Having had a break from Beeston Musical Theatre Group for 4 years it was good to see what’s changed. Sadly not much has.
Let me bring you up-to-date. I was a member for about 7 years and in the final couple of those I moved to being their Stage Manager. I decided I missed the stage so decided to perform again but with lots of friends having departed and the imminent arrival of my youngest daughter I abandoned it and, for 4 years, BMTG totally. During the latter few years of working with BMTG I feel I’d been treated rather rudely and so, to be honest, were glad to leave.
Earlier this year I was lured back onto the stage by another group, named The Cast, and, after persistent requests for me to help out with their new show, I returned to BMTG. But, as much as many of the faces have changed not much else has. Some of the same people are still in charge but those that are new to it, I can only assume old habits have simply been passed baton-style from those that came before.
I guess the issue is that I’ve been spoilt by being a member of The Cast. They are a very modern, trim group – there are no committees or rules. Everybody, adults after all, “mucks in” and helps out. No one is regarded as a “principal”, everyone pulling together and treated equally.
BMTG, in contrast, are old fashioned and rather monolithic. Run by a strict set of principles and a large committee, they still somehow seem to be dis-organised. Often, I suspect, this is as a result of egos as culture such as this is always like to breed people who crave power. Meantime, the humble members are messed about, treated like children and, quite often, simply ignored. There is a clear class structure within BMTG and all it does is cause damage.
Indeed, me re-joining BMTG was based upon a condition I set. I’m seen as a new member as I haven’t paid membership for a number of years. Fair enough. However, although I’ve been a member before and I was asked to re-join by a number of people who came to see me in my show earlier in the year, I’m expected to audition to become a member. It’s in their rules and they don’t like to be flexible with these things. So, I told the Chairperson that I would join if I didn’t need to audition. It was a test in a way to see if the society had actually changed enough that they would be flexible in this regard. They called my bluff and said I could bypass it. However, not all was it it seemed as, rather than the committee as a group realising that they needed to be flexible and allowing it, it was the Chairperson overruling her colleague’s wishes. That wasn’t quite the flexibility I was looking for.
So, in the last few months here are a few of the things I’ve witnessed…
BMTG, like most such societies, arrange social events, often to generate funds for the group. One of these is their annual Dinner Dance.
So, they ask, for those attending, that they pay a deposit before the end of August. It’s very clear this is the deadline. However, pretty much throughout August we are bombarded, both by email and verbally at rehearsals, by nagging requests to pay. It’s quite incessant. As I get paid at the end of the month it was always my intention to pay then. Before the deadline. Which, according to the way deadlines work, is fine. After a deadline is not. So why am I hassled and nagged for weeks, sometimes directly questioned, to pay?
This is the biggie and actually a change from the BMTG I left before – individual egos are now quite obvious.
The poster for our show, for instance, shows the faces of the principal members along with their names. I’ve never been aware of this before. Does anybody make a decision whether to come to an amateur show based on who’s starring in it? I’m not aware of any of them being that well known that it would make any difference. The same images are regularly pushed through social mediums – Facebook and Twitter – to promote the show. NOT the cast as a whole. NOT the show itself. All I’ve seen, promotion wise, are pictures of the principles and who’s playing them. Michael Crawford they’re not.
To add to this at the bottom of the poster it also lists the names of the show director, musical director, assistance musical director and production manager. Really? Who cares.
The irony is that the poster does little in the way of promoting the show itself – that’s tucked away in the background and is quite secondary. Certainly if you know nothing about The Pirates of Penzance you won’t know anything more after looking at the poster.
Ah, how I missed these. There was a full-blown, loud argument between the show’s Production Manager and one of the people helping build the set. In front of the cast during a rehearsal interval. This lead to the set builder, who’s also on the committee and used to be the Chairman too, threatening to not do anything more.
It was embarrassing, but wasn’t the first time.
BMTG never got emails right. Members email details were held on a spreadsheet and passed around the committee. Yet, rather than use this each time they relied on re-using old emails, which usually had an out-of-date circulation list on it.
Now, they’ve created their own email addresses – cast and members – to distribute to fixed lists that the most technologically inept member of the committee controls. He managed to add me to the cast list when I joined but somehow left me off the members list.
