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Several colleagues and friends posted on Facebook the following link to an article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/26/highly-sensitive-people-signs-habits_n_4810794.html

And then they would comment how they are very much like this, etc. Intrigued and having some free time to be waylaid, I decided to see what this article had to say and found myself identifying with practically every habit listed … dammit! But why dammit? This isn’t a negative thing to be as a Stage Manager. If anything, it’s a useful trait to possess.

Feeling more deeply – intuitiveness: As a manager of artists who experience every possible emotion to any degree, this is not a bad thing to have. A mentor of mine tells every stage manager to approach each person as if you’re coming in on the second act – you have no idea what has happened before you encounter them and so you need to be alert and aware of how they respond to you – even with the simple greeting. How they say “Hello” back to you can inform you in many ways of how they are doing.

Emotionally Reactive: Can sound like a negative thing but if you read further into this article, it can be beneficial. Having empathy in addition to feeling deeply helps the Stage Manager work with an artist who may be unable to focus and be productive in the rehearsal process. Instilling a positive environment is a job of the Stage Manager as well as the Director and it’s worth taking the time to help someone in the room who is unhappy to at least temporarily be refreshed and uplifted so that they can do their job.

Taking more time to make decisions: I always joke that I’m indecisive because I’m Cancerian (or vice versa). Then I clarify that I’m only indecisive on things that are personal but when in Stage Manager mode, I can easily make decisions – after all, this job demands that we assess the situation quickly to efficiently make a decision in order for things to move forward without interruption. It helps to have the adrenaline going. But taking the time is worth it in many cases. Stage Managers need to be observant and aware of the surroundings and this profession is built on acquiring experience through actively doing the job and watching others handle different situations. I have found that decisions come more easily for me as I’m able to assess things quickly. So for those of you just starting out and worrying about taking time, fear not. This is normal. It gets faster over time.

And then we get into being detail oriented: Major skill to have. I always feel like Sherlock and I believe reading those stories and other mysteries at a young age have helped contribute to my observation skills. But I don’t get so cocky that I don’t use preset lists or post its for reminders. Always, always use them.

Working well in team environments: Perfect for theatre – a collaborative environment in itself. And we count ourselves lucky when we have an ASM or two that we can delegate tasks to.

Above average manners: Being considerate and aware of the comfort that people have, being kind to them … looking out for everyone in the room and making sure they have what they need to work productively – this is what the Stage Manager needs to be able to do. I know many who frown upon drawing parallels to the Butler or Housekeeper (Hello Downton Abbey and Gosford Park!) but a Stage Manager is there to serve the production. Someone in the production team needs to do it and that someone is the Stage Manager along with the Company Manager and the Production Manager and the Producer … Stage Management is not alone … and I will stop there as this can digress into a side topic that deserves its own entry (stay tuned on that …).

Solo Workouts and Work Environments: Being able to work on your own and liking it is useful especially if you find yourself on a production with no assistant. You need to be able to switch between being a team player and a solo worker without any worry or dread.

Effects of criticism being bad: No one likes to be wrong and we try to avoid being in those situations but a Stage Manager cannot always be successful in this. Embrace it. I continue to work on this aspect of myself. I have come to realize that I can make a mistake and be fine with it so long as I know why it was made and that I don’t do it again. And being wrong … well, admitting to and owning it gains more respect than running away from it. If anything, it makes you more empathetic to someone who finds him/herself in a similar situation and with your experience, you are able to help them more effectively.

Annoying Sounds and Violence: On a personal level, this is why I left NYC – I found the barrage of noise and everything to be too much to live with on a daily basis. On a professional level, it’s in the audience that  I witness the differing degrees that sounds and violence can affect them. From the ringing cell phone to a murder onstage. I’ve reported instances of patrons asking the House Manager to have a woman stop laughing because it was irritating to them. I’ve read emailed feedback from patrons saying that had to leave at intermission because of one sound cue that rattled their spine. I’ve overheard a patron react negatively to a character in the play and practically go onstage because they wanted to stop that character from psychologically bullying another character. All these instances in the presence of huge houses of people who don’t visibly react the same way.

So yes, this article hit home on several levels. And it did its job in getting me to reflect more about myself and human nature, how I do my job, and how I can be helpful towards others. The article shed some positivity to something that can appear negative on the surface. I’m not saying that you want a full-out highly sensitive Stage Manager. But hiring one that possesses a modicum of these attributes should, in theory, help support your production and the people involved. At the very least, I don’t recommend ruling them out.

