Hey, what's up, I'm Bret Shuford, and welcome to the CreatiVisibility Podcast. For those of you that don't know me, or who are new to me, I am excited, like super excited to be starting this because my mission really has been to help as many creatives as possible make a living doing what they love. As most of you know, I've spent a majority of my life and career pursuing a profession in the theater. So I've been to multiple Broadway shows, including The Little Mermaid, wicked was the most recent. And when the shutdown happened, I was a swing, if you don't know what a swing is, in a Broadway show, a swing covers multiple ensemble roles. I also covered two principal roles. So a majority of my life professionally in theater, especially in New York, I have been an understudy and in a swing, so I've always been in the ensemble and understudied. I loved it. I love the adrenaline. The nice thing about under setting and swinging is, you're never bored, you're always on your toes, you all you know, there, there are some of the most underappreciated jobs on Broadway. And I used to really feel, I guess, rewarded for getting to go on last minute. And if you did a great job, you know, people would would thank you, the producers, especially were grateful, because they made sure that their show was going on. And you know, they were still selling tickets and making money. And that was great. But for me, I think that over the last few years, I made this decision when the pandemic hit, I, I wasn't even really sure that I wanted to be in a Broadway show again, but my husband Steven and I, if you don't know, we have a channel called Broadway husbands. We really, really, really, really, really, really, really badly wanted to be dads. So. And we talked a lot about what it's like to try to grow your family as two gay men on our Bravo husband's network and podcast. So I will spare you that if anyone's interested in learning more about that, make sure you go follow probably husbands. But I knew that in order for us to grow our family, I needed to make money and I needed to have something sustainable. And in my experience professionally working on Broadway had been the, the way that I'd made the most money sustainably. So we had spent a year living in Charleston, South Carolina, it was a it was a gamble. We wanted to try to see if if we could enjoy living in another place and living back in the south and teaching. And very quickly, we learned that it was a it was a gamble that this was not going to pay off. We weren't going to make the kind of money we hoped the people that had brought us to Charleston actually ended up being I will just say not the most trustworthy people. And we ended up moving back to Charleston, I mean, back to New York City and 2019 kind of licking our wounds. And you know, for anyone listening, like why is this important? It is important to understand that as a creative, no matter what level you're at, it is important to take risks, it is important to try new things. In my experience. That's how you grow. And I think a lot of us think oh my gosh, if I leave New York, you know, if I'm a theatre person, I leave New York. Am I gonna lose out on things or whatever. But the truth is I it was a test. And when you move back to New York, within four months, I booked another Broadway show. So just remember that it doesn't always have to be black and white. Sometimes you can take risks, and do them just to learn just to try if you're curious about something, try it and know that like the community that you're a part of will still be there when you're ready. So we moved back to New York. And I really I love my business.
I love coaching i i work one on one with clients. I teach courses. I love creating content. I've done it for years on my YouTube channel and of course, through Broadway husbands we have grown our Instagram account pretty significantly and in fact, it's become another revenue stream And that's something you're going to hear a lot about during list. Keep listening to this podcast if you're not tired of hearing my stories, but I think I thought, you know, I needed to have a Broadway show to feel legitimate to feel like I could sustain things. And so I booked wicked. This government job, that's what they call on Broadway, that job that like that shows never going to close, at least not in the next 10 years. And I thought, wow, this is great. This is my way in to us growing a family. And we were living in our 600 square foot, fourth floor walk up East Village apartment in New York City. And I was going to do I was going to swing nine tracks. That's right. I joined that company. And I'm just covering nine tracks. So how does that work? That's a whole other.