The problem here is there’s no flexibility in this approach. So, when chasing up payments (see earlier) for the Dinner Dance they would send the mail to the members email list. Not to only those attending the Dinner Dance. Nor, even batter, to those who haven’t yet paid. No, to every member.
One of the committee members also regularly brings eggs from a nearby farmer. The eggs are fresh, good value and a cut of any sales goes the society. So, that person regularly uses the members list to ask about eggs (as in, who wants them, quantity, type, etc). I’m not interested so asked not to be sent emails about them. You’d think I’d asked the most diabolical question. Indeed, the person who maintains the list pretty much laughed at me and told me to just delete them.
Here am I, having got a handle on my email so that when I now recieve them I can give them my full attention, stupidly making a request that I don’t get emails about eggs.
So, I get asked by a number of people to help BMTG out as they need men for their show. I join. No requests are made of me.
Then, a couple of months in, when I’ve dedicated quite a lot of time to show and am unlikely to back out, I’m told that, as a pirate, I need to provide my own costume. This was the first I heard of it.
Is it too much to expect that if such things are to be asked of members that they are told up-front?
Rehearsals for this show have been abysmal. Early on the director had a clear plan of what was to be done each Wednesday night – so much so that if we achieved his target he’d happily send us home early. But, obviously, something went wrong. Very soon we were having to go two nights a week and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sundays are used soon too – with only 5 weeks to go and little done of the second act it’s looking grim. I certainly didn’t sign up for a mere chorus role on the understanding that for over 3 months I’d be expected to put in 2 nights a week.
But even then, some things haven’t been learnt. Whilst a group of us learnt a dance for a particular number last night, the majority of people went off to learn songs that they already knew. Then they had a long interval. Then pretty much everyone was sent home early whilst they worked with a few of the principals.
During most of the show rehearsals it was rumoured that we’d be needed the Friday before the show. But nothing was confirmed. Just a few weeks beforehand I needed to know as I had arrangements on that night. I emailed the Director who told me it was due to be confirmed at some point by the Production Manager. I had to email back, giving my reasons for wanting to know there and then quite strongly before it was confirmed to me that we would be needed. Is this the way to do it? Do they not think that people have lives?
I mentioned before that Social media is being used quite extensively now, which is good, even it does seem to be used to promote individuals rather than the cast as a whole. None-the-less, the Facebook page is quite popular and has the show poster as the banner.
Except, with a just a few weeks to go, as they were complaining that not enough tickets have been sold, they changed it. The new banner is for the concerts in 6 months time. Yes, they’ve moved onto the next show. It seems odd to be telling us to push to sell this show when their own promotion people are already pulling down the advertising for it and replacing with the next.
As I said in my introduction, I’m classed as a new member. Quite a lot has changed since I last was – a lot of this I may not know about. So it was good to know that upon joining I was given the latest copy of their constitution and brought up to date with essential information such as committee members, etc… except I wasn’t. I remain in the dark even today. I’m hoping this is because I WAS a member and so they felt I didn’t need it, rather than how new members generally are dealt with.
With Cat-Like Tread…
Upon completing a show it is BMTG’s tradition for the cast, behind closed curtains, to perform Auld-Lang-Syne. For whatever reason, the Chairperson this year, though, decided everybody should sing With Cat-Like Tread instead, one of the numbers from the show. Ignoring the fact that only a subset of the cast had sung this, and hence, knew the words, breaking the tradition was not appreciated by a number of the members.
A few weeks later, and the society have their yearly Dinner Dance – a black-tie occasion. The Chairperson gives her speech – vulgar and rude, she also apologies for the lack of Auld Lang Syne and asks everybody to link hands to do it properly. However, she’d spoken to key people beforehand and made sure that everybody then broke into Cat-Like Tread again, mocking those that had complained before about the breaking of the tradition. If anybody needed an example of how the society likes to treat it’s members it was there – I was really disgusted.
I had a great show week. Rehearsals I hated, though, as they were so badly managed. Management wise, nothing appears to have changed – indeed, I’d say it’s got worse in place. As soon as the Dinner Dance was over I cancelled my Standing Order and resigned as a member. It’s not my intention to return. Long live The Cast!