Season Planning for Stage Managers

One of the biggest challenges I face as a freelance stage manager is putting together a season of work. When I say season I really mean three different things: first, I mean enough shows to keep me busy from Sept-June (acknowledging that Vancouver’s summer theatre scene is sparse at best); second, I mean work that will pay my bills year-round (which means more than enough to live on, since I need to save for that work-free summer); and third, I mean a semi-cohesive mix of shows that is artistically fulfilling with collaborators I enjoying creating alongside. It’s a tall order, so where do I start?

I start from my relationships – relationships with directors, artistic directors, production managers, general managers, actors, and playwrights. I have a very short list of people who I will ALWAYS say yes to working with, regardless of the project. And that shortlist is always who I approach first when I’m starting to put a season together: does their company have a spot for me? Are they working on any as-yet-unstaffed freelance gigs that they could put my name forward on? Can they introduce me to the company producing the premiere of their new script? Many years these conversations do not lead to anything. Or at least nothing for that year, but often they have led to long-term collaborations with many projects in years to come.

Sean & I inadvertently dressed as twins during rehearsal for Except in the Unlikely Event of War.

Sean & I inadvertently dressed as twins during rehearsal for Except in the Unlikely Event of War.

Sidebar: I first met one of my most frequent collaborators (playwright/producer/actor/occasional director Sean Devine) in an elevator where I mistook him for someone else and made a total fool of myself. I have now done six projects with him and often get texts from him that say things like, “I’ve had an idea! I’m going to apply to Canada Council to do [insert crazy idea here]! Can I list you as a collaborator on the grant? This project would be four years from now.” And my answer is always the same: “That sounds really cool. Go ahead and use my name – we’ll sort out the logistics when we get that far.” Not all of these ideas come to fruition but I really like working with Sean even when I get stressed out and will continue saying yes if only to see what he dreams up next. (Congrats Sean on your nomination as the federal NDP candidate for your riding. We’ll make more art sometime after the election.)

I also like to think about my ideal season. There’s always the dream of a stress-free, artistically-fulflling, well-paid resident position but since that is not a reality for most people my ideal season comes from a more realistic place. It includes:

  • One or Two fringe/other festival shows on a profit share/Equity collectives (if they’re out of town accommodation must be provided and airfare must be affordable/covered/on points): These are usually passion projects where I’m doing them because of the people more than anything else.
  • One or two workshops of one or two weeks – easy to fit into the schedule and make a little bit of extra money while getting to sit in on the ground floor of the creation process where the SM gets to partially act as a dramaturg (in situations where I have a strong existing relationship with both the playwright and director and that sort of artistic input is welcomed in the room. That would not always be the case).
  • No more than one Indie 2.1 contract (In Canada the Indie 2.1 is an Equity contract that only requires the company to pay you half of the weekly fee with the other half deferred against profits. And I have never gotten anything more than the original amount on one of these shows. So for $290-$325/week you are expected to be doing 48 hours of work. That’s only $6/hr.) These shows, while financially inadvisable are often very artistically satisfying and the ones I agree to are always with artists that I really want to work with. Working with people I like is the only reason to do an Indie 2.1 contract.
  • Four to Six CTA/ITA/Guest Artist Contracts. These are the bread and butter of a season. They are still scaled by company size so a 100 seat theatre playing five shows a week isn’t going to pay as much as a 300 seat theatre playing eight times a week etc)

Looking at my past seasons, an average year has about 10 projects. My 2013-2014 & 2014-2015 seasons broke down by contract like this:

Screenshot 2015-08-19 11.27.27Screenshot 2015-08-23 10.53.58

(The purple “other” work in 2013/2014 was a combination of a paid mentorship & a marketing position, filling the gap for a tour that was unfortunately cancelled. It wasn’t full-time, but it was something – had I not found it to fill that gap it would have doubled my weeks of unemployment from eight to 16.)