That's a whole nother topic and episode figuring out how to cover nine tracks. But I will say when I joined wicked, I had a couple of friends who, over the years had told me that we I mean, I've heard it for years since the show opened really how it can be a toxic place to work. I've had clients that I've coached that worked there that were desperate to leave because they were so sort of emotionally abused from the toxic environment there. I have people who you know, that I know who've been Elphaba, and Glinda has who were sort of traumatized from it. Even my agent told me that they had a client who quit the business after doing wicked because of the experience that she had there. So I had heard stories about that place being kind of a toxic place. And believe me, if you want to hear stories about Broadway and toxicity, stay tuned, there will probably be more episodes. But this really was what propelled me to start this podcast, because I thought, wow, okay. A lot of people, probably disgruntled employees, and or maybe didn't have the seasoned experience that I've had of having been in multiple Broadway shows. So I kind of let it slide thinking that I would be the exception. I'm in my 40s. I'm, you know, the people I knew who worked there, who hired me, you know, they knew my experience. Most interesting things about starting that show was that I date, everyone who hired me kept saying, Oh, my gosh, you are the first swing we've ever hired who's never done the show before. Usually, they'd always in 17, however many years, they'd always brought someone in from the national tour. And they kept saying, wow, you know, this is awesome. Yeah, this is a unicorn track, you had to be able to sing a full high B, but then also understood the wizard and Dr. Delmond. And so, you know, as a tricky track, that the guy was replacing very sweet, very talented guy. He was kind of letting on, when I started rehearsals, how, like, toxic it was for him to be there. And that's one of the reasons he was leaving. And I thought, wow, the again, I just missed it. This guy is disgruntled, it's probably, you know, I'm going to be the exception to this rule. And I knew another guy who was a dance swing there, who, you know, one of the things that our good old Actors Equity Union did now is you can have no matter what if you're in the ensemble or swing or Ana on an ensemble contract, just so you know, you used to be able to if you got an ensemble contract, they could they couldn't fire you, basically, you're signed on for life. But now in the last negotiations with the producers, the Broadway League, they now can put you on a six month rider and decide whether or not they want to renew you. They can renew you for another six months and decide again, and then after that, so basically they have two chances to not renew you which is I think another way of firing of saying fire you. And that was a new that's a new thing that Broadway used to never be like that. And this guy I knew who was a swing such a good swing. He'd been in multiple Broadway shows he's in one now. They didn't renew him. And his speculation was because he had raised concerns about some of the work schedules and some of the rehearsal schedule. and the way things were being communicated. And he was a deputy for the Union. And then he didn't get renewed. And I remember his last day, he said to me start recording your notes sessions with the stage manager. That's all he said. And I thought, This guy's clearly unhappy, disgruntled again, I just kind of dismissed it thinking that's not going to be me.
And why am I telling you all this? I'm not telling you this. I think there needs to be transparency. I think people need to know what really goes on. I think people need to be held accountable. But I'm also telling you this so that you understand that the reason I'm starting this podcast, the reason why I want to create this kind of content is because I want people to understand that if you want to be visible, and you want to make a living as a full time creative, you don't need other people's approval to do so. And I learned this the hard way. Because I started that job and immediately started, I kind of got thrown on pretty early on and I you know, in in any corporate job, which I would consider this to be one, you don't want to you want to be a yes, man, you want to be the kind of person who's like, I'm going to roll the punches, I'm going to give them what they need, I'm going to show up for them. Because I want them you know, I want to support the team. But in this environment, there's kind of like a no win situation where I remember, you know, I got very sick about I don't know, maybe been there a little over a month, and I got very sick. I actually think Steven, I think we maybe had COVID, I think maybe had been there for two months. And I got whatever I got from one of the guys I covered, who was much older, and he was out for weeks, weeks. So I was on for him. I just learned the show, I was learning I think my sixth track of nine tracks, performing him and I'm on like meds and I'm just really sick. And I should have called out, you know, that was on me to not call out. But I also wanted to I didn't have health weeks yet, I had only been there a couple months and it takes with our union, I think it takes six weeks or something for you to get your health insurance. So I didn't have and I didn't have sick days, because you only get one sick day around a month. So if I took more than two days off, which I need, I took three days off to try to get better and it wasn't enough. So I showed up at rehearsal really sick on antibiotics and and meds I've been on the night before. And I was just I was just messing up lines, I was just in a fog, from the