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Home | Episode #20
From Roast to Respect
March 1, 2019 | Student Producer:

Noah Pallmeyer
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From Roast to Respect
Mitzi Smith recounts her experience dealing with a director in a theatrical production. (7 minutes)

I went to a very small but, competitive undergraduate school for musical theater, and in my senior year a distinguished alumni was returning to direct a musical and it was really coveted to try to be one of the actors, like, in this show. So of course I really put myself out there and I was really excited and I really, really wanted this opportunity. And the audition process was very interesting and you know, I felt like I would have the opportunity to learn from this person what, like, the business was like or really high quality theater. So I was very invested, so I got into the show and I was super excited and I, growing up have tended to be, um, a little chatty or you know, one who enjoys making others laugh sometimes during class when it's not asked for. So the cast that was assembled, a lot of them were seniors like I was. And so this just felt like such a warm, intimate opportunity. And so I would often take the liberty of making jokes during breaks or kind of entertaining my fellow cast mates with my own impersonations.

So as the process is going along, to me, everything is great and I'm being engaged and following the directions. And then one of the evening rehearsals, the director asked to talk to me and I noticed that nobody else was in the room with us. And so he wanted to take the chance to tell me that he was very unpleased with my behavior, and so much so that he went on to threaten me, that I was attempting to overpower him, I wasn't falling in line, and that he would have no problem removing me from the show, and he didn't care that my parents probably bought plane tickets because the school was very far from where I grew up, and that if I didn't want my future potential career ruined, I would start following directions.

And at the age of 21, that was really frightening and I felt, like, lost and I didn't realize that my behavior was being perceived that way. You know? And I said like, I'm so sorry, these are just my friends and I was just having fun and I didn't know. And as the process went on, I continued to get harassed and he would do certain things like force me to wear men's shoes to rehearsal or he was like, you know, I think that maybe we need to cut all your hair off and I think maybe that would help you. And so, I did not want to be removed from the show. To me that was potentially horrifying. I did not cut my hair however, but I felt like I became a shell of who I really am because I felt pressured and I felt harassed and I felt humiliated, which is I guess how I connected it to being roasted or roast.

So I stayed in the show, and tried to do what I was asked, and the show went on and people came and said nice things. And then months later, also in my senior year, we had a showcase in New York for agents. And so I'm there that morning, like with all my fellow seniors, and who should walk by on the streets of New York, but this director. And I thought like, "Oh my God, this- I just like kind of recovered from this fear of being in his presence." And he stopped and chatted and appeared really, like, friendly because everyone else was around and I just thought, "This is so weird, like you were so different to me one-on-one and now you're like, he gave me a hug, which felt really uncomfortable. So I powered through for years in New York and would occasionally run into him. But I just tried to tell myself that there was something from that experience that I should learn from and I should find a way to turn it around for myself rather than continue to have this fear.

So shortly after my years in New York, I knew I wanted to go into education and not model that behavior ever. And now being on the other side, like being an educator and working with students, I'm sometimes in a position where I have to talk about behavior or inappropriate behavior. And so I've really tried to make it a mission for myself to have those conversations in a compassionate way- to not embarrass somebody, to certainly not harass them and to try to make it an opportunity where people can find a way to be respectful, because I think that's what being in education is all about and promoting respect. And so while roasting can have like a funny connotation to it, or sometimes celebrities get roasted for other people's enjoyment, I think that underneath it can have a really impactful, negative experience for people, you know, it can go too far.

I don't know if his intentions were to like be funny and a little harsh, or to be the way in which I perceived it. But I perceived it how I did. And it's interesting because I really haven't thought about this in a long time. And so recalling the event really makes me remember that vulnerability and that position as an undergraduate student working with somebody who was promoted as being of such high esteem. And so I hope that with my students now I am able to interact with them respectfully and that they are able to feel comfortable and trust me and even if it's a challenging conversation to have to have, I want to be able to do it in a way that is honorable and whether someone else is there or not, I would speak to my students as if anyone else was listening to the conversation.

So I take that with me now in all my teachings and I try to make it a positive moment to learn from. And so I think, many years later that I am now I've finally been able to heal from that experience and find my own power and convince my students as well. And when I have opportunities where a student shares a story somewhat similar with me, I just try and support them and remind them that they deserve respect, because while there is, you know, kind of a hierarchy of students and faculty, everyone should be spoken to with kindness and openness and compassion. And I hope to model that. So it's a vulnerable experience to be able to recall this event, but I also hope that maybe it inspires someone else to realize that if they feel like they're being spoken to in a way that they shouldn't, that they should advocate for themselves and model the behavior that they want to receive and not let that one experience suppress them.