25. 8/11/21-From Michael Deibert, former student, student crew, and staff member
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
Wow... I know a very early Facebook group was called Stage Right Survivors/Alumni but never got the tone that there was anything bad happening.
I know as a student (2003-2005), I was certainly not aa favourite... part of it was competing against fellow peers who had years of study more than I, with a dash of favouritism sprinkled in, and unfortunately funding issues. (I paid for all of my courses myself, which was a lot for me at the time.) It certainly felt like crap at times, only getting minor roles, less focus in class, etc. However, even then I was starting to broaden and work more backstage on other theatrical aspects. Yelling when things didn't go right seemed normal, part of the learning process. [I recall during Footloose, I got yelled at for not knowing the choreography to a dance (that we learned the night before) and then made worse because I was publicly yelled at that my "excuse" of also working on the costumes AND mic plot for the show so having even less time was didn't matter...] But overall, I'm not sure if it's anything I'd reflect on as traumatic or abusing... nothing extreme at least. (But it's been a "few" years...)
Returning as an adult, post-grad, and as a costumer for their shows - now THAT was an entirely different story. (2010) I began assisting with a main stage show as a volunteer, while costuming the student shows in order to show how well I could handle the job (presumably before being hired as full-time costumer the next season). When the next season came around, the "contract" was offered to me... but as a volunteer, not even a small stipend as a thanks. But things quickly began to unfold when the contract that I continually asked for prior to beginning work on the first show that season (King & I) never materialized. It kept getting pushed off under the guise of "trust me". Then when the budget became impossible to work with ($250 for a 50-60+ cast with foreign & period costumes!), I proposed a plan to keep the budget in range yet provide the costumes the show needed: I personally created Anna's costumes, at my own cost, and then I would rent them to Stage Right for the show (while maintaining ownership afterwards). Naturally they loved the idea, so it was approved. (Note - still no written contract, despite continuing to demand one). So I went ahead, created 1860's period gowns using a mix of my own private costumes and the new creations; I was diligent in keeping receipts separate - running it like the business it is supposed to be. I literally ran myself into the ground during that show, especially because the ballgown material didn't arrive until the last minute and a power outage in town the week of tech meant more than one all-nighters just to finish. I clearly recall cartridge pleating Anna's ballgown skirt DURING Act I of the Student Matinee with just enough time to put it on her right before the big scene - and then crying while watching her dance in it because it was gorgeous, and I got it done in time.
And everyone loved my dresses - they were stunning! Things were otherwise good, until the last show during load out. As I was gathering my personal costumes (corsets, hoop skirt, petticoat) and Anna's dresses that I made & paid for (or had receipts that I was not going to submit for reimbursement out of the show's budget), a staff member snapped "Where are you going with OUR dresses?!" Thankfully, I was able to get all of the dresses and my own stuff gathered up that day - because all of a sudden I found myself their enemy. I found out that I was no longer part of their staff when they sent their attorney (who of course is a personal friend of theirs) after me demanding not only that I return my studio key, my show receipts, AND all of Anna's dresses. All while claiming the "contract" stated that any costumes created for the show belonged to SR. (Again, there still was never a written contract signed nor agreed upon even though the show was over!) Thankfully, I had a personal friend who's an attorney help represent me. In arbitration, we laid out the entire issue including lack of contract from the start despite repeatedly asking for one, the verbal agreement over Anna's costumes belonging to me and then rented to SR for the show, that not once did they actually advise me my employment/volunteer status was over (as I would've returned the key if that were the case), etc. In the end, my dresses were mine (as agreed upon), their key & stuff returned - and my time with SR was officially over for good.
Even years later, I still had to deal with a "black mark" over my name because they feel that I had wronged them... instead of them trying to screw me over. More than once, if I was costuming a show and knew that SR had the costumes to potentially borrow, I had to "step aside" and have someone else ask to borrow them - even though I was costuming that show. At at least once, just because I was involved, we were told no. (Ironically, the next time I costumed King & I!) Like Lena, I would hate to see the community lose a crucial source for the arts and theatre education. But reading through theses stories, I seem to have gotten off easy. Something needs done in order to make sure future students, performers, and staff have an encouraging, non-toxic environment to learn and perform in.