France Perras in The List, a one-woman play by a Quebecois playwright in English translation. Photo by Tim Matheson.

France Perras in The List, a one-woman play by a Quebecois playwright in English translation. Photo by Tim Matheson.

My ideal season is also a variety of genres of shows: new plays, revivals of modern texts, Shakespeare & other classics, musicals, comedies, operas, physical theatre, devised theatre, puppetry, comedies, dance, tragedies, and every combination therein. For example, 2013-2014 saw a new drama, a new opera, a new circus, a revival of a British modern drama, a new political dramedy, a devised physical theatre piece, a revival of a modern Canadian play, a revival of a modern American play, and a new dance workshop. 2014-2015 saw a new Canadian musical, a new Canadian play with music, two revivals of French-Canadian plays in English translation, a remount of a devised physical theatre piece, a workshop of an adaptation of a Canadian play, a new Canadian political comedy, a remount of a Canadian political drama, and a revival of an American existential comedy. Every year is a different mix, but I know that if all I did was one type of theatre all year I would get just as bored as if all I ate all year was pizza. Pizza’s good, but its better when I haven’t eaten it every single day.

But back to the nuts and bolts: relying on one’s friends to get a job is not a way to build a full season. It’s a good way to book one or two jobs every couple of years, but to build a season requires CONSTANT VIGILANCE  and job hunting skills. In my earliest years of doing this, that meant sending out more than 30 envelopes with resumes, cover letters, references and a headshot (much like an actor would) in the hopes of connecting with producers and making sure they knew that I was looking. Now it is emails that I send – partly because of the environmental implications of sending that much paper, and partly because I now have a relationship with most of theese people and don’t need to be quite as formal in my approach. The more I work, the easier it is to become complacent about job hunting – people now seek me out for work, other people hand out my name, and I have less and less legwork required each season. But for every time that my names gets passed along, there is another situation where a producer says to me, “Oh! I didn’t realize you were still based here/still in town/not already working on another project during those dates. We would have loved to have you on this project!” I’m subscribed to CAEA’s EDrive which posts auditions, SM jobs, other theatre jobs and notices of interest to the theatre community. It’s totally free and easy to sign up for:

Other places to watch for job postings include:
– Craigslist (People always say this is a dumb place to look, and sure there are some terrible gigs posted there, but I have also done some gigs that I found on Craigslist that were really wonderful and that had great people involved. Just be smart & do your research)
– Local theatre alliances (In Vancouver the GVPTA & Alliance for Arts & Culture both share job postings either through newsletters or on a job board. Find their websites and read what they post)
– Facebook & Twitter (Social Media is becoming more and more a part of the job hunt. I got my first job based on a twitter conversation six years ago and it has since become common practise for companies to advertise through these means for someone who is turning down a gig to crowd source names to suggest through these means. Because of this when I joined Equity I created a FB group focused on non-equity SMs in Vancouver so that I would be able to pass along postings I could no longer accept)

Part of building your own season is being aware of the seasons that companies are producing. Do your research. Be connected & informed. Take the onus on yourself to watch for season announcements and look at them to see what gets you excited and then pursue those shows. It’s always more fun to work on a show you are excited about. Building a season that pays enough to live on each year is a success in and of itself. Building a season that you are artistically proud of and enjoy for the duration is an art form all its own that takes time to figure out. The most important thing is to find a balance that works for you.

Live from Ottawa

My mobile office, set up in the living room at my friends' house. Notice the two prompt binders (one from 2011, one from 2015), Cue, and the mobile printer. Also post-its. Because post-its.

My mobile office, set up in the living room at my friends’ house. Notice the two prompt binders (one from 2011, one from 2015), Cue, and the mobile printer. Also post-its. Because post-its.

