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Summer o’ Theatre

This summer was a particularly fertile one for theatre in Gainesville, and proved to be a major portfolio boost.

Stage Manager

On May 24, 25, and 26, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre hosted the new Gainesville Shaw Society‘s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Geneva. My friend Krsnaa Fitch loves Shaw’s works and asked me to be her stage manager. The particular demands of the piece—even an abridged form, as we did—included furniture and costumes appropriate to the late 1930s and an approximation of three major political leaders of the era: Adolf Hitler (fictionalized as Battler), Francisco Franco (fictionalized as Flanco), Benito Mussolini (fictionalized as Bombardone), and Neville Chamberlain (fictionalized as Sir Orpheus). We partnered with the Hippodrome Theatre again and also enlisted the talents of Gainesville costume Jason Bendure to develop the costumes. Ken Brown of the Hipp worked on our set, and under short notice.

Once again, I found myself on stage as well as managing the show. In a delightfully meta twist, I assumed the role of the Secretary to the League of Nations, who is revealed to have conned the assembled dictators and plaintiffs in the final act. Calling the shots in the plot and backstage!

The most important aspect of the Geneva experience was that it revealed my capability as a production manager (and my ability to do a Swiss-French accent), especially under a short deadline. I am an excellent stage manager, but sometimes, due to a busy calendar, it’s better for me to coordinate a production team than to record rehearsals or be on-book. And I have increasingly more professional connections to get the supplies, loans, and donations that the designers need.

As such, my initial role on the Acrosstown board as Design Manager (aka master of the Props/Costume dungeon that no one else braves) was combined with this new role, as Production Manager. I also was encouraged to take on the role of Board Secretary, since I instinctively take copious notes.

Perhaps the most important role is the development of ARTiS, which I will discuss in a post to come.

Then, I partnered with George Steven O’Brien to develop the set for A.R. Gurney’s A Perfect Party, which played June 14-30. The set, a den-turned-family-room-turned-study, as described in the set, required a specific combination of swank, comfort, disillusionment, education, and artifice. You can see photos of the work here. As the theatre’s Production Manager, I agreed to serve as Production Stage Manager, but ended up getting more than I bargained for when one of our actors had to take medical leave and your trusty stage manager, the eternal understudy, had to take the stage! Now I’m experiencing a resurgence of the acting bug, and will appear in adaptations of W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw ” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” as part of the ART’s Fright Night play festival.

Producer

It has long been my dream to run an agency that combines the production & distribution of documentary films and socially activist plays with the development of workshops and curricula that use audiovisual media. This idea first germinated when I was considering career options and asked myself what my ideal job was. When my keyword searches ceased to generate results, my collage mind saw the potential in such an agency, and I began developing its model and mission statement.

However, I had never produced a show or handled any business aspects of a production. As fortune would have it, Mr. O’Brien’s company, TigerMonkey Creations, needed a boost, and I had met many talented people who I believed to deserve exposure. With the help of the Alachua County Rapscallions, I organized 14 performers and 5 artists for a multimedia variety and art show, with a silent auction and raffle, to benefit TigerMonkey Creations.  Along the way, I adopted Dragon*Con’s model of providing short parody skits to entertain the audience as performers set up; to do this, I, with four other people, created SketchyYeti, an improv and sketchy comedy troupe that parodied infomercials, drug commercials, and reality shows. We also performed a couple of live skits.

The show was a relative success, although I had stretched myself too thin. The show launched SketchyYeti and gave Gainesville poet Charles Ely an opportunity to demonstrate his choreography (with yours truly). It raised about $270 for TigerMonkey Creations. I was thrilled with the outcome and realized I had successfully organized over two dozen people (including organizers and staff) to create a socially engaging multimedia event! I was a producer, and I could make the agency happen.

