Who's the boss?

Playing for the audience - in service industries

I fight with directors. Quite a lot. Not because of any great artistic differences - I don't consider myself an artist at all - but simply because on stage I am always tempted to go for the cheap laugh, add the extra joke, ham it up for the gallery. (I know, I know. Typical attention seeker, needs to be loved, deep rooted insecurities blah blah. I'm an actor. So sue me.)

"Adam!", says the man with the megaphone, "Don't do that! Stay in character!"
"But, but," I wail, "It's funny! They LOVE it!"

Now, this is a big sin in acting, I admit. Even in comedic work. It's called being a stage-hog. My directors don't like it, my colleagues hate it, and even I am sometimes forced to accept that I must sacrifice my beloved gag for King Flipper, the greater porpoise. Ooh, but it hurts.

My problem is, I love my audience more than I love my director.

OK, so, what's this got to do with anything apart from my ego? Well, I'd like you to qv these words of deep wisdom, from Sara Cantor's wonderful "Curious Shopper" blog.

"...most employees aren't trying to make you mad. While you are a real human being, from their standpoint you are not as important a human as their boss!"

Of course, there's an obvious parallel to my stagehogginess here. My director is my boss, and he needs to keep me marching in step, for the greater good of the show. But in a customer service situation, the customer doesn't give a hoot about who's in step, doesn't care about rules and regulations. That customer is going to be happier with the rebel who is willing to drop the CI, bend the rules, give them the cheap laugh (read: amazing personal service) that they came for.

So, how does it work out in your crew? Is keeping the boss happy more important than working for the customers' happiness? Be honest, 'cos if it is, you have a big problem. In customer service, you need people who love the audience more than they love the director.

Hmm. Maybe I'm in the wrong job.



Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

Hmm. Maybe I'm in the wrong job.

How about becoming your own boss?

That way you won't have to compromise your identity... or spend time and effort explaining yourself to a director who has little tolerance.

Have you ever worked with directors who respected your choices?

Adam said...


Thanks for your concern, but don't worry - I am basically my own boss. Sometimes I am my own director, sometimes I choose my directors, and sometimes I get them chosen for me.

The last is fine, because that is the best way to learn - by being forced outside your own comfort zone. And luckily, all the directors I have worked with in the last years have been terrific. We have never agreed on everything, but the end result has always been worth watching. Some of those directors - even the ones I fought with most - are really good friends who probably let me stagehog more than I should anyway.

And don't worry, we certainly respect each other! If not, I would leave. :)

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

My intolerance against all things stifling had to speak :)

I did a quick Google search for stage hog. What did it return?

...a 1 watt, tube guitar amp that doubles as a distortion pedal and a practice amp.


serviceinnovation said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
serviceinnovation said...

I think if your boss doesn't think about your customers but profit or personal prestige only, there's not much you can do. Well, maybe, except doing your service Robin Hood style (remember, the guy in tights who broke the law for the greater good: the return of King Lionheart).

After reading your post, I started thinking about who is or who should be in control of the service.

Is it the (service) director? Or is it the service guy?

Since you are co-creating the service together with your customer the costumer gets to be an integral part of the whole service experience - and is at least one important part of the equation that is hard to control.

What is the job of an director in an situation like that? Can he be the control freak that many famous directors were and still are? I don't think so, or, not without sacrificing the quality of the interaction and the service.

However, let's assume the director does his job right and loves the audience/customer just as much as you do. So he designes the service to get the perfect emotional curve with a big finale at the end (just as you taught us about James Bond). In this case there'll be times when the cheap jokes will just kill the overall experience. Do your employees really know when they can just go for the cheap one and when they shouldn't?

The trick seems to be to balance clear guidelines with space for improptu improvisation and individual inspiration...

... so you can act out the love for your customers without having to hide in Sherwood Forrest - or wear tights.

Adam said...

Markus, you are right. And on those occasions where the manager/director is really working hard for the customer/audience, I'm right there with them.

All too often, though, I encounter managers/directors who are thinking mostly about the head office directives or the Big Theatrical Idea, rather than the folks who will be consuming their work. In these cases, I think a bit of rebellion is justified.

If my boss has set up a big Boom-wow-wow-wow-BOOM curve, then he also needs to explain it to me and sell me the idea. If he can, I'm right there, and the joke can go hang!

Thanks for a thought-provoking comment!

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