Bully part 2

I have been touched and startled at how many people within our industry have approached me with support for the comments on my last blog on this subject and am alarmed at how I seem to have struck a chord with too many fellow designers. I have shared tales of harrowing fittings, bullying directors, HODs and actors and sadly of course episodes of sexual harassment, as a depressingly common occurrence, from female colleagues. 

The debate has definitely been started with the work from the Royal Court and other theatres, and it only pushes me to relish more those moments of working when there is a genuine spirit of collaboration across the disciplines and true mutual respect.For much of the younger generation, this seems to be their natural way of working, where there is an understanding that the working process may not be certain, ideas can and will evolve . Much bullying it seems comes when you show indecision, want to try out an idea that may not work or maybe ,God forbid, you actually don’t quite know what you want. To a bully that is seen as weakness when in reality it is a true strength, to have the determination of character in a pressured situation to show that you open to change , that maybe the idea can develop . Compromise is often an essential element of the work of a designer, finding a solution to your ideas that works within the budget, is flexible to the needs of rehearsal and can respond to the personalities and needs of the actors. It is not a sign of weakness and I urge all young designers to stay open and begin to learn how you can let go of cherished elements in your design without feeling that you have failed , it will give you strength to undermine those who want to exert the power of their authority or experience over you by telling you you don’t know what you are doing. 

 We are all continually learning and a designer is often a jack of all trades having to know about such diverse specialisms as fabrics, costume history and cutting, CAD drawing, painting, model making, engineering and construction techniques, let alone having the creative ideas in the design which create the world of the play and the characters within it. We are often working with the masters of these trades who will always know more about their world than us. I have had tricky situations with heads of costume departments or production managers, where they are only too pleased to expose the gap between my knowledge and theirs. An actor will always know more about their character than you do. It takes strength, but admitting you don’t quite know what the best solution is and asking for their views is a way to acknowledge the expertise of the expert and make sure they can’t use their position to bully you. Finding a way to get them to invest and share in your process rather than expecting them to be a slavish facilitator of the design can help to get the best out of them , while protecting you.

Theatres can help too by offering up their spaces to young designers for meetings in a safe space, not under pressure alone in their studios (often their home) with a director or production manger they have never worked with before. Heads of all departments within buildings have duty of care to those freelance designers who are employed. Much like a teaching hospital, all big theatres need to train, nurture and support the next generation, creating an environment where experimentation is possible and it is ok to fail, only then can we truly create.

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