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David Mirvish Handed Me My Theatre Degree

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

NOTE: This post was originally published on April 20, 2018. On May 7, 2020, my re-designed website went live, simultaneously re-publishing all of my old blog posts.

Yes, that David Mirvish. He signed it too.

It took everything I had not to bring my resume with me to convocation knowing that I would be meeting David Mirvish, the new Chancellor for the University of Guelph, at such an opportune moment. It would have been hilarious (and bold AF) had I whipped out a crisp copy of my CV and formally introduced myself to him as a freshly minted Theatre Studies grad. Even if my list of credentials was minuscule at that point, the degree I was being handed had to be worth something… right?

Looking back, I did OK for myself right out of university. I landed a Stage Management Apprenticeship for the summer at the closest thing to professional theatre in my community and worked my butt off for no money. It all paid off when I got hired as F/T Temporary Administrative Assistant for this company once the summer season was over. A theatre job right out of school? By all accounts, that was a major win. I had developed quite a chip on my shoulder while in university, being asked by folks from all walks of life what I was going to do after graduation. The answer seemed obvious to me (work in theatre, duh!) but I found myself defending my choice — my dream — on the regular. Sometimes, it even got nasty. I will never forget being asked, “Which restaurant are you going to wait tables at once you get your Theatre degree?”

A Psychology Major asked me that. No word of a lie.

So, as I was saying, the fact that I had a job in theatre right out of university was a big win. My parents, always the supportive pragmatics, were a little worried about the fact that the position was only temporary but I reassured as best I could that this was just what I needed to do to get my career going. Besides, these people were positively loving having me around. The youngest person in the core company, I was handed over all of the Social Media accounts and told to run with them. Having transitioned to where I was from a Summer Apprenticeship, my personal experience was especially valuable when it came to grant-writing. A letter I penned to a wealthy patron detailing my experience and the opportunities this company had given me as a new grad persuaded him to cut a cheque for $10,000!

Within a few months, I was promoted to Artistic Administrator after a restructuring in the company (read: someone higher up quit unceremoniously). I wasn’t too sure what this new position would entail, but damned if I was going to turn down a F/T Permanent position in Theatre! Thankfully, the woman who had done my job for the full year before me was still with the company (she got promoted into the newly vacant position) and so I would have someone around to show me the ropes.

My parents could not be more supportive :)

Now, here's where things start to get a little tricky...

That person who I was supposed to look to for guidance and support? Well, she also had a chip on her shoulder. Having entered the job without a theatre background, she felt she had busted her ass to learn the job and I guess she figured I should learn the hard way, too. She would often tell me how she hated the job I now had when it was hers, how our boss would be constantly breathing down her neck, and how if it weren’t for the woman she replaced, she might not have made it through her first year. I began to experience the same behaviour from our boss and I desperately needed my predecessor to be the type of person her predecessor had been for her, but she couldn’t. She wouldn't. She was helpless and un-helpful and part of me wonders if she enjoyed standing on the shore watching me drown.

I think she enjoyed listening to my boss question why I was struggling so much when the person who did my job last not only rocked at everything and left great examples to copy, but was readily available for brain-picking. It took me far too long to point out that the reason I was struggling was because I wasn’t getting the help everyone thought I was getting. I didn’t want to use any excuses or throw anyone else under the bus. I figured I was smart enough to figure things out on my own.

My Dad, a.k.a. the smartest person I ever knew, was always able to figure things out without being taught. He missed his calling as an engineer, or maybe a mechanic, due to a workplace injury he sustained when he was young. I'll never forget finding out that he had spent the day repairing the engine on an 18-wheel tractor trailer. I asked him how he managed it and told me that he took each of the pieces out and laid them in order on a table, then, when he found and fixed the problem, he just put them all back in. He said, “They are pretty much the same as a regular car pr truck engine, only bigger.” He'd learned out of necessity and lack of funds how to fix his own vehicles throughout the years, so it never occurred to him that he couldn't do it.

I was so determined to inherit this can-do, will-do attribute from my Dad, but by the time I admitted to myself that I didn’t quite have it and explained to my employer the real reason I was struggling, it was too late. Faith was lost, egos were bruised, and things went downhill pretty quickly after that. My dream job turned into a living nightmare. I went home crying daily and eventually I just couldn’t take it anymore so I packed up my things and left.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t at the most opportune time for the company but after being told by a colleague that I was only being kept around until the season was over, I didn’t see any point in being miserable any longer than I had to. I was very fortunate to still be living at home when this all happened and my parental safety net supported my fall. They, too, were scratching their heads wondering what happened given that I was embraced with such open arms by the company when I started.

Shortly after I left, there was an outpouring of support from my former colleagues who had witnessed the unjustifiably harsh treatment I was being given, despite my best efforts to rise above. Though they were sad to see me go, they were also glad to see me stand up for myself at long last. The most surprising thing to come of this genuinely terrible experience was the number of people who had held my job previous to me, some of whom I barely knew, who were finding ways to reach out to me and congratulate me on lasting as long as I did.

While I won’t say that I regret the experience, having learned and accomplished a lot and enjoyed living the dream while it lasted, I wish someone had told me *before* I left that there had been a new person in my role the last 18 years…

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