When I walked into my boss's office, I was ready to talk.
I had to push to even get this meeting, a meeting which they had promised I would have when I first signed my provisional contract some five months before. The promise was adamant: "After your trial run, we'll have a meeting to discuss whether we'll keep you on and pay you the amount we initially offered, or whether we don't think you'll fit here."
Five months is a pretty long time to "try out" a job, but I assented. After all, I needed a job, and bills would not pay themselves. Still, the setup was okay. I had a mentor who was also on contract until the end of my trial, who was supposed to "show me the ropes" of managing a ballet company shop.
She did her job well, of course, but I already had the experience of managing shops in theatre. Yet... the Big Boss insisted that there was something else there. That's where the first bit of contention started:
"The ballet is so different from theatre, you won't know what you're doing."
Okay. Cool. Discredit the amount of time I've spent working in the performing arts sector for reasons I at the time did not see coming. It was mildly irritating, but I just assumed the boss was a little full of himself. After all, it was "the ballet." Those involved with the world of classical ballet often think themselves on a higher pedestal than other performing arts based on the vague notion that their section of the world was "classier, more refined." The Ballet was a classical thing, and as such it was immune to modern criticisms. It was a perfectly-preserved piece of history that must by its nature be excused for the way-less-than-cool by today's standards depictions of other countries and nationalities, as well as the outdated and simplistic plots and problematic themes in many of the "best" shows.
In reality, the ballet is very different. For one, this company does so few shows that I hesitate to say I even work in "show business" any more-- but that's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, there are a few differences in the on-stage parts of this industry, but everything backstage is basically the same as any other piece of live programming. Musicals, spectacles, traditional plays, and the ballet all have basically all the same fundamentals in common.
So, point of one, but no, sir. The ballet isn't different. I still know what I'm doing.
I love the idea that by belittling the experience of an incoming worker, you can somehow rationalize paying them less.
During one of the shows, after some contention on the color of the men's shoes, the director pointed at one of them on stage during a rehearsal, and said to me, "That one. That's the right color. Make them all match that color."
I wrote it down in my notes, "make all shoes match that dancer's." Then, I went back to the costume shop and did some fancy colorworking to match all the shoes to that dancer's pair. I'm pretty good at color matching, if I do say so myself. Some twelve pairs of shoes, dyed and dried and brought back to the theatre the next day.
When they arrived on stage wearing the newly-colored shoes, matched exactly to the pair the Big Boss had indicated, he turned to me and asked why the shoes were not the right colors yet.
I responded that I had dyed them to match the color of the pair he'd pointed out the day before, which he had said were "perfect." Here's the second point of contention, one that is a wonderful example of gaslighting.
"I never said that, you're making it up to cover your mistakes."
For the next several days, I was constantly reminded that my mistake was costing them money because the photography from that rehearsal could not be used. Never mind that photoshop makes changing the colors of the shoes in a photo relatively simple, of course-- there was a perceived mistake onto which the gaslighter could latch, and ride until it was a dead horse.
When I showed him the notes I had taken during the conversation the day before, he refused to acknowledge that he'd ever even said anything like it. No, it was my mistake, of course. Not his, at all. And now my job was riding on it being "fixed" yet again.
One frantic trip back to the workshop, one fevered search for the right sizes of shoes, and one pricey purchase of a very specific color of spray dye later, I brought them back. They were finally a color that he liked, but the "mistake" I made continued to be brought up like a ward against having to take responsibility for what he'd said.
So, point of two, but if you blame your mistakes on someone else and try to gaslight them into thinking they were the one who made the mistake, you've got deeper problems than just being an un-respectable boss.
But here I was, walking into the meeting that should determine whether I got a full contract or sent me packing. I had plans for both instances, so I was ready.
When the meeting started, though, I could tell that it was not going to be productive at all. You see, I'd talked with a few other people before I went into the meeting, and everyone gave me the same story: The company would do anything it took to not pay you more money. Anything it took.
Anything, it turns out, up to and including directly insulting me to my face.
"We want to extend your provisional contract for another five months, because we don't think you're manager material yet."
I've worked on your shows for five months. What do you expect to see in the next five that you haven't already?
"We just don't think you're up to it."
Can you give me some concrete metrics to show what I don't have yet for your job? I've brought the official job description with me, with a detailed explanation of how I've performed all of the duties involved with the job to an exceptional level.
And here's the next point of contention:
"I just don't think you're ready, and I can't give you anything concrete. You just need to be better."
So when I pointed out all the ways I was doing my job well, and you ignored them, that was one thing. Whenever I started to bring up a point that you didn't like, you'd try to discredit it, and failing that, you'd abruptly change the subject. Okay, sure, I see what you're doing, and it's not working. So you had to move the goalposts so that you could arbitrarily decide whether I was good or not based on how you FELT.
So, no, sir. If you can't give me any actual reasons why you are not pleased with my performance (with the exception of bringing up the shoe incident YET AGAIN), then you have no concrete reasons not to give me what you promised.
But I'd be willing to continue talking and try to reach an amenable solution if it weren't for the tour-de-force of words that tumbled from that blatherer's gaping, self-important maw next.
"I'm doing you a favor by letting you stay."
Right. You're doing me a favor by so graciously allowing me to continue doing the job you're not paying me the right amount of money to do so that your shows can go on the stage, even though if I were not doing that job you'd have no costumes.
You're doing me a favor.
Sure. That's what it is.
I'd never been so insulted in my life, directly to my face.
So I signed their bogus contract to extend the intern-level pay I was getting for doing a managerial job, and then immediately drove to the union house to register with them.
Now every time the Big Boss walks in the room, I'm reminded again and again how little he values the position I hold, the job I do for him. He wants his workers to be bootlickers, to leave their self-respect outside so that he can feel the most important. Well, sir. That's not going to happen.
I have a new job lined up, one that pays the appropriate amount for the work being done. You, on the other hand, have shows coming up. I'll be fine, but what about you?
Maybe you should try to find another person who actually IS right for the job. Maybe you should try to hire someone who matches your floating goalposts. Maybe you should find someone who will help you devalue their own experience and expertise. Maybe you should find someone who will lick the soles of your boots and let you feel like the megalomaniac, narcissistic self-important Man with the Biggest Ego.
In fact, you SHOULD do that! It will only benefit you if you do.
In a way, you know...
I'm doing you a favor.