I arrived in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon and after an evening of eating pizza and watching a bad movie with my hosts jumped right into work on ReUnion yesterday morning.  I’m really excited to be coming back to this show, but its been four years since we last did it and I’ve done more than 30 other productions in the meantime. Let’s just say I have some substantial review to do! Thankfully, my notes from the last production are really great and we also have a promotional video of the show that I can watch.

That said, there is a new script, the space is proscenium instead of alley, and we have a new cast member, so there are a number of changes that will have to be made and that we want to make. What’s the point of a remount/new production if you don’t have the opportunity to make a show even better than it previously was?

I know that I’ve previously mentioned that Horseshoes & Hand Grenades are doing an IndieGoGo campaign to help off-set the costs of doing a show of this magnitude. Well it is now in its final 37 hours and is at 47%. Could you help us get at least to the 50% mark? Click on over to support the show!

The rest of my week is full of meetings, paperwork, more meetings, and watching the archival on repeat. This is one adventure I can’t wait to get going on.

Reflections on New York

Melt Shop. Great grilled cheese.

Melt Shop. Great grilled cheese.

Best Things:

  • Deciding to not eat at any chain restaurants that we had at home.
    This rule forced us to be creative about food – even late night snacks – because it eliminated 90% of fast food. And we ate really good food. I don’t know if I can pick a favourite meal. Maybe the Grilled Cheese we had for my birthday. Next time I would keep this rule for sure, but if travelling by myself or with a different friend I would try more of the ethnic foods available to me.
  • Seeing a wide range of types of shows.
    Vampire Cowboys’ Six Rounds of Vengeance, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Sleep No More, Book of Mormon, An Act of God, Aladdin, Then She Fell and Something Rotten! Two site specific shows. Three Musicals. Three Plays. Four Broadway shows. One Off-Broadway. Two Off-Off Broadway. Three Comedies. One Drama. Two Dance/Movement Pieces. One Geek Theatre. Seeing this wide range of shows gave me good context and also kept things interesting. Next time I would try to do this as well – keeping the indie theatre that I love in the mix with the big budget spectacle that I also love.
  • Mixing Preparation with Spontaneity
    I am generally a planner. I like plans. Jaime is less of a planner. Our agreement going into this trip was that I could make a spreadsheet as long as she could toss the plans out the window (other than things we prebooked). This meant we had a good idea of what we wanted to do, but didn’t have to feel tied to doing it. Tickets to shows gave our days an anchor point with the flexibility to explore and meander off to check out things we hadn’t planned (like the library, Columbus Circle, or even riding the carousel in Central Park on the first day).
  • Meeting (Internet) Friends
    I ended up meeting up with four internet friends and two old friends who have moved to the city. These coffee or drink meet ups were a delightful change of pace from the crazy of exploring. For the new friends, it was wonderful to put faces to names and relationship on top of text messaging. For the old friends, it was great to catch up on 6-8 years worth of life. There were so many more people I would have liked to meet up with, but time is what it is and hopefully I’ll catch them on the next trip.
  • Leaving the Last Day Open
    We pre-planned NOTHING for our final day. Then the second to last night we made a list of all the things we wanted to go back to, things we hadn’t gotten to, and picked a show to see. It meant we were able to fit all of those things in. If I were on my own I probably would have just seen two shows that final day, but this system worked really great for travelling with a friend.
  • Travelling with Jaime is the best. Even when she's scared.

    Travelling with Jaime is the best. Even when she’s scared.

    Travelling with Jaime
    In the past I have always travelled on my own, but travelling with Jaime was a blast. Sure, there were moments of frustration on both sides, but it was wonderful to have a buddy to share the joy, the foot pain, the laughter, the confusion, and the adventure with.

Worst Things:

  • Blisters on blisters on blisters on my feet.
    Next time I will bring better walking shoes. I thought I had brought pretty good walking shoes, but we were often walking 14 hours a day and my shoes disintegrated and had to be thrown away at the end of the time.
  • The smells
    New York is a stinky city.
  • Being Poor
    It would be so easy to spend a lot more money on a trip like this. Another time I’d like to.

