Five Random Thoughts on Stage Managing

Cue the SM Duckie overseeing tech rehearsals

Cue the SM Duckie overseeing tech rehearsals

Tomorrow I’m heading out to my alma mater to speak with an intro to theatre and a directing class about what it is that stage managers do and the director/stage manager relationship and it has had me thinking a lot about what stories I want to tell and what I want to highlight for the students.  But as I’ve been thinking there have been a few random thoughts that I wanted to share.

1. I keep hearing about people in the industry who say they wish they’d known about the wide range of jobs available for non-performer/directors when they were younger. As professionals we need to be a part of inspiring the next generation to take up behind the scenes roles as stage managers, technicians, producers, publicists, TDs, and craftspeople. While I know directors & actors who like to comment that “all you need for theatre is a performer, a story, and someone to watch it” the reality is that most of the time you need a whole team of people to create the best possible circumstances for that story to be told in.  One of my favourite first day of rehearsal photos is from a one-man show I stage managed: at first read there were 27 people around the table. Young artists: If you are not a performer there are still (at a minimum) 26 other ways to be a part of making magic for audiences!

2. Critical success is not a part of what judges stage management success: it is possible to call a perfect show and be wonderful to work with and still work on a show that is a critical failure, just as it is possible to be a great actor in a bad show or to write a good show that’s given a terrible production or to be a great director faced with impossible circumstances or to design the one element of a show that worked. Critical & audience response should not be the basis of any artists self worth, and yet for performers, directors, designers, and playwrights there is a level of public scrutiny and putting yourself out there that a stage manager does not have to consider.  It is necessary to be sensitive to the ebb and flow of the critical tide while ensuring that the audience gets the show the director left you with night after night – just because something gets a laugh does not mean it needs to be bigger and just because it didn’t get a laugh doesn’t mean the moment needs to be smaller.

3. Relationships are the life-blood of this industry. While that is probably true of any industry, it seems especially pronounced to me in theatre.  People ask me sometimes how it is I find my work and while part of the answer is that I send out resumes to companies I’m interested in working with, it is also true that sometimes it is just about being in the right place at the right time. More than one gig has come up because I found myself next to a director at an opening night  after party and got to chatting. The other jobs tend to come because two people were talking and one of them asked for recommendations. The flip side, of course, is that whenever I turn down a job I am asked for recommendations too and I have an ongoing list of people that I recommend. We cannot see each other as competition – it doesn’t serve anyone to work that way.

4. I am an anti-specialist. While some people will specialize in one type of show (musicals, small casts, new plays) or one type of contract (Indie, ITA, CTA, tangerine, benefits, collective, Guest Artist, festival) I am a big believer that variety keeps life interesting.  I have worked under every theatre contract Equity offers and worked on almost every type of show. My favourite years are the ones where I jump from working on a large cast show in an impressive venue to doing an outdoor site specific show to doing a one man fringe show to doing a new play at The Cultch. It keeps me on my toes, forces me to keep stretching myself, and requires that I never sit comfortably where I am because there is always something more to learn.

5. Never stop seeing theatre. We learn about what’s possible by seeing what other people create and also get inspired to try new things. Sometimes the shows that are most inspiring are off the beaten track and other times they are giant spectacles. But also, know your burn out level and be prepared to say no sometimes. It isn’t possible to see everything – or even everything that your friends are in. And when you have to say no, be honest – your friends understand because they have to make those choices too. Right now I get really excited about seeing shows where I know nobody because it is always inspiring to see fresh talent – it is much easier to be positively surprised by people you have no expectations of.

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About Lois

I am a Vancouver-based Stage Manager and frequent theatre goer. After graduating from Trinity Western University I spent two seasons as the resident stage manager at Pacific Theatre. Now I am working as a freelancer with various companies in Vancouver.

One Comment

  1. Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that I love your posts and that they are so accurate. I loved the point you made about how it’s possible to be a good actor in a bad show or to write a good show that’s given a terrible production. There aren’t a lot of people who realize that there is so much more than the actors/actresses and the director in theatre. I also loved your point about never stopping seeing theatre. I love going to shows and watching people I don’t know as well! I feel like it really gives me perspective and keeps my humble when you are watching other people do what you love. Thank you for posting! If you get a chance, I write about theatre and the arts and I would love for you to check it out! ohenry18.blogspot.com
    Thanks!

    -O

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