The Buck Does Not Stop Here!

During my first year in my doctoral program, I was given a graduate assistantship (along with an MFA student)  that involved helping to plan a multicultural youth arts festival on the campus of the university. The assistantship was split between the theatre department and the presenting organization that booked events for the performing arts center on campus.

This Multi-cultural Youth Arts Festival brought 10 different performers/groups–ranging from traditional dance troupes to a professional theatre company–to perform simultaneously at different venues on the campus to elementary school students from all over the county that were bussed in for the event. The festival lasted 3 days, and most of the performances were done to full houses.

That’s a lot of children.

My job included: reaching out to the schools; writing and editing an educational packet that included all of the artists; scheduling which schools would see which performances on which days (each school saw two shows in one  day); and coordinating the student volunteers who would help run the event, among other things.  I was working under the supervision of a young arts administrator named April, who decided that she would give me any of the tasks that she wasn’t interested in doing. That meant I did a lot of tasks.

The weeks  leading up to the festival found me running around to deal with all of the last-minute details an event like this requires. Because there was so much to be done, I went way beyond the hours I was  supposed to work to fulfill this graduate assistantship (and I was scheduled for more hours than the MFA student), while simultaneously juggling my own course work.

Andrea, another one of the administrator’s who worked there noticed how much time I was putting in and asked what April was doing while I did all this extra work.

“Supervising . . . I guess,” would have been my response, although perhaps not those exact words.

During this time April also came to me in a panic about needing finish the layout/editing for another program that went on a few weeks before the festival. I agreed to help, but I asked for extra pay. I got it.

On the day before the festival began, when I was pulling the second or third 10 hour day, running around in the Arizona heat and sunshine to hang signs all around campus to guide people to the different venues . . . April disappeared. She went home. Her work was done as far as she was concerned. I broke down and cried, and went to Andrea (who had stayed to help) and asked for help.

Andrea called her up and made her come back.

In the end the event was a wonderful success. However, that was the final year of the festival, as the presenting organization pulled out for financial reasons or something like that.

The school’s loss.

I was proud of what I accomplished, and very exhausted. I thought I had learned through that experience that sometimes you have to say no, sometimes you can’t please everyone, and sometimes you just have to ask for help and say this is too much.

I thought I’d learned the lesson, but perhaps I was wrong.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that situation in recent days, as I face another work challenge brought on my an administrator who wants the world but doesn’t seem to understand the details of what it takes to achieve her goals. It’s not the same, in that I am supposedly the Creative Director of this program that I’m working on, and I’m not a graduate student. However, the administrator who  hired me and I have vastly different communication styles and visions for what this program should look like.

I  have tried and am trying to make the program fit her vision without completely compromising what I believe is right.  For her the product is the most important, for me it’s the process. I believe that a good process will create a good product. However, nothing will get me to the product she seems to be envisioning, with full lights, sounds, set, costumes, etc.

It’s impossible.

Now, I find, that whenever something goes astray in the program, the administrator puts it all on my shoulders. Even the things that I’ve done to try to accommodate HER vision, despite my own concerns that they weren’t the best solution.

Perhaps my title to this post is incorrect. Perhaps the buck does stop here, because I have tried to be accommodating when I knew it was wrong. Perhaps I need to learn to say NO! with more confidence, and to believe that my assessment is just as valuable as hers.

But she’s the one who gave birth to the idea and wrote the grant. I’m the one whose supposed to make it happen.

I don’t know if I can do that.

I don’t want to let the kids down, but I feel like I’m on a sinking ship . . . and I’m the captain.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. An Embarrassment of Freedom
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 12:22:11

    The process and keeping it positive is the most important thing. It is important for the students and that is the main thing.If all the other is so important to the project then you need to have the backing to accomplish it to that degree.It is always a balancing act with administrators and it can be difficult delegating creative control….but it is fun to do these events…in the long run. Do it for the kids.


  2. StuHN
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 12:23:13

    Wow…this sounds so similar to what I experienced in 2011.

    First: you need to do what you can for the kids, as you said. Make sure what you are doing is in their best interest: you are 100% right that the process, done properly, will create a better product. Too many people just don’t see that.

