I was in a committee meeting when I got the results. Tabulation Day, and there were a bunch of candidates who are members of the LORT (League of Regional Theatres) committee; and we just happened to be on the room together as the results came in. As the meeting dragged on, one by one each of our phones rang we politely excused ourselves, went out into the anteroom, took the call and heard the news.
I didn't get re-elected to Actors' Equity Council - and in the most excruciating way. I was beaten by a nose. Six slots available in the Eastern Region, twenty two (!!) people running - and I was seventh by a mere 81 votes.
Some context: My service as a Councillor is one of the things I am most proud of in my entire adult life. Over the last decade (2 straight terms) I've changed things for the better for people I love and believe in; fought well, fought hard, fought smart.
So as I was standing there with the phone to my ear, and the news hit my brain, my first reaction was?
I can hear you saying it -"Wait, What The What? Relief? He was RELIEVED???"
Yeah - label me surprised. Of course, the crushing sadness came later; I was gutted. But first, I breathed a deep sigh and felt my shoulders drop an inch. And I'm still trying to figure this out. Thus, this blog; let's figure it out together, shall we?
In ten years of service as a Councillor, I've learned that possibly the only key attribute of an effective politician is... ENDURANCE. You need endurance to make it through meetings that go hours over their allotted time; endurance to keep your mouth shut when a colleague is saying something that you know to be PATENTLY AND INCREDIBLY STUPID; endurance to make it through negotiating sessions with Producers that go weeks over the allotted schedule; and endurance to find the time to actually make money, and make up for the time you spent busting your ass pro bono.
And then there's emotional endurance. Councillors attempt to move forward change that Members may or may not agree with, and they do all this because they care for the National body of the Union, as a whole. Perks? Trust me, the Tony tickets are very nice, but they don't even begin to salve the feeling of wanting to stick a fork in your eye during meetings in which someone at the podium is making a point that has already been made five times. Stop me, I'm reaching for utensils just thinking about it.
But it goes deeper than that. Jennifer Swiderski, a Councillor (and now former colleague) who I will paraphrase badly here, recently wrote on FB: "Man - Sometimes giving a damn really hurts."
Yeah, yeah, I can hear you all the way up here in Inwood: "Aw, boo frickin hoo, Jimmy doesn't like it when people say bad things about him or the policies that he stands for. Well, you signed up for it, baby. Pucker up."
I hear you. When you're a leader, you stand out front, and you accept that there's a target on your back. And your front. And your side. And your...well, pick a body part. We know this intimately. And we take those hits. But - I think that in most Unions, the blows usually only come from one direction: Make Us More Money. And hey, that's what Unions are for, right? Better Wages and Working Conditions. Well - not at Equity. Not recently.
Three years ago several beloved Broadway shows went out on tour on lower level contracts, and much of the Membership didn't like it; and I and my fellow Councillors were suddenly in a bare knuckle fight with a group of people who were incensed that they weren't being paid enough. We learned a great deal from that; we got energized, we got ideas...and we got beat up.
And then, just as the dust from that little party was beginning to settle, we found ourselves in another bare knuckle fight... with a group of Members who want to work at greatly reduced rates, or in some cases, for free. And Council is still getting beat on by this group. Are you understanding that? In consecutive years, a room full of people who are giving everything they can for the Membership, for free, got torched by them... for exactly opposite reasons. Yeah. Basically, our Membership is bipolar.
Lesson? We have a large and diverse Membership, with incredibly divergent needs. Result? The leadership of our Union is regularly beat to shit.
All that said, I may never go back, and also I would also go back instantly. I would heal these bruises, walk back into a meeting and offer myself up to body blows. Again. Wait a minute. Maybe I'm the one who is crazy here.
And do I still think I'm the best person for the job? Absolutely. Do I think the electorate did the right thing? Once again: ABSOLUTELY. At the end of the day, the full, National Membership decides, because WE are the Union. Do I agree with what the Membership decided here? Well, in this case, obviously not. Damn - Leadership IS Bipolar.
And in that, a gift: I get to ask myself: "Do you believe in a Representative Democracy or not? Will you make use of time away from the Council Room, or is this the Big Goodbye?"
I don't know. What I do know is that even though leadership beats the hell out of you, I love it. I'm good at it. And now I know - one of the most important parts of leadership in a Democracy? Believing in the system enough to step away when the vote doesn't go in your direction.
I wish the new Councillors all the best. Get your shields ready, sharpen your wits. You're gonna need 'em. And I'll see you all soon. Because maybe I'm just crazy enough to come back.
Or maybe not.