Not just for Broadway – this is useful for ALL Stage Managers.

Yes, But you Don't Go!

“What’s the first thing on your mind when someone says ‘I want to be a Stage Manager’?”

“I usually ask them when they were dropped as a child.”

Check out Showbiz U’s interview with veteran Stage Manager Arturo Porazzi.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPmmBFFjPBI

“Do you like people? If you don’t like people, go the other way.”

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/17/things-not-to-say-to-some_n_4781182.html

The above link is to an article that a colleague posted about some common phrases that you should never say to someone with anxiety. As a Stage Manager, this hits home in a huge way. It’s what we deal with everyday whether it’s within ourselves or in our actors, crew, etc.

As I read this article, several things struck me. First, this is Psych 101. Secondly, each of the listed phrases are ones that we instinctively resort to because we are trying to get comfortable in an uncomfortable situation and as humans, we are more inclined to make ourselves more comfortable before making others comfortable. It’s a matter of comfort. Which brings me to the next thought, as Stage Managers, we are trained to care for the show which in turn mean caring for those involved. Our own comfort level should be in that consideration too but more often than not, if the people in the production are unhappy, we are unhappy. So it’s logical to tackle others and help them thereby helping ourselves.

But getting back to the topic of anxiety (add stress and fear to this). As I read through the phrases the understandable reasons for not saying them, it drove home the idea that simply listening to the person – giving them an outlet to pour their problems too – helps immensely. (I have a previous blog devoted to the plus side of listening to people.) I know from personal experience that saying things out loud to someone who is willing to listen to them helps to deflate the fear and stress that I have over the issue. And then I find that I’m the one saying to myself “Don’t sweat the small stuff” or “Just do it”. Much more palatable when you say it yourself.

I recognize that my personal experience doesn’t work for everyone. But listening is a start. And the listener doesn’t have to have the answers or suggestions to help. Stage Managers don’t often have time to listen to every person that they work with but if you can make the time, your efforts are appreciated.

I recall one summer when my show was open and I had some time to offer my cast to run lines when they wanted because the performances were so far apart and yet because they were in rep with another show, there was no feasible way to schedule a brush up rehearsal with the entire cast. I was running lines with one actor and I could feel he was tense and anxious as he went through his lines. He played Edgar in “King Lear” and as he spoke his soliloquy, he stopped and started to tell me how he read a review and it had many negative things to say about his performance. His morale and confidence were shot. I knew the review that he spoke of – it was written by an online blogger who was small time and insignificant to our publicity and yet we still let her attend shows and review them. Her assessment of our Edgar was not in line with other reviewers – and I do recognize that everyone’s opinion is their own and actors should read reviews with caution. But still, the damage was done to our Edgar and now we needed to move forward and pick up the pieces. He finished pouring out what had been bothering him. Then we chatted further and started putting things in perspective – letting him know the background of this reviewer and how he shouldn’t pay her any mind, reinforcing that we had a stellar production on our hands and he was a part of it. I told him how much I’ve been honestly moved by his performance and how much clarity he brings to the character for me. By the time we finished talking, he felt refreshed and uplifted. The fear and anxiety that this reviewer had caused him was alleviated and essentially gone.

I don’t often have words of wisdom – they don’t come that easily for me. But I can offer an ear of sympathy/empathy/understanding. Listening is an art that isn’t taught in most Stage Management programs. And yet it’s a skill that should be highlighted and emphasized.

This is a topic that many people need to weigh in on and yet not enough do so in a way that I feel could be easily accessible to anyone at anytime in their life. Once someone figures out that the path into Stage Management is the way they want to go, not every training or university program may have sufficient resources to help them guide them on their way and figure out where they might want to take it. Where to begin? Sure, you can ask professional Stage Managers how they got to where they are today. Relatively easy. The internet helps make it so with forums like SM Network and associations like Stage Managers’ Association. But if you find yourself in a theatre program where you are enrolled in the general theatre major, more often than not you have someone on the faculty who has only a general idea of what it is to be a Stage Manager but their expertise is not sufficient enough to guide you beyond your college career.

