Knowing The Boundaries Of Your Job

September 3, 2010


It was tech week for a community theatre show, and the secondary female lead kept delivering this one line in a way that not only didn’t make sense, it made the next character’s line senseless too. Sometimes when you’re watching scenes over and over from your seat in the pit, some things just jump out and rankle you. So I brought this concern to the director, and she said, “You tell her.” I was too green to know that this was code for one of two things:

1) I don’t care about that, and I didn’t notice it. If you want to change it, go ahead.

2) She’s going to get really pissed if anyone tells her that. Better you than me.

Unfortunately for all of us, the second situation was the one in play. The lady in question pointed out colorfully and in no uncertain terms that I was not the director, that she didn’t have to listen to me, and that I was wrong, because she’d always been saying the line correctly. She subsequently fixed the line reading, but I had seriously overstepped the boundaries of my job. Her line readings were none of my business.

As the music director, you are in charge of the sounds that come out of your singers mouths and the sounds that come out of your pit’s instruments. Where those concerns meet the concerns of actors and other staff and directors, you look for solutions that work for both of you. You can’t solve the problems on your own which are not within the boundaries of your job.

1) You are not the director. You can suggest things, offer your opinion, but you are not responsible for how the kids say the lines, how the scene is blocked, or how the entrances and exits look.

2) You are not the kids’ private voice teacher. I believe in a solid line of demarcation between musical coaches and directors and their teachers. I tell my leads when I work with them, “If I ever tell you anything that your voice teacher would disagree with, I’m wrong and your voice teacher is right.”

3) You are not the sound designer. The man behind the board is making all the decisions, and he holds all the cards. You are not in a position to force anyone’s hand there. You are in a position to negotiate and work together.

4) You are not the choreographer. I heard a story about a colleague who told the choreographer in a withering tone of voice, “The tempo is marked Allegro. The kids just need to learn to dance it faster.” That’s a fantastic way to alienate your coworkers. If that’s your goal, go for it! Otherwise, negotiate and come up with something that works for you both.

You have more than enough to worry about fixing the things in your area, without worrying about everyone else’s problems. Do your job, not everybody else’s.



  1. That’s a good story, dude. But tell us what you should have done. It sounds like you should have just backed off, but doesn’t that conflict with principle 1 (or 2, I cannot remember which one)? 🙂 Didn’t you make the show better?

    • Good question!

      I should have just backed off. I am responsible for making the show better within the limits of my position. The line reading of this actress was not my business, it was the director’s. And when the director didn’t fix it, it should have remained unfixed. A music director is in an advisory position with the rest of the directorial staff, but thank goodness, the music director is not responsible to fix everything that doesn’t work in the production. The only imperative is to point out problems and leave them in the hands of the specialists in charge of those areas.

  2. I would never force a staff member to take the brunt of aan actor’s rage. However, working with a staff of teachers, it is not unusual for them to want to take on a challenging student with whom they may be more effective. That being said, I will often ask staff members to deliver notes, especially if it’s one the kids are tired of hearing from me! Oh, Mr. Hilliard agrees with Walker….then it must be true!

    • Ooh, good point, Mindy! You’re right. Of course there are times when another person is better at delivering the note, or even sometimes the director is too busy to give the note. If I can assist a director in making a correction, I don’t see why that wouldn’t be appropriate, especially if the correction is the director’s idea. But if those boundaries between directors break down to the place where someone is giving notes that aren’t originating from the director, you have the unfortunate situation of people giving contradictory notes, wrong-headed notes, kids not knowing who exactly is in charge, too many chiefs, etc. This happens too often at schools. One chief, people! (and her name is Mindy) 🙂

  3. Peter, Make as many suggestions as you like when we work together. That is called collaberation and team work. We will be doing that very soon…see you on the 12th. Kim

  4. Mwahahahaaa!

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