medication and from being sick. And the rehearsal was kind of a disaster. Until the end, I feel like once we got to the end of that rehearsal, I remembered everything I was able to kind of it was good. I mean, I was a rehearsal that I needed. And then I was on again that night. I'll never forget this. So I got called in to the office after the show, after being on and pushing through being sick, like really pushing through these high notes. And the stage managers in there. Now, mind you, the stage manager has been there for at this point, I think she'd been there for 13 years. And in the room with her is the resident director who's been there since the beginning. The irony of that to me is that on Broadway directors and creative teams can say we want to replace the cast, we feel that the cast is getting stale. But then they don't replace the creative team. Like those people don't get stale, or those people don't get into a place or a position of power that they shouldn't necessarily be in. And in this situation. I was completely kind of attacked in the room. What's wrong with you? What was wrong with you? I didn't know your lines today. In rehearsal, I said, Well, I'm sick. And I'm on medication. And I'm not going to make any excuse except I probably should have called out. But I wanted to push through because I thought I need the rehearsal on me. I'm still trying to learn the show. And they go into this whole threatening, you know, you know, we we chose you out of all of these people and the director saw your tape and chose you and, you know, you really need to step up and be you know, I was like, step up. I mean, I'm here. You know, it was insane. There was no acknowledgement of the time or the sacrifice I'd put in to be there. And I apologize and I said you know it won't happen. Again, I will, I now
realize that and I actually said this. I said, Okay, now I realize that rehearsal, when you call a rehearsal, you actually mean performance. You mean there's no room for process? And she's like, that's not what I'm saying. I'm like, No, but that's exactly what you're saying. If I mess up my lines in rehearsal, you have a problem with that. So I need to be prepared to perform, is what you're saying. And she was trying to deny that that was what she was saying. And I said, Okay, I hear you, I will make sure I know my lines, and went home. Not thinking anything of it was on again, the next day, I'm gonna give telling you how sick I was. It was so frustrating to be on all these meds and try to sing these high notes. And I couldn't call out I just was I was so sick. I did both shows that day. I think even that night, there was one performance where she I just did the opening, I just sang the opening. And then I was able to lip sync the rest of the show because I had no voice and I went to her like, can I call out and she was like, we don't have anybody else. So I literally sing the opening and then had to lip sync the entire show because I had no voice. And I get home that night. And I got an email. And I got written up. I've never, I've been working in New York City for 22 years, I'd never been written up in my entire career. And I get just totally out of left field, this email. See seeing the producers, the general managers, the creative team, saying Bret this this letter is to acknowledge that Bret Shuford sort of rehearsal didn't know his lines. And she quoted me and said he will not let this happen again, I he will not make any excuses. And I was so upset. I was I was so pissed. I was in more than anything. It was just embarrassing. You know, these are people that like I trust and, and creative respect. And she's like throwing me under the bus. Because I messed up these lines at rehearsal. And I was I was really, really upset. And especially because I was on I was like doing my job I was performing. While sick, I was sacrificing so much to be there, my own health. And the next day, then God it wasn't on. And I remember I went upstairs in the rehearsal studio. And just just tried not to see anybody because I was so upset. I was so pissed off. And it was then then I realized that I was kind of under attack that this person apparently bullies, the swings, the understudies the dance captains. She's emotionally abusive. And, and that's why the person I replaced was leaving. And she was just repeating that same pattern. So I did I started to go into the sessions and record when I would get these notes. And when I tell you it started to happen. I don't two three times a week, I will get called in after the show. To have these have her just reprimand me in front of the entire stage management staff say things like, do you even want this job? Maybe you don't even want this job. Some people are cut to be swings and maybe you're just not. At one point she pointed her finger in my face and said you need to be pro effing active. I mean, just inappropriate, inappropriate conversations in like, and And meanwhile, like I had no no one was listening to me. I remember my friend who was a high up on the creative team called me on my day off and said what's going on you got written up. And he started to say like, she's she's just runs a tight ship. I'm telling you this was not running a tight ship. This was hostility. And I was not really sure how to feel about it. I thought my you know, a lot of people then started to see the sort of exhaustion on my face. So what's going on? I said, I'm being bullied. And people backstage in the show had been there for years. 13 years, some of them would say things like, Oh, it'll stop. Or oh, yeah, she does that. Don't worry, it happens to everyone. And so there was this like complicit energy there to the abuse that most people had just sort of gotten used to.