New York Day 10

Grand Central Station, view from the Apple Store on the Mezzanine.

Grand Central Station, view from the Apple Store on the Mezzanine.

Our final day in New York was a lot like most of our other days in New York: Full of walking. But like the other days I’m amazed at what we managed to fit in.

In order to make the morning a bit more manageable tomorrow, we spent some time after breakfast today packing our bags. i was very glad I brought an extra duffle bag as my suitcase would not have held everything now. Then we made our way uptown to Grand Central Station to check it out since our only previous time there had been very rushed as we had to make a connection. Architecturally it is beautiful and it is also amazing as a bustling transportation hub with an abundance of stores and restaurants.  We were going to get lunch there but found the amount of noise overwhelming and headed back to the street in search of food.

After lunch we finally found some stamps to mail all of our post cards and then walked up to Bryant Park where we came across a special NY Rangers snow-cone truck – yup, they were giving away free snowcones to celebrate being in the playoffs. We took them up on that, though I think it may have pained Jaime a little bit inside. Then we made our way into the NY Public Library. Sadly the main catalogue and reading room are closed right now, but we did the self-guided audio tour anyways and got to see the original Winnie the Pooh down in the basement and learned a bit about many of the rooms and collections housed in the building.

Jaime loves her gay ice cream.

Jaime loves her gay ice cream.

Continuing our day of being all over the place, we went down to the village to visit The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop because they have a specialty cone named the Bea Arthur and Jaime needed to eat it. Also the softserve was delicious and totally worth the detour.

Then it was back to Central Park to watch roller skaters, eat hot dogs by Bethesda Fountain, listen to various musical performers, and just spend a bit more time exploring.

Something Rotten? More like Something Awesome.

Something Rotten? More like Something Awesome.

We decided last night that we’d wrap up our time here in NYC by going to see Something Rotten! – a new musical that neither of us really knew anything about. It was so much fun. Tonight for the first time I saw an audience give a single song a standing ovation. There’s a song in the show called “God, I hate Shakespeare” (which made me think about my dear friend Christopher who doesn’t like Shakespeare much either).

Post show we got take-out cheesecake and now we’re back in the hotel room packing up the last of our things so that we can get up very early tomorrow morning and start making our ways home.

New York Day 9

Van Gough's Starry Night captures movement and passion in its brush strokes in a beautiful way.

Van Gough’s Starry Night captures movement and passion in its brush strokes in a beautiful way.

The Internet is such a magical place. I can’t really remember how I met Natalie and Marci but I’m so glad I did. We got together this morning for coffee and croissants and had a really lovely visit in a room with cool lighting and loads of books. Oh and these magical miniature waffles dipped in chocolate.

Then it was off to MoMA to meet up with Jaime. So many paintings and sculptures. The first room we went into housed Van Gough’s “Starry Night” which is Jaime’s favourite painting and one of mine. I generally like the impressionists, and then with my love of Doctor Who…anyways, there was also a really cool Andy Warhol exhibit that had all of his soup can paintings in one room and also a collection of paintings of shoes that he did which I really enjoyed. My museum and galleries part of my brain is very full. I don’t think I could handle going to another one immediately. Good thing we aren’t planning to visit any more. Well, I might in Ottawa but that’s not immediate.

Ms. Muppet is still nameless. All suggestions are welcome.

Ms. Muppet is still nameless. All suggestions are welcome.

MoMA has a gorgeous sculpture garden out back so we sat there for a bit to rest our feet before venturing up to FAO Schwartz to go to the muppet whatnot workshop and build our own custom muppets. Mine does not have a name yet, so suggestions are welcome. We didn’t want to haul our muppets around all night so we went to drop them off at the hotel where I promptly fell asleep for over an hour. I guess it was all catching up with me.

