Elissa Beth Stebbins

week four. part: upheaval.

Ah, the procrastination.

And the reason is pretty simple: I’m here to tell you about the time I got angry and didn’t back away from confrontation.  With my instructor.  In front of everyone.

What I’d really like you to know is that, while this sounds unpleasant and there’s definitely a reason I’ve been avoiding writing about it, I count this event as a win.  First off – I got angry.  And I let myself be angry in front of other people.  And I let myself speak my anger in front of other people.  To a person of authority.

These are not things I regularly do.

And I wasn’t crazy screaming or out of control angry.  In fact, I was pretty logical, and only once allowed my voice to raise.  But I suppose you’d like to know what this was all about.

(This is where I realize it’s been so long since this happened I wonder if I can even remember what it was all about)

Ah yes, I remember now.

Most of my dissatisfaction stemmed from some of the ways classes were being run,particularly a lack of time management.  For week three and four, we spent a lot of time trudging through very slow moving classes, wherein one person worked while everyone else watched.  Which meant that I wasn’t actually on my feet working very much (though still exhausted from 13 hour days wherein classes would repeatedly spill over into breaks).  But there were various other things unworthy of outlining in detail.  As one averse to confrontation, no single one of those things could have spurred me to speak up.

But I think the clincher was that we hadn’t had any check-ins.

Checking in is a big thing here at Shakespeare & Company.  The purpose of the check-in is to say anything that needs to be said in order to bring the individual into the room.  Speaking the thing that is distracting, or “chasing it’s tail in your brain,” allows the individual to put that thing to rest, even momentarily, in order to be more present in the work.  Usually, check-ins are a monologue, not a dialogue, and the general rule is that what someone speaks in a check-in is not fodder for discussion outside of class, unless brought up for discussion by the original speaker.

The absence of check-ins meant I had been stewing in my frustration for a long while, so much so that I had been distracted in class all week, and judged that my work was suffering. Friday of week four concluded with a “wrap up” session, and, in what I thought to be a check-in, I voiced that I was frustrated to the extent that it was keeping me from working.

I feel incredibly hesitant to plow on through this story.  I feel the desire to put out so many caveats, to let you know that everything ends up very happy and productive and things are much better.  But that would ruin the tension of this post.

And my instructor responded to my check-in.  And he responded out of hurt and anger.  And we had it out.  Did I mention this was in front of everyone?

The good news is, he apologized after class and we had a very productive discussion about my frustrations with the program.

The bad news is, that was a private conversation.  And class had let out late (not a few minutes but one whole hour late), but the evening session was part of the dropping in workshop which was a public, and thus it couldn’t be pushed back.  So basically, everyone had witnessed this very heated and traumatic event with no time to process, and had to go directly back into class with a bunch of people who were not part of the conservatory.  The worse news was that the dropping in workshop lasted all weekend, and the instructor who had been at the wrap up had left town immediately after that conversation. Also, this was a super long week, with no nights off, and our day off was pushed back to Monday due to the dropping in workshop.

It was a fraught weekend to say the least.

The dropping in workshop went really well – it’s a fascinating and incredibly useful process, and I know I promised I’d write about it with the workshop, but I think I’ll have to push it back once again and tell you all about how we’re using it with King John.  It turns out I’m rather good at dropping in other people, and that I really enjoy it.  But more on that later.

The following Tuesday, one of our instructors was sick, so we used the morning session to have an epic check-in.  Feelings bottled up all weekend (and longer) got to be expressed, and heard.  And then after lunch we went on to have an assisted conversation with everyone – all of us students and our instructors, moderated by another Shakespeare & Company faculty member.  It was intense, and intensely honest, and so very productive.

And things are better.  So much better.  And I’m proud of myself – for standing up for myself, for standing my ground when challenged, for allowing myself to be angry and to express anger and frustration, for not running away from confrontation, and for not just taking what I was given even if it wasn’t what I wanted (hello life habit!) but actively working to make this experience more useful to me.  And all of my relationships are intact, many of them better than ever.

And that, boys and girls, is the glory of communication.


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