Costumes and Makeup

And finally, I returned to the Hippodrome for their production of Avenue Q, as wardrobe manager. Needless to say, it was an unusual experience to be dressing both puppets and humans. The show is a particularly ripe combination of satire of American society, parody of children’s edutainment, and musical delights, and was a joy to work on. The songs, however, were quite infectious.

To bring the design work full circle, I did skull makeup on the lead singer of Braineaters A-Go Go, a Misfits tribute band, for their debut performance at the 1982 Bar in Gainesville. Considering the aesthetic of Teatro de los Muertos, this seemed a good sign of things to come.

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Retail Hell: Blame Privatization

Cross-posted on class blog, Misanthropologist.

The study of customer service seems primarily reserved to business-oriented, sociological research, or so my database searches would suggest. However, it is certainly a problem for anthropology. Bullying behavior does occur among adults, and notably in the customer-server sphere of interaction.

Jürgen Habermas notes in chapter V of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere that as the market has become privatized, businesses became distinct and protectionist; meanwhile, the public sphere experienced “stateification” to the point that the line between public and private became permanently blurred. I believe this blurring accounts for the problems of interaction in the world of customer service: vestigial conflict between public and private, business and consumer, is played out through servers and customers.

According to Habermas, the public service sector was developed to alleviate the imbalance created by increasing social costs upon economic growth (p. 147). This “intervention” also increases tension between oligarchic reality and public consumption. Furthermore, service representatives become the face of an organization to a consumer; their privacy is temporarily suspended, their identity conflated with that of the company or government, for the sake of mediation between disparate levels of production and consumption.

Put simply and applied to contemporary America, state/public agencies and private businesses are often self-contained and run by private individuals, even if the company is publicly owned. Their interests may be at odds with their economic and social costs. They also require the public’s attention. Through public service announcements, advertisements, press releases, and other types of marketing and promotion, they negotiate their relationship to the public. This means that an employee of any type of service establishment is representative of the organization (see p. 153), yet a private person; they interact with the public, which is also comprised of private persons. See the potential for conflict?

Examples: A customer attempts to return an item but is outside the return period set at the executive level. The cashier declines to give the customer money back for fear of losing his job, or having the money taken from his pay. The customer takes the denial personally and insults or bullies the cashier. The cashier defends himself by citing the business’ policy. The customer requests a manager, by whose higher authority is more representative of business interests. The manager is actually more concerned by the business’ interests and fears losing respect, privileges, or even her job if she drives away a customer. She makes an exception to the policy; the customer believes the cashier to be wrong, bullheaded, or just discriminatory by denying the return, but is the only one to walk away feeling resolved.

In addition, the public sphere has devolved from a distinctie sphere of public intereaction into an artifically connected web of private spheres (see pp. 162-64). The extraordinarily wide gap between the producers and consumers contributes to this tension. The closer one gets to the top, the easier to alleviate (hence why customers have learned to call for managers or otherwise escalate the issue). You will see less of the “customer is always right” attitude, although this too has changed from its original conception and has a distinctive American iteration, in smaller or independent businesses.

Although childhood bullying is a more pressing topic in the news, I am fascinated by these tensions and resulting behavior in the public sphere, if only to answer my own questions about how I’ve been treated on the job I worked to support myself through undergraduate to the present. Examples:

  1. A pleasant customer, attempting to make conversation, asked me leading questions about whether I still lived at home, when I graduated high school, and what I liked to do when I wasn’t working. I made the mistake of answering honestly, that I had moved to Gainesville as an adult and had just begun to pursue a Master’s. He suddenly changed in demeanor and said, “Oh, yeah, in what, fish-catching?” [I work in a pet store.] and laughed derisively. I said, “No, anthropology.” He said he didn’t know what that was, glared at me, and was unpleasant for the rest of the encounter.
  2. I get told I “must like working here” several times a week. Yes, told, not asked. Usually this is combined with an overuse of my name (or, if you’re like one customer we have, addressing all employees by the name of our company) and slower-than-normal speech when addressing me.