For supper we went to Shake Shack and despite one friend’s warning that we’d be in line for hours, we got our food in about 10 minutes and ate more food than we should have because it was delicious.  At that point we still had time to kill before our evening plans, so we walked up to Columbus Circle and watched kids play with the fountains before cutting through the park and then back down to 57th, popping into ridiculous souvenir shops and laughing at the tchotchkes in them.

Studio 54 has one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve seen here in New York. The entrance hallway has stunning chandeliers and the central arch in the theatre is also beautiful. We were there to see An Act of God starring Jim Parsons. Unfortunately, I felt like the show hadn’t found its feet (it is still in previews), but the audience who was mostly there just to see Jim Parsons was very happy to see him and he played that up a lot.

One more day in the city – looking forward to what it brings.

New York Day 8

There's something behind me!

There’s something behind me!

In all of our NYC shopping, I still have not found the perfect dress for Christies wedding. But shop we did.  We spent a couple of hours popping in and out of both boutiques and department stores. I tried on a few things, but nothing was the right thing.

When we were ready to give up we made our way to the American Museum of Natural History. Because dinosaurs. The staff were quick to remind us that they are where Night at the Museum is based, even tho they don’t have all those exhibits. But still: Dinosaurs. After looking at dinosaurs and space for a while we got on the train and headed north.



The train to Yankee stadium is a different experience. It’s fuller, sure, but it’s also buzzing with anticipation. We climbed to our seats which were NOT the last seats up in the house (but close) and I watched my first ever professional sports game. The sportsball was mostly long stretches of nothing, peppered with short bursts of busy, followed by the crowd going nuts. Oh, and eating hot dogs and cheese fries. As one does. And the Yankees won so that was a great reason to celebrate.

Compared to the rest of the trip, we were home early: 11pm!

New York Day 7

Statue of Liberty Selfie

Statue of Liberty Selfie

Today was a day of American landmarks. We spent the morning at the Statue of Liberty. My favorite part of that was the museum showing how it was built, from the methods used to hammer the copper to the interior support structure. We did the climb up to the pedestal but to be honest it was pretty boring. The statue itself is the interesting thing and like the Eiffel Tower the problem with climbing it is that you can no longer see it.

From there we went to Ellis Island and the immigration museum. Unfortunately the museum is still recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy and most of the artifacts are still in offsite storage. Huge sections were just empty which was disappointing. As such we didn’t spend as much time there as we thought we would.

For the first time all trip we made it back to the hotel midday and I was able to grab a quick nap before we headed out to grab dinner with my friend Mariah. She’s one of those people I’ve been internet friends with for ages and then we started texting at least three years ago but wed never met in person before. We had a really lovely visit.



Then it was time to head to Aladdin. But on our way we stopped for cupcakes after realizing we hadn’t had any real cupcakes on my birthday. Aladdin was one of those shows I had heard somewhat mixed things about, but everyone agreed that the guy playing the genie was brilliant. We had so much fun at the show. Sometimes it’s just fun to see a show that is big on glitz and effects with fireworks, flying carpet, and lots of traps/elevators in the set. I think I spent most of the show grinning.

New York City Lights

New York City Lights

Once the show got out, we headed to the NBC building to go to Top of the Rock and check out the nighttime city skyline. Because we weren’t going up the Empire State Building we were pleased to be as to see and photograph it.

New York Day 6

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge

Today we spent the day exploring Brooklyn. We started with a walking tour that took us across the Brooklyn Bridge and then through Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo. We saw a lot of interesting and historic buildings and learned some things thanks to our guide.

2015-05-05 13.51.56When the tour ended we stopped for lunch at Juliana’s, which is right next to Grimaldi’s but is apparently better pizza. Better or not, it was delicious. From there we went our separate ways. Jaime headed back for the hotel and I headed deep into Brooklyn to meet up with my friend Gillian who was the GM at Pacific Theatre when I started working there and shot my first headshot so if have something for in the program. I hadn’t seen her in close to ten years and had never met her kids, so it was extra fun to spend a chunk of the afternoon with them.

