Anker: Conflict affects more than friendships in theater

Columnist Marcie Anker discusses conflict resolution in the theater department.

Marcie Anker

Marcie AnkerFor every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That’s a fact — a scientific fact, which is more factual than a regular fact. Newton told me so himself, such a smart fella.

If you punch a bear in the mouth, it will rip your head off. If you eat too much Qdoba, you’ll inadvertently fart the rest of the day. See? Science.

I’ve decided that Newton based his law of motion on his observations of the theater species in their natural habitat. His foresight was impeccable, I must say, to know that his scientific discovery would so perfectly apply to theater drama, “You offend me? I’ll humiliate you.”

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Leave the drama on the stage.”

Ironic, right? You know, because we’re doing drama? On a stage? Never mind.

This semester I’ve had a revelation: Professors don’t just arbitrarily use that expression for their health — they use it for ours.

Too much drama hurts my soul. Not to mention it forces me to waste an unending amount of energy trying to just keep up with the new developments in the “he said, she said” idiotic drama.

Let’s not lie to ourselves, sometimes watching, reading or hearing about other people’s drama and fights is just oh-so-amusing.

After a long, tiring day, there’s no better remedy than a good ol’ fashion dramatic reading of the most current Facebook arguments. But after all the gossip and laughs cease, and the realization that it wasn’t a joke, the lingering effects can be very damaging.

I’m being unclear. Theater students have been fighting. I know, the image of two theater students fighting sounds hilarious. It’s not. Not even pity-chuckle worthy.

The disproportionate amount of drama in the drama department recently makes me “SMH” — to use the scientific expression.

Of course there are conflicts in every major and in every field. Business students fight over money. Medical students fight over who is the superior healer of inflamed rectums. The fencing team fights about if that stab to the groin was really just a “slip,” or if it was because one slept with the other’s ex-girlfriend. It’s all totally normal.

However, what is not normal is when a conflict crosses the line from respectful to disrespectful. When an argument shifts from discussion to disparagement, and the intent of the participants is no longer to win, but rather to wound — that is when there’s a serious problem.

Verbally attacking and bullying someone with the intent, or even the hope, that the other person will feel terrible about themselves as a person is not healthy. In fact, it’s quite unhealthy.

We theater folks are a sensitive bunch. Theater, like all other art-related fields, is an inherently intense personal art form. When someone is criticized for their acting, singing, painting, you name it, it’s a very delicate dance because it can feel like that person is being criticized as a person, not as an artist. So, because of this intrinsic vulnerability that we carry, it is imperative that we also carry civility and sensitivity.

You may recall one of my earlier columns — of course you do, you loyal fans — where I discussed the audition process and how it brings out the worst in the department. Well, it looks like we’ve come full circle. The second round of auditions for the spring season just ended, and it was particularly grueling this time around.

Personally, I’d rather eat a rusty stop sign on Susquehanna Avenue in one sitting than relive that particular audition process. Perhaps the stress that accompanies the end of the semester combined with the stress that auditioning brings sent the department into an explosive tailspin.

Picture “Mean Girls” on steroids.

The feelings of rejection and failure after not being cast or not being called back are excruciating, especially when you know every single name that appears on those lists where your name was left out. When someone is cast, boasting and belittling are very different forms of expression than celebrating.

We don’t choose our families. Just like we don’t choose the people we share a classroom with, or a department or a stage with — they are pre-determined.

And even though we aren’t a real family, we learn how to act like one. Fights and disagreements are part of the course, but it’s the support and recovery that drive a family forward.

Not to be cheesy, but the expression “united we stand, divided we fall,” could not ring more true in theater. We live on collaboration and mutual respect, and when the parts are working against each other rather than with each other, it shows.

In a department where we are always right, and everyone else is wrong, the prospect of apology is dim.

Note: I am always right. Always. Even when I’m wrong, I’m right.

But, it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy to yell at someone and cuss them out, but it’s hard to extend the first hand in reconciliation, no matter who you are. Humility is a virtue, people.

Despite the recent outbreak in the theater department, there is no doubt in my mind that it will recover and move forward. We didn’t choose it, but we are a big, wonderful, talented, dysfunctional and strikingly attractive theater family. And I’ll bet you my family is cooler than yours.

Stop the drama and the fighting, people. Or I’ll kick your ass.

Am I allowed to say that?

Now, please excuse me while I resume my research on Newton.

Ah, science.

Marcie Anker can be reached at

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