Often you will be told to take an internship – which is the common and logical step. But where should you apply and what are the circumstances you are willing (and interested) in working under? (please see http://brandenscottstewart.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/the-unpaid-intern-know-what-you-are-worth/ – a great entry on the costs of interning)

Also, what experience will this internship give you? Skills as a manager – one would hope. But consider the basics – are you able to work with a professional Stage Manager? Do you want to intern at a theatre even? What about opera? Dance? TV? Special Events? Circus events?

I get ahead of myself – because other things to consider that I wish I was aware that I should be considering was being open to the possibilities and trying different non-theatre related opportunities. No scratch that – I was conscious of wanting to continue forward in the opera world due to my experience of stage managing one in my undergrad but I couldn’t find a way to break out of the theatre track that I inadvertently kept gravitating to. What I needed was an advisor/mentor that I could feel comfortable with talking to and asking questions or having them ask the tough questions of me and offering advice that I didn’t know I needed or thought to ask for. Because even though I knew Stage Management was what I wanted to do, I didn’t necessarily know where I would want to take it – I was not focused or adept let alone confident enough at my young age to actively find out things sooner than later.

I keep getting ahead of myself – did I mention that this is a huge topic? And why am I tackling it now? Because I have had time to think about what I have done (13 years of doing this professionally) and I realize that there are many “shoulda, woulda, coulda” moments that I think would be beneficial to share to others who want to make this a career. This is my attempt at trying to expand the resources for young SMs wanting to make this their life and be able to find that path that best suits them.

Briefly, I was drafted as a Stage Manager my sophomore year of high school at a time when I thought Oceanography would be the way to go. I wanted to help with the school musical and the few theatre credits that I’ve had up to then amounted to a walk on part, run crew, and attending a handful of productions. The director guided me through the basics with the help of Daniel Ionazzi’s book and from that point, I was hooked. And for undergrad, I went to Ithaca College where they have a reputable theatre program but if you wanted to stage manage, the major to take was the general Drama major. But this served me well. I was able to take all sorts of theatre courses (practical, theory, etc.) which is what a well rounded SM should do. It also allowed me to have time to take other courses such as Psychology – which my adviser recommended. In order to be a good manager, you need to have the basic understanding of human mentality. The writing course – you have to have good writing skills for your reports and other forms of written communication. The speech course – should know how to communicate person to person or to a group of people. Music Theory (or something similar) that will get you to read music and learn the ins and outs – especially if you want to be involved with opera, dance, and musicals. A course on the human body – because understanding the inner workings will help you with an ill member of your team (or to determine how ill they are and can they go forward with their work or not – I’ve often had people insist they were all right and yet describe symptoms that tell me otherwise and for their own good have made them sit things out). And of course learning about the human body leads into getting certified for First Aid/CPR. The course in basic physics or engineering – helpful to understand the structure of your set and space and its capabilities – unless that is already covered in one of the technical theatre courses – like basic drafting and/or design.

Beyond the college courses and the terms that you spend there (during which you should be working on every different crew for the shows in your departments) – there are the summers that you should be using to do internships with. So many performing arts venues to choose from and you have 3 summers before your graduate to be versatile and try opera one summer, dance the next, music the third (for example). Don’t be tempted to do just theatre (you’ve probably been doing that mostly during your semesters) and don’t be tempted to work at the same company as before just because they want you back. This is the time to expand your experience with as many places as possible under many different circumstances and to expand your working network.

And if your program allows for it, take a semester away to do an internship somewhere – many companies offer college credit. When I did this, it threw me into an environment where I was essentially on my own and in the “real” world – away from my college friends, away from my family. It was different from summer work in that I worked with people that I had no past connections with and who were not anywhere near my age. For me, it was to test myself and see how I fared through it all. It helped me to know myself better and understand how and why I reacted to various situations (this is where the psych course comes in handy).

So there you go – a few ideas from my point of view for those of you still in your college years. And my advice to those still in high school (or those getting into stage management during college) – find out what performance venues are in your area and ask to speak to the Stage Manager or Production Manager there. They can help you get started on your way whether it’s with a job or giving you advice from their perspective or shadowing them – or all of the above.

