Monday, May 25, 2020
Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
Originally Posted: 05-24-2013 7:45 PM
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Trying to participate in the arts in a small town is a real test in patience and dedication. A friend of mine contacted me this week in need of a pep talk. She’s been putting a lot of energy into participating in the local arts community, but she’s feeling a bit locked out by cliques. In neighboring cities of 100,000 and higher, including the Chicagoland area with a population of more than 9 million, she’s built up a reasonable resume over the last few years. Yet in our 20,000 person community, she’s hitting walls.

I know a little bit about the challenges of small town arts cliques, having tried to participate in different ways for the last several years. The first thing to realize is that getting plugged in means you either have to do everything yourself or you have to get cozy with those who are already doing their own thing and look for an opportunity to be included. This opportunity may include some serious sweat equity, particularly in indie theatre. If you get a part in the cast, expect to dedicate yourself tirelessly to the production as well. Sets are often torn down and gripped by cast, family members often pitch in with any of their various skills to support, and in many cases, money is paid out to support the production beit in ways as simple as buying some paint or lumber. This type of humble contribution is a great way to bond the group as a team and to build camaraderie. Sounds good on the surface.

But then… something goes wrong…

Overworked event producers under pressure begin to lose touch with their humanity. The way they start to speak to people and deal with people goes out the window. There’s an arrogant attitude from the top dogs that any specific consideration to members of their “new family” is an insult. The bitching begins from the top and filters down. But the reality is, the person putting it all together in a non-paid production is asking for a lot from everyone over and above learning their lines or songs, but somehow they always seem to forget that.

Volunteering services on the music side has led to my share of run ins with A-holes as well. In one instance, I had been asked to coordinate sound for a festival for a great bunch of people who’ve done a lot for the community. Everything went great. However, when I was asked to return the following year, someone new had been involved to coordinate stage builds and the two of us had to communicate. Unfortunately, this new person wouldn’t return multiple emails from me. A major issue arose that needed immediate attention just a couple days before the festival and when Mr. No Reply wouldn’t respond again, I handled the issue with the blessing of the committee and communicated the results with Mr. No Reply to keep him in the loop.

My acting on the best interest of the festival got the first email response in well over a week from the new stage guy. He addressed it to the full committee, chastising everyone for not allowing him to do the job he was being paid for and to quit going over his head and contact him in the future, despite the fact he wouldn’t do his job and reply. And waitaminute… he was being PAID to not reply to my emails, so I had to do his job?!?! So, in the hierarchy of volunteerism, if you’re being chastised by an A-hole, you’re working for free, but the A-holes are getting paid. Well, hopefully not two years in a row…

Another saddening attitude I’ve encountered from some when being asked to volunteer my musical skills is a deluded attitude that their event is akin to a holy ceremony. In one example, a person asked for my participation to act as a partial musical director, which would require some of my unique and specific skills for a few days. I had done this job for this person once already for free, mind you. Other members of the band were being paid in this gig, and I knew that. But I was willing to agree to help out again for free in exchange for a featured song in the show. Trying to get confirmation on this left me waiting for over five weeks with no returned phone calls, which I assumed either meant they weren’t willing to share the stage or this whole situation was foreshadowing for a bad experience, so I began looking at other options in California during that time and sent along word through my assistant at the time that I passed.

As it turned out, my California trip didn’t happen, so I attended the show. A friend came up to me in the crowd and said, “Hey! Come sit at my table!” Little did I know the table was front row center, in front of the performer who I found out wasn’t too happy to see me there. Before long, the performer launched into a mid show rap about how everyone in the group “just said yes and served!” over and over again, player by player. It sounded like the kind of thing you’d hear in a church service, except the stage wasn’t a pulpit, the gig wasn’t a church, and the artist who had asked me to donate a few days of my time doing professional level work for free wasn’t Jesus.

Somehow by my simply saying, “this isn’t a right situation for me”, I ended up getting the angry end of the mic. It was so bizarre and inappropriate, I told myself I had to be reading into it, until my assistant at the time texted me from the back and asked me, “Do you wanna get out of here? I can’t believe this BS”. I texted back: “Nahhhh, I can take it”, as I lived out a surreal scene as if I were Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

So by saying no to a volunteer activity, even leaving them a month to find a replacement, somehow I was hazed? I wrote it off as part of the continual baptism by fire that is the music business and a sad reward for the excellent job I did for that person for free the time before.

This isn’t the way local arts communities are supposed to work. This isn’t the way musical volunteerism is supposed to work. Be inclusive and communicate. Even good organizers need to watch out for and weed out A-holes. Especially when people volunteer their valuable time, see helpers first as HUMANS. In an arts community, that sensitivity leads to better art.

Dave Carlock
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