    Next: Document EVERYTHING you do! If you communicate with her, do it solely by email. This way, even if she does not answer you, it is date stamped/documented from your end.
    If she will only verbablly respond to you, write up that response. Does this add to your work? Yes. Does it cover your ass? Yes, again. This way, if someone even higher above has any questions, you have the facts. Write just the facts. Keep your opinion out of it. Write the process, what’s done, what you’ve suggested, what her response is, and only write the facts. Your opinion (right or wrong) will only come off as whiney and not a team player.

    What I went through:
    I was brought in to DIRECT a student written play that was having problems.

    First: it was written by their Student Advisor, who was overseeing the project. She had culled the play from student writing, but had no idea of form or structure (her first time writing a play). Because it was “her baby”, she could not take any critique on scene structure, story beats (there were none, in both cases). She also tried to act as Director, with no background
    Second: the kids thought THEY were directing the play.
    Third: they did not listen to their advisor, me, the student who thought she was directing, nor the principal. Most didn’t show up when I scheduled them; most fought me on learning lines, blocking, etc.
    The advisor got into a real snit fit and…well, I could go on and on. The day of the play (one time only, because we were kicked out of their own school due to their behavior), the advisor showed up late, did not participate in the tech run through, and commandered a room for food (which the location was pissed about, and I got yelled at, since I seemed to be the only one in charge).
    The play sucked. Missed cues, missed lines, no projection, talking backstage/cell phone use, etc….the only thing that worked was a dance scene, because it was the only thing they cared about.
    The parents applauded, and the advisor got thanked for a job well done.
    Who was I?

    So…I learned to let my own ego go of what “was right.” I did my best in extreme disregard to what needed to be done. In the end, It wasn’t about me.


    • Lisa Wields Words
      Apr 09, 2013 @ 12:52:19

      Thanks Stuart. Your words are wise. I just wrote this lengthy, impassioned e-mail to another of the administrator’s and then deleted most of it so that I could state the facts.

      The worst part is this is making me sick. I don’t sleep. Blood pressure. Today a cold that is going to wipe me out.

      June 9th can’t come quickly enough. But it’s for the kids.


  3. CMSmith
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 13:25:59

    If you’re on a sinking ship, you still have choices. Start bailing. Get out the paddles and go faster. Or jump ship.

    I know that probably wasn’t helpful. I believe in you and think you will figure out what you need to do and can live with.


  4. Andra Watkins
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 13:58:26

    In the end, your boss is right, whether she is or not. I am not taking her side. Hear me out.

    The employer gets to decide ‘the rules of the job.’ It’s up to the employee to carry them out. I know she doesn’t own the school, but she is your boss and is therefore representative of the employer to you.

    Several years ago, I held a job running a multi-million dollar law firm. The job was pretty easy, and the pay was good. But after a few months, I grew bored.

    To challenge myself, I started taking charge of other things that interested me. Collecting piles of outstanding receivables. Revamping the web site. Raising the firm profile. Lobbying for better benefits for the staff. I absolutely, utterly loved that job. It was my dream job. I really was an employee who cared as much about that business as an owner.

    My problem was this: a subset of the attorneys did not want me to be doing that job. Every time I ‘overstepped,’ they resented me. The complained. Eventually, a couple of them targeted me. All this happened while I was trying to get my immediate boss to tell me what was wrong. I knew something was, but I did not know what.

    When it all came out, it was very ugly, and it was open season on me afterward. I resigned a few months later, started my own consulting firm and never looked back. I am still grateful for that job, because I learned how to do so many things.

    But, they got to define the job. It was my job to execute the job as they defined it. When they spelled out what they wanted, I realized I didn’t want that job.

    You cannot save a person who is determined to fail. I agree with the commenter above. Document everything, right down to the tasks you perform on this project every day. Only communicate with her in writing so that you have a record of what was said.

    And, start looking for another opportunity that better suits you. I believe it is out there.


  5. lisaspiral
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 16:02:45

    I’m guessing that the reason you’re getting hired is because YOU’RE THE EXPERT. Sometimes we need that little reminder. Good luck!


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