It's Okay to Burn Some Bridges

Michaela Bulkley

One of the biggest pieces of advice I got was that the theatre world was small, so don’t burn any bridges. This is extremely true, as the theatre world is small, especially in Los Angeles, and networking is crucial to thriving as an artist. 

Yet sometimes you have to burn that bridge. 

My freshman year of college I was given a mentor, we worked well together for about two years. I was his assistant stage manager to shows he stage managed, and stage manager for shows he directed. We had a good system, if he had a job I had a job, and then things got messy.

He recommended me for a job, I got an interview, I got the job and then I saw the pay. I had to turn it down. I was still in college and needed a job that paid better, it was nothing personal with the company or show but I had to start making some better financial decisions. My heart said yes, but my car payment said no. 

I apparently humiliated him. He loved that theatre company and by turning them down I was threatening my whole career. I explained to him my financial situation and I got called a sell-out. He explained to me I was nothing without him, I owed my whole career to him, and he felt betrayed. I let it go. Then it happened again. He needed an assistant stage manager and I was busy and it was the same flood of anger and name calling. 

Then that bridge went up in flames. 

Then I told him I would never work with him or any company he works with again. I don’t hold it against any company he works with, but I won’t put myself in the position to have to work with him again. It was hard, and I am still afraid someday it will bite me back, but it was the right thing to do. For so long I let him treat me that way because he was my mentor and I thought he could make or break my career, which is what he wanted me to believe. I thought I was never allowed to cut anybody out and had to make everyone I work with like me. 

Reflecting back on it two years later I realized that I wasn’t the one who was at fault with that relationship going sour. He taught me a lot about how I deserve to be treated and what a mentor should not be. Mentors are meant to teach and empower. It’s more than just getting jobs. The shoulder have cooled, but the rebuilding process is not starting any time soon, if ever. I don’t think I burned that bridge, but I wasn’t about to put out the fire. 

~~~~~

Michaela Bulkley is a recent graduate of the University of La Verne and has spent the last few years freelancing in Los Angeles. She has an obsession with Shakespeare, theatre for children, and coffee. Now she is exploring theatre administration and leadership as a career and hopes to create a world where more people understand her theatre jokes. 

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