A Good Problem to Have
I absolutely detest being told, ‘that’s a good problem to have’.
It started as a pet peeve many years ago when I was running a box office and our ‘good problem’ was having sold more tickets than we had seats. Great, you may think – a sold out show! Unless you’re the person who has to tell audience members who have bought a ticket that there’s nowhere for them to sit. It might be a ‘good problem’, but it’s still a problem. It doesn’t go away just because it’s been caused by success. And it doesn’t go away just because I have to solve it and not the person saying, ‘oh, that’s a good problem to have’ and then waltzing off. It’s the dismissal of the problem that irks me the most.
It’s been a long time since I’ve run a box office, but the ‘good problem to have’ refrain recently resurfaced in a totally different way. Last week was particularly stressful, for reasons to do with a bunch of projects taking a big step forward. All at the same time. Like buses, you wait* forever and then four come at once. (‘Wait’ in this instance is more like ‘work your tail off’, of course.)
Guleraana and I are heading to the Netherlands next week for the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. We’re going to share some information about our project Home Is Where… and demonstrate the interactive drama workshop that explores the themes of the play. Very exciting! A somewhat expensive trip, but worth the tax-deductible investment, we think.
Then, we’re invited to speak at the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama! A conference full of theatre makers and academics who study theatre, talking about a very specific style of theatre that directly relates to what we’re doing! Look at us go, we’ve got some serious momentum here! But flights to New York are more expensive than trains to the Netherlands – and oof, it’s just a month after FIGT. Not to mention the cumulative opportunity cost of not working for the times we’re away…
This is a ‘good problem’ right? The kind I’m not supposed to complain about because it looks like success. It’s still stressing me out, though.
And then I’m offered some much-needed project development space… for the exact same dates that I’ve been planning another big project. There’s no flexibility on dates for either one, so I now need to choose between the thing I’ve been working on for the last three years or the cool new festival I’ve volunteered to lead.
And I suddenly think: there is no such thing as a ‘good problem’. What’s unique about this week is that it’s full of new problems. That’s why it’s so difficult to deal with. My old problems may be frustrating, but they are comfortable and familiar. I know what I need to do about them… and I’ve done it, and the solution to the old problems produces a whole new set of problems.
In a way, that’s what I do as a theatre maker. I have an idea for a project, and I solve all the problems in my way until the project happens. I try not to worry about the problems I can’t anticipate, the ones that are there lurking behind solutions to other problems…
Employing a ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ philosophy is usually pretty helpful – it means I can focus on solving the problem that’s right in front of me, and it stops me from becoming so overwhelmed that I stop making progress. But once in a while, it does mean I get smacked with a new problem out of the blue.
In the end, I don’t remember ever having to tell an audience member that they didn’t have a seat even though they’d bought a ticket. It does tend to work out, actually, overselling a show by about 5%. There’s always someone who doesn’t turn up at the last minute for any number of reasons – babysitters, weather, illness, traffic, the world sometimes comes between an audience member and the theatre ticket they bought. Probably the person who dismissed my concern by saying it was ‘a good problem to have’ was used to dealing with that problem. They probably didn’t even realise that it was a new problem for me, or that their response made me feel more stressed out because I was alone in having to solve it.
If there’s any value in the phrase ‘a good problem to have’, it’s the suggestion of perspective. I am trying to take a little time to be excited about these opportunities – to appreciate that my stress levels shooting through the roof is the result of hard work paying off. I still say my new problems are legit problems, but okay, yes, it’s ‘good’ that I’m here dealing with these problems now instead of the old ones.
You can help me solve one of my new problems by chipping in to the crowd-funding campaign to help me and Guleraana attend these two fabulous conferences… thank you!