…is, of course, the flip side of Working from Home. I find myself surrounded by stacks of books, yellow pads turned to their last page, spiral phone logs, several piles of books on my coffee table, my dining room table, my bedside table. The end of my piano sports a stack of multiple copies of plays purchased back in May when we mistakenly believed that the Coronavirus would be leaving with the warm summer weather. In a way, it did, it went right down to be the beach, flipped open its chair, poked its umbrella pole into the sand, cracked open a nice frosty one and has been high-fiving everyone who walks by since.
Today, while seated on my ergonomic ball chair, holding the keyboard in my lap as I took notes during a meeting, I looked at the chair next to my makeshift desk and that pile of yellow pads really began to irk me. I’m usually a tidy person at home. Frankly, my desk at work is never tidy, always full of notes, calendars, to do lists; the work of a production manager, though organization-oriented, happens in the midst of disorder. There may be production managers reading this with horror, tut tutting behind their monocles at my lack of professionalism or organizational aplomb. I accept that, but realized today that I’ve allowed my work disorder to invade the serenity of my home. Damnit! That’s not okay!
We production managers share many things in common (maybe not the monocle-wearing ones):
- Love of stationery supplies
- Tendency toward workaholism
- Ability to jump from project to project and pick up where you left off
- Ability to make piles on the desk so that those projects left off can get lost
- Attention to detail
- Ability to gloss over imperfections
- Affection for crosswords or puzzles of any kind
- ADHD with a dash of OCD
- Tendency to be bossy
- Fear of silence in conversations
- Ability to take charge to fix awkward silences
- Love of laughter
All of these things are at play on my makeshift desk in the middle of my living space.
The thing about working at home is that I can start as early as I want and work as late as I want. While working at home while living alone alone, there’s no one to say “you should stop working.” There’s also no one from your office at home and so if you choose to go to a bookclub meeting at 2pm on a Thursday for an hour, you know that you can make up that time at 9:30 Thursday night. Or at 8:00AM the next morning. With no one being the wiser.
Stir in a little pandemic and there’s the inevitable life work cocktail. When you are living at work, there is not ever going to be a work-life balance. Today with my book club members (we just finished reading Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”), we were talking about the recent demands from the collective BIPOC group “We See You White American Theatre,” specifically, the demand to abolish 10 out of 12s. For those of you who are not in the theatre, 10 out of 12s are what technical rehearsal days are called. The term describes the length of work hours within the span of the day. In other words, you work for ten hours and have two hours worth of breaks. Depending on the contract you are working, there can be anywhere between two to ten of those technical rehearsal days consecutively. It’s brutal. And really, for stage managers, production managers, and theatre staff, 10 out of 12s is not even an accurate description of the length of the actual work day. It refers only to the actors’ span of day. The reason it is on the WAT demands list is that it allows zero flexibility for people with obligations outside of work. It privileges those people who have the income to hire support people at home, or have partners to share the burden during those insanely long days.
We also talked about the culture of bravado among hoary old practitioners like me who have worked in the theatre for over thirty years. The war stories are legion about how hard we worked and how beautiful the show was and how we never missed work for illness or family functions or… well, life.
I’m not saying I would trade a nanosecond of my beautiful life in the theatre. I was fortunate to have a partner who also had made his life in the theatre under the same circumstances. We passed our child back and forth between us backstage when we were both working. I remember our son bobbing for apples on Halloween in the basement of the Doolittle Theatre with Alan Alda looking on. Or standing in Bea Arthur’s dressing room in the basement of the Pasadena Playhouse when our son ran in the door and gave me a hug. We still managed to support his travel hockey. I don’t think he had a terrible childhood. We’re still speaking, at any rate. But we didn’t do it alone. We had a lot of additional help.
I also remember asking to take a leave of absence during a production to go take care of my mom who was dying of lung cancer and having the director give me a hard time about it though I had an amazing assistant who was more than qualified to take over the show. I still feel bad about his response and my feelings of guilt for walking away from the show. Hey, don’t we work in the humanities?
Maybe it had to take a world pandemic to shake us out of our fundamentally unhealthful habits. That may be the one upside to COVID-19. I don’t see us returning to a restoration of the work schedules we didn’t question before. We survived them. Can’t we do better than surviving in the theatrical workplace? Let’s see what equity looks like when human considerations are intentionally applied.
But I digress. See the list above – chronic ADHD. Back to the piles of books around my house. While I don’t have beautiful built in bookcases, I do have shelves. Lots of them. And they’re full. I’ve gone through periods of purging belongings to make room for new belongings, including when we moved about twelve years ago to our current apartment, halving our habitat and shedding about nine boxes of books. My husband loved actor autobiographies. We have probably three hundred actor biographies and autobiographies here on what two years ago became my shelves. While I have read many of the biographies, I don’t know that I would read them again. Happily, I’m reading a lot. And it pains me to part with anything that belonged to my husband. But I also know that I need to populate my shelves with new ideas, new interests. Reduce the clutter and restore order to my home…office.