his part, or yet another screw-you is hard to determine. Crazy dictators are a lot like George W. Bush in that respect. I think that Mal technically apologized, but in such a way that it managed to sound like an accusation.

And when a flat that was part of the set almost fell forward and crushed the audience (members of the crew held it up until intermission, but it ruined our scene changes), you can't prove that the carelessly-placed C-clamp was deliberate sabotage. But at the very least, it sure was carelessly placed. I heard that one of the actors bumped into the flat, but it was hard not to, since Mal insisted that we had to have the platform – the one that he mentioned at the beginning of the production, but then wouldn’t give me details about – in the extremely narrow area that constituted “backstage” of our set. It seems that Mal believed that he acquired the platform for our benefit. Even though I never said I wanted it. But in his mind, no doubt, I was capricious and ungrateful, and he was going to make me pay for that.

I’ve heard from lots of other people about nightmare arts administrators who want to make sure that all the artists they know suffer for their art. And I personally had contact with two other crazy dictator arts administrators in the past year. That makes a total of three, counting Mal. The total number of arts administrators I’ve dealt with in the past year – also three.

Sure, they’re irritable in part because they don’t like having a desk job, but at least they aren’t working for Corporate America, which has an even lower opinion of artists than arts administrators. I work with a group of people who are typical, I expect, of Corporate America. Occasionally I go to lunch with them in an attempt to seem semi-social, and I suffer through their deadly dull conversations about the latest consumer items they purchased, and what a great deal they got on them, because occasionally I’ll hear some useful gossip about the big bosses. I did make the mistake of discussing my theatre work once, resulting in the following conversation:

Them: So why do you do theatre?

Me: I really love it.

Them: How much money do you make?

Me: None. I lose money.

Them (ignoring me from now on): lose money? Why would you do something that loses money?

Them: must be some kind of hobby.

Them: yeah, I guess so. So I got one of those automatic pool-cleaning gadgets. Forty bucks.

Them: Forty bucks? You can get it at Costco for thirty-five.

But like I said, it’s probably just as well for society that these unfair, irrational people, these crazy dictators, end up in arts administration. Look what happens when they get real power, like in North Korea. Or the present US administration.