The last 24 hours have been insanely intense.
As most of you know I have spent the last two summers in Oklahoma. Each time it has been stressful beyond belief and each time I’ve sworn not to go back. Last year my roommate Chuck, and about 10 of you, swore you’d never allow it. And yet, stupidly, when the time came to say no, I weighed the pros and cons, said yes, signed my contract and returned it.
And thus the stress began.
First up — getting paid.
As a designer, I’m usually paid in three or four installment. The first payment is made when the contract is signed and returned. Think of it as a retainer. At least half of this up front fee was money owed to me from last year that I’d been requesting since last July. I had made it clear to “The Director” that I needed the money owed me from last year as soon as possible. He agreed to pay me this money as soon as I signed and returned my contract. I returned my contract and no money came. My contract had a date that I was to receive my first payment and I was told by several people that I’d have to wait till the date passed before I could really say anything. Unfortunately, like every American, I had spent the money before it was mine. I didn’t actually spend it, but I did plan a trip to California, knowing that I could pay for most of the trip with my first check.
And March 15th, the day the check was due, came and went. And no check. So I drafted a letter saying that I wanted my money as promised. I explained that I’d been waiting on at least half of the amount for almost a year. I ended the letter by saying that I knew that many theatre companies in the country were having financial difficulties and if this was indeed the case to let me know, and I start looking for other summer work. The minute I sent the email I got a phone call back. Apology after apology and I was assured that I’d get my check immediately. He assured me that the oversight was just a mistake by his “new” office manager. Two days later I got the check.
And thus began the stress.
And it’s only gotten more stressful since.
The scenery designer, although a better artist, is awful at communicating his ideas. He designed the scenery without one of the most important pieces of information concerning the actual theatre itself. He just made educated guess, and was four feet off. This was only discovered when I started work on my design. To make matters worse, he seems incapable of drawing his plans with any accuracy. I have a dozen different documents from him and none of them match. In one instance there is a set of drapes and each drawing shows them located in a different space. When I email him to ask questions, his replies are curt and pointed, somehow suggesting that if I had half a brain I’d know the answer. And the icing on the cake? There are a number of lighting questions that have been unanswered because I was waiting to get information concerning budget, and design, and I have voiced my opinion on each of these items. On Sunday, the scenery designer met with my master electrician (the person in charge of implementing my design) and they made creative choices effecting my design. It was a meeting that should never have taken place without me, and the master electrician should have had no opinion other than to state whether my idea was plausible or not. Needless to say I was pissed.
And this isn’t even the worst of it.
For the past two years (and years before that from what I’ve heard) the people that run the performing arts center in which we perform, have made it very clear that they think the shows we do are over produced. They could be done with half the scenery, and more importantly, half the lights. Each year, the people in charge of the actual theatre within the complex that we perform in have done nothing but complain about our presence there. Several years ago someone there designed and implemented a rep plot (a generic lighting design that is almost always in the space) that they wanted everyone to use. And every other theatre company in the area abides by this request…except for us. The first thing we do when we arrive at the theatre is to strike their plot and hang ours. Their plot uses about 200 lights. Ours uses about 275. Their’s is very generic. Ours is very specific to our show. And each year they complain about the size and scope of our design. And they make snide comments. And they tell us how inappropriate is to have such a design. Of course no one has ever told us “no” and the first year when I asked for an inventory of the equipment at our disposal, I was told by the big man (who we all liked a lot) to design what I wanted and they would make it happen. And so I did. And last year I asked the same question, and was told the same answer.
Fast forward to this year.
Around the first of April, “The Director” was directed to a website that had been set up by the theatre to give us information about the festival that we perform as part of. Most of it was generic. Until we go to the technical information. There were serious limitations being imposed this year. The site made it clear than anything above what was provided the groups we would have to pay for. FUCK. So I called “The Director” and made it clear that this was insane and was directed at our productions only, since it really didn’t affect any of the other performing groups. Over the next several days a number of emails went back and forth and then it all exploded when “The Director” forwarded an email to the theatre that I’d written to him specifically. Nothing in the email was untrue, it was just not very nice. At this point I told “The Director” he was on his own, and to just let me know what my exact inventory list was, and that I needed a price list of what each item above and beyond the provided equipment would cost.
And that was the last I heard of it.
About two weeks ago I finally got the inventory list and price list from the theatre. And it was insane. To hang the show I designed last year it was going to cost us almost 8,000 dollars. Last year it was included. The provided inventory didn’t include half of what we needed. So I had my master electrician put together a cost analysis and I sent it off. And “The Director” took that information and forwarded it off. And the result was another round of snippy emails, with the theatre accusing us of blowing things out of proportion. There estimate of what our equipment would cost was 800. And so I received an email from “The Director that said, “We’ve got what we want. How about you just get started with designing now?” I guess that settled that. Of course I didn’t point out to “The Director” that they’d been pointedly vague in what the 800 dollars included, they still hadn’t provided an inventory list and were completely unwilling to discuss what the procedure would be for obtaining additional equipment above and beyond the initial request. Basically we were back where we started with no one willing to answer my questions.
