Always Open For Business

In January I was on Granville Island for the PuSh Festival volunteer orientation.  I arrived

Photo by flickr user saaam. Used under creative commons license.

early, as I often do, and decided to run a couple of errands since I was on the island anyways.  I knew that the kids’ market (& everything in it) closed at 6pm, but it was 5:57 and the door to the post office was still unlocked.  All I needed from them was a single stamp. The woman behind the counter had her back to me and as soon as she heard the bell about the door ring, she said, “We’re closed.”  She didn’t even turn around to look at me, let alone to see what I needed.  I was frustrated with her attitude and suggested that perhaps she should lock the door if she didn’t want anyone else to come in.

A few minutes later I walked by a cafe.  I wanted a cup of tea if I could find a place that was open.  The cafe didn’t have its hours posted but its lights were on and there were people behind the bar & others still sitting at the tables.  And behold – it’s door was propped open.  I walked in and up to the counter and began looking at their tea selection.  And then I heard a voice “We’re actually closed now.”  I turned to leave and encouraged them to post their hours and close their door so that others like me didn’t have the same experience.

The whole situation got me thinking about how those of us who work in theatre are always open for business.  I don’t mean that our offices are always open to the public (though the number of times I’ve called friends at odd hours and they’ve still been at work are many). I mean that we don’t have defined hours – times when we shut off work. I have met very theatre artists who can easily “switch off” their work mode – stop thinking about their character, an idea to fix a scene, a new sound idea, etc. Inspiration comes at all times of day, regardless of where we are or whether or not we are “working.”

At the end of my second year of university I was introduced to a man they were interviewing to work as a professor & the production manager for the theatre department. As the department chair introduced us, she started listing off all the things I did there: a double major, stage managed four shows that year, ran lights for the improv comedy group, worked in the library, ran auditions, etc. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You need some boundaries!” to which the department chair responded “Not yet! Maybe once she graduates! I still need her!”

The official definition of a boundary is: something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line.

Boundaries are a hard thing to develop in this business, especially in regards to time. In an age of instant communication, there are multiple ways to reach people at any point in the day. For myself, one of the first boundaries I developed was the use of a “work only” e-mail address. I am very adamant that show related things be sent to that e-mail address which I only check once a day (as opposed to my personal account which is linked to my desktop so I know immediately when I get a new e-mail). In this way I limit my work time on days that I am not working. I also try not to bring things home with me. Whenever possible I leave the prompt script locked up at the theatre and ensure I send my show reports from the theatre before going home. When I take my notes home and write the reports from home, it inevitably takes much longer and is more difficult to focus on. When I have time off work, I try to go away. By leaving town I remove a layer of responsibility for what is happening at a place I am not working and am forced to do things unrelated to my job.

But I still find it difficult to leave work at work. I often find myself worrying about how things are at the theatre on my days off and spending much of my time talking about theatre, looking for theatre jobs, attending theatre & thinking about doing more theatre.

What do you do to refocus? How do you divide your time between theatre & the rest of your life? What boundaries have you put in place?

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About Lois

I am a Vancouver-based Stage Manager and frequent theatre goer. After graduating from Trinity Western University I spent two seasons as the resident stage manager at Pacific Theatre. Now I am working as a freelancer with various companies in Vancouver.


  1. I find having 2 high stress careers makes for great boundaries….at the theatre I have to be in the moment and focused to be able to run my show…in my other job I have to be present and focused to deal with my clients.. voila, boundaries! Of course if at some point I survive to retire from the other job and and am down to one I am not sure what I will do then. NO wait, I go travelling!

  2. I have responsibilities to an unnamed youth outdoor skills group that I volunteer with and I know about long in advance to any theatre work that comes up. That alone keeps me sane. Other then that, as a freelancer, very rarely can I say no to work. My friends understand this fact and have grown to accept cancellations at the last minutes. Luckly that doesn’t happen as often now, but it’s still a pain at times.

    I also have the problem that I can’t turn of my techie-brain. I have severe issues with going to a show and not commenting on the rigging, or the type of lights, or how much fog their using. Which, while not as bad as emails at three am from a director going nuts because they forgot to do something, still annoy the heck out of my not tech friends.

    As for thinking about theatre. That’s the nature of the profession, which I have issues with. You’re always looking for that next paycheck, or tomorrow’s rehearsal. Theatre typically doesn’t provide the luxury of just showing up for work day in and day out, putting in your eight hours. But that’s one of the reasons I enjoy theatre, that’s it’s not a 9-5 job.

    But yes, I just accepted some work in a text started at 10:30 this evening, and finalized it by text after midnight. Did this really interfere with my evening? Probably annoyed my friend while we were in the midst of conversation, but I didn’t have a problem with them offering work.

    I hope that makes sense, and adds more stew to the pot.

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