When I left them, I went to meet up with another old friend – the darling Becky Branscom. Becky and I were part of a graduating class of three from our theatre program and then she did an apprenticeship at PT during my first season as resident SM. it was really delightful to catch up with her. There is a wonderful shared language that makes reconnecting easy.

Leaving her, I made my way into Williamsburg to the location for Then She Fell, an immersive theatre production based on Alice in Wonderland. In the opening moments of the show they define liminal and then invite us as an audience to live in a liminal space for the evening. It was a truly beautiful experience. Some of my favorite moments included mirroring Alice while peeling and eating an orange, painting the roses red with the white rabbit, and taking dictation for Lewis Carrol in a magical room.

By the time I returned to the hotel it was after two in the morning and I just collapsed into bed.

NYC Day 5

After telling ourselves that we were going to take it easier today we didn’t really succeed at that.

Street art viewed from the High Line

Street art viewed from the High Line

We headed over to Chelsea late morning, planning to hit the Chelsea Market for lunch and then walk the High Line, but we got distracted and ended up at Macy’s where I was trying on potential bridesmaid dresses for Christie’s wedding. We did make our way over to the high line which was a really neat park, but I think that if I were a local i would get irritated at the number of people stopping to take pictures while I was trying to jog (in this scenario I am a person who likes jogging. Ha!)

We ended up getting lunch at a diner in Chelsea where the portions were HUGE. I was unable to finish my meal.

Jaime and I with our delicious cocktails.

Jaime and I with our delicious cocktails.

After lunch we met up with my friend Debby who I worked with at the Vancouver Fringe. We made our way over to the McKitterick Hotel and up to the Gallow Green for happy hour before Sleep No More.  The cocktails were expensive but also DELICIOUS. And then we went in and did the Sleep No More thing.

We all had very different experiences of the show. I was really impressed by the production design, the performers and the intricacy of the timing to make a show like that move the way it needs to so that people are always in the right place at the right time. That said, i never really got fully immersed in the show – I was immersed enough to forget about the blisters on my feet, but not so immersed that I wasn’t calculating their monthly glow tape budget (Seriously. It was in full strips up every banister and outlining every stair!)

With my mask, outside the MicKittrick

With my mask, outside the MicKittrick

Some of my favourite moments: watching Lady M take her bath but through the window behind the tub, not in the room with her; Mackers & Banquo’s fight; and the matron & Mrs MacDuff(?) with the poison.

After the show we stopped for pizza before trecking back to the hotel, once again aware of our sore bodies. Time to crash before the adventures begin anew.

New York Day 4 – Coney Island

For a change of pace today we left Manhattan and headed out to Coney Island/Brighton Beach. And it was such a delightful day. Ice cream. Hot dogs. Roller Coasters. Dipping our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Strawberry Daiquiris. Laying on the sand. Cotton Candy.

Around 5:30 the wind really starting picking up and we’d had an early supper on the boardwalk, so we headed back into town. I then headed out to have drinks with a friend from the internet – a delightful two hours of drinks and discussion, while Jaime had a chance to call home and watch some hockey.  A very wonderful day.


(Okay, here are the photos you’ve been waiting for!)


Jaime dips her toes in the freezing cold Ocean. I'm so glad I had my camera handy to capture this.

Jaime dips her toes in the freezing cold Ocean. I’m so glad I had my camera handy to capture this.

Such a beautifully sunny day! This was before I got a brutal sunburn.

Such a beautifully sunny day! This was before I got a brutal sunburn.

The view from the pier.

The view from the pier.

We did it! We rode the Cyclone. In our souvenir photo (taken at the bottom of the first steep drop) I look like I'm about to cry. It is hilarious.

We did it! We rode the Cyclone. In our souvenir photo (taken at the bottom of the first steep drop) I look like I’m about to cry. It is hilarious.