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Jess Gow: How to cope when past feuds or drunken snogs turn up at work

Stage-Manager-generic-backstage Photo: Melodist/Shutterstock
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Everyone has a past. A history. And all of us have made mistakes. And in theatre, those mistakes have a habit of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. The drunken fumble that you thought you had left hidden in a dingy corner of the Phoenix Bar might suddenly appear on the contact list for your next big gig. Or an actor with whom you had a longstanding feud in 2010 may pop up as your new boyfriend’s best mate.

But what happens when your historical mistakes actually end up having a damaging effect on your career?

As I’ve said before, we all learn from our mistakes. Even the best stage managers I know happily admit that they have looked back at their past behaviour and cringed. But we all learn and people change. My 35-year-old self would never dream of pulling some of the crap that cocky 22-year-old me did. But is it too late? Is the black mark that undoubtedly got put next to my name written in pencil, or ink?

This does, of course, work both ways. Everyone talks about who they’ve worked with and their opinions of them and it always interests me how two people discussing an individual can have two completely different opinions of them. Someone who worked with an assistant stage manager in 2006 may have a completely different opinion from someone who worked with the same person in 2012. For this reason, it’s important to try to keep an open mind.

I have scanned the freelist when putting together a team and thought: “Christ, not her,” but then had to remind myself that just because they moaned relentlessly and had a serious attitude problem a few years back, there is a chance that they will have grown up and reflected on their past misdemeanours. As have I.

As I’ve said before, I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And due to insecurities and an overly analytical imagination, I can spend many an hour contemplating my past, thinking: “Did that behaviour cost me a job?” or: “Would that person have employed me again had I not done or said that?” But I’m also wise enough to know that thinking like that too much is where madness lies – it’s much healthier to concentrate on the people who have rehired me, or even just stayed friends with me, despite my various flaws.

So I have now resolved that, as much as someone may have grated on me 10, five or even two years ago, it’s worth giving someone a second chance. As hopefully they have learned, just as I did, that moaning, tardiness and a penchant for 40-minute fag breaks gets you nowhere. I even once asked a company stage manager who had continued to employ me, despite my poor behaviour, why he had persevered and kept bringing me back. He simply said: “I knew you’d get there in the end.”

Everyone deserves a second chance. Even those we snogged in the Phoenix.

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