By this point my head is ready to explode on a literal basis. Everyday I dealt with Oklahoma I ended up with a splitting headache. At least three times in the last two weeks I’ve called in sick because I was so anxious, angry and my head was hurting so badly that I couldn’t wait tables. And yet I continue to try and work on the shows.
When I checked email yesterday morning I found sitting in my inbox an email from the theatre in Oklahoma. It was a response to a question I’d asked more than a week earlier. After the signature of the email, there was an addition. And for almost a page it went on and on about the safety issues concerning the design from the year before. They dropped in a lot of five dollar words, and catch phrases, peppered with the word safety. The bottom line of their statement was that the catwalks over the audience couldn’t hold the weight of the lights that I wanted to add to the rep plot. I’m surprised I didn’t end up dead on the floor from all the anger I was feeling. IT WAS ALL BULLSHIT!!!. Bullshit. The first thing I did was do the math and we were adding about 1000 pounds of distributed weight to the catwalks. If it is not designed to take about 500 times that, then there is something seriously structurally wrong in the theatre. Unfortunately, they make it clear that unless we want to pay an inspector to come in and prove them wrong we are only allowed to add 20 lights to the catwalk and they can’t be where they were last year. On top of that, to request additional equipment, the request needs to be submitted via email and would be evaluated and a decision would be made as to whether the equipment would be made available. This is especially tricky since they don’t provide Internet in the building and so the request wouldn’t be able to be made till the end of the day.
All of this was insane. And it was making me insane. And the more I thought about it, the angrier it made me. And the angrier I got, the more I felt as though my head was going to explode.
And then I had to leave to go to the doctor. So I showered and headed downtown. And the minute I left my apartment an anxiety attack started. And it was the worst I’d ever had. To make matters worse I felt like I wanted to beat someone over the head with my umbrella. Everyone was pissing me off. It was taking every bit of concentration just to get to the train and get downtown without killing someone.
I finally got downtown and was about 45 minutes early. I called Adam to see if he’d like a coffee and so I went by to see him. As soon as he walked out he knew something was up. I explained and told him that I would be okay and that it was a good day to be going to the psychiatrist. And so I left him and went to the doctor. And by the time I sat down on the sofa in his office, it was worse than it had ever been. I couldn’t breathe, my throat was closing up, my chest was pounding, and I just wanted to throw something across the room. And I told him what was going on, the whole story. And the more we talked the worse it got. He asked me if I had any medicine that he’d prescribed for such an occastion and I told him no. He told me he didn’t have that, but had something else that would work, that was much stronger and that I should only take if I could go home right after the appointment.
And so I took half a tablet.
And we continued talking and for the first time in 10 years he told me what to do. He told me to go home and quit the Oklahoma job. And so I left. And by then the medicine was working.
And I hated it. I felt like someone had drugged me. Everything was fuzzy. My anxiety was gone but so was my strength and energy. I met Adam and we rode home on the train together. By the time we got home I could hardly hold my head up. I made it to the couch and collapsed. And for the next several hours I laid on the couch with my head in Adam’s lap. I was trying to stay awake, but it was hard. I was also starving. And I wanted a cheeseburger. So he ordered a cheeseburger for us and I was able to sit up enough to eat it, and then it was back down on the couch. Around 10:00 we headed to bed. And then I couldn’t sleep. I had convinced myself that I was going to have sleep paralysis. Once every five or six years this happens to me and it’s about as frightening and upsetting as you can imagine. And the fear of that kept me awake. It was well after 1:00 a.m. before I finally fell asleep. I woke up when Adam got up for work and my head was still spinning. He asked me a question and I answered it and he laughed and told me that he didn’t understand a word I was saying.
I was asleep before he left.
I got up around 10:00 and I was still groggy. I’ve been groggy all day.
Along with laying in Adam’s lap last night I was also discussing with Adam and Chuck about how to get out of the Oklahoma contract. And with their help I more or less constructed the letter in my head.
When I got up this morning, still hungover, the first thing I did was compose the letter. I then sent it off to Chuck and Adam for proofing. And after making some changes, at 12:40 p.m. I sent it off to “The Director” along with a text asking him to call me when he got the email. Chuck and I had had several discussions as to whether I should do this via email or over the phone. I agree it should have been done face to face, but the fact is “The Director” makes things personal. I wanted him to have a chance to react without me, before I presented him with my arguments. He called almost immediately. And he kept saying, “Don’t do this.” I felt like I was breaking up with him. I finally made him understand that the decision was made and nothing he said was going to make me change my mind.
And so we hung up.
And the deed was done.
I’m not going back to Oklahoma.