And I just kept thinking, you know, I kept I just wanted to get to a place where I knew all the tracks so that I could start my coaching business and I realized They, when the pandemic hit, literally, the pandemic hit three weeks after, I think one week after I learned my last track, I performed my last track. And it was literally one week later that Broadway shut down. And I wasn't really sure how I felt about it, I was sort of bummed, but kind of relieved, because it was just, it was so much pressure. But during the pandemic, there were so many stories coming out about people's experiences of working on Broadway, from racism, and, you know, some homophobia, which, of course, plenty of stories there. And just the kind of toxic culture that was sort of being bred within Broadway, I really started to come to terms of what had happened to me. Because I was relating to these people's stories, right to people who, who are more marginalized than me. I mean, I'm a sis white man, I mean, I'm gay. But you know, the I was relating to these stories. And I really wanted there to be changed. I had met with our union before the shutdown. But of course, once the shutdown happened, the union was more concerned about getting work than they are about hostile behaviors. And the league, you know, on Broadway, I think the thing that most people don't realize is that Broadway is not this corporate entity, and that, you know, not like Disney, you don't just have an HR department and you know, like you do at a major corporation, Broadway is each show is its own. It's its own LLC, its own community. So if they don't have systems in place, then there's really nowhere to go. And none of these shows had any systems in place for hostile behavior, or bullying, especially when it comes to someone who's been in the company for 1314 years and made that operation run so they can make the money they want to make. So when the shutdown happened, I was trying to recover emotionally, but also serve my community and maybe even be part of voicing change. And there would be meetings, we would have these zoom meetings with the entire company of wicked from the tours to Broadway. And I really applauded this desire to bring people together. But at the same time, it was also one sided, like there was no real safe way of voicing the emotional abuse. And when Scott rutan's thing came out, if you don't know, there was a report and the Hollywood Reporter about Scott Rudin and his abusive behavior. We had another zoom call, and I and I actually asked in that meeting, what are you going to do to protect your company and they said, they were hiring a social justice person, and they were going to send out a press release about it. So I'm great. So this is PR, but they're really have are no systems in place. To protect people. And I do wish I had not been in such an insecure place at that time, that I could have said to her, and this is maybe such a big takeaway from me looking back on it, that I could have said, Don't talk to me like that. You're not going to speak to me this way. And I think some of us don't necessarily own that as artists and as creatives because we're just so grateful to have the job. I also just don't did not expect someone to speak to me the way that I was working so hard, and was so exhausted, and I'm not, you know, in my 20s, you know, so I thought there would be some sort of mutual respect there. And it just was it was really, really challenging. So
when the shutdown happened, I really started to focus my energy on coaching and creating this community. And what I realized is that all this time, I have been putting so much of my belief in myself and my success behind the accomplishment of being on Broadway because it was a childhood dream. But my I had outgrown that dream. You know, who I who I have become is not the person that I was, and that I no longer wanted to have other people tell me that I can make money doing what I love. I no longer wanted to have to have a casting director cast me in order to do what I love. I no longer wanted to have approval of other people. I really wanted to be my own boss. And when the pandemic happened, I was able to do that, I was able to be of service to my community and work with creatives, and start to put myself out there. But now I really want to put myself out there in a bigger way. I want people to understand that you don't need permission from others to be the creative you want to be. There are so many tools at our disposal, you know, those of us that do have a dream that we do, maybe you you do dream of being on Broadway still understand that you have the power to speak up for yourself, you also have the power to speak up for others. And that was the one thing I was sort of really hurt by was this complicity. That was happening backstage that people wouldn't speak up. You know, the other staff members would hear this person yelling at people and wouldn't say, Hey, that's not appropriate, this person's working their ass off, you can't speak to them that way in defense of that person. So I want to encourage you, if you're a creative, speak up, speak up for others. Speak up for yourself. If you can't, then know that there are people out there who want to help you and want to support you. So reach out to somebody. Let's be honest, and speak up and transparent about in justices that are happening hostility, because change can happen. But it's not going to happen. If we all just remain quiet. We need to be visible. So that's the point of this podcast is to help create a life for yourself that requires you to be visible to be seen. So many of us, especially if we've grown up LGBTQ plus, we didn't feel seen either by our family by community. We still are triggered by that I know I am. And so I'm going to help you through this podcast. And if you follow me on YouTube, through my YouTube channel, I'm here to help you find a safe space and a safe way to be courageous enough to create the life you want. So stay tuned, there'll be more episodes coming. And of course, if you have ideas or guests that you'd like to hear on this podcast or on this channel, certainly go to the show notes or in the description below. There's a little forum there. I'd love to hear from you. I'd love to know what kind of content you want to hear and stay tuned for the next episode.