Next in the series: Beyond college – those first few years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about commercial and non-profit theatre or rather you could also say NYC vs Regional. Either way, the stage managers from both worlds are very particular in terms of what skills, experience, and demeanor (personality) you need in order to work and survive in either area. Stage Managers can indeed be type cast and this is where it starts to become clear of how it happens. And hindsight is incredibly 20/20 as you figure out what you want to do and can easily find yourself wishing that you had followed a different path in order to have accomplished being, for example, an SM for a Broadway show. You know the cliche – whenever you mention that you work in theatre as a Stage Manager to your average “Everyman”, they instantly think success means working on a Broadway show. Any SM, in their right mind, will tell you it’s not. Success is doing what you yourself aspire to do. And what you aspire can change on a day to day basis. You can totally think that you want to work on Broadway but then you get there and find that it isn’t exactly what you want. So you figure out a different arena to be an SM for – what about touring, regionals, dance, opera, TV, film, education, community …? I used to think that I would love to SM in NYC and I tried it for a few years in the minor league but found that it didn’t fit me. I don’t begrudge the experience that I’ve had – it helps me towards my ultimate goal of teaching stage management (which could change but I’ve been aspiring towards this for many years now). But the important part is that I know myself enough to realize that I’m not suited to commercial theatre or NYC in general. And so this is the tale of how and why I turned down an Off-Broadway show.

Know thyself.

Because I found myself PSM on a new play that I traveled with when it played the regionals, which I am very comfortable with and suited for. A year later (now), word came that this play would now be Off-Broadway with the same actor and director who wanted me involved. I was eager and willing. However, when speaking with the director initially, we agreed that because I have no Off-Broadway or commercial experience, being contracted as ASM for this round would be best. And really the PSM spot was already figured out by the producers because they were the ones doing the hiring now and they wanted someone they knew the ins and outs of the Off-Broadway world. I understood that. What I didn’t realize at the time was what was really best for me and what it really meant to be as an ASM on a show that I was once PSM for. Think about it. The actor of this production likened it to being the lead in a show that finally transfers to NYC and now you find yourself understudy to the lead role because they got someone more noteworthy. And for someone like me who isn’t based in NYC anymore and has no desire to move back, well, I had a few weeks to mull all this over before the producers and PSM finally got around to contacting me about the ASM position – which, I should stress, was not a sure thing with the way they were leading me to believe despite the wishes of the director and actor.

That’s when I decided to opt for the other idea that the director and I had which was to be involved as a Consulting Stage Manager (hello, Sherlock!). And so, when I made the trek to NYC – because the PSM insisted on meeting in person rather than chat over the phone or Skype – I went in with that idea to propose. Though disappointed that I didn’t want the ASM slot anymore, the PSM went for it and 2 weeks later I finally hear from the producer to work out an agreement for my services. Two weeks! And until then, it wasn’t a sure thing and apparently it took the producer just as long to finally hire the ASM that the PSM wanted – more factors that proved to me that I made the right decision. Goes back to my previous post that people need to be more cognizant of others lives – especially in this business.

But the ultimate point is that I’m happy with this decision. I still get a taste of Off-Broadway and meet a few new people. Who knows, I may have even found a new line in stage managing – the Consulting Stage Manager. And what others think of this decision and where they think I should be going in my career is null and void. Regionals are where I am happiest. I prefer the layout, politics, atmosphere, and personalities involved in these particular companies. That’s not to say I won’t run from any future NYC offers. But I know that I won’t be actively seeking them.

This leads me to an idea for a future entry: How easy or difficult it is to find the path that you need to achieve your goals as a Stage Manager.

Stay tuned …

I know it has been ages since the last post. Much has happened but nothing that was of particular note that I felt like musing about. At least not in writing. But I currently have some time on my hands as I am between gigs. When the next one will be – May for sure – possibly sooner – but it’s all up in the air. There are pending possibilities and I very much empathize with the those seeking work and trying to get timely answers of whether or not they have the job. As a Stage Manager, information in a timely manner is a crucial part of the profession. So it’s extremely galling when you are asked if you are interested in a job and you say yes then it takes more than a week or a month even for the employer to bring the contract to you to sign. Until then, it’s not certain that you do have the job and they are unable to give you that certainty for one reason or another – the people needed to answer questions like “what the salary is” are on vacation, for example. Frustrating, stressful, depressing – all these unnecessary feelings well up and overtake your mind giving you sleepless nights that were long in the coming because for the past 7 months, you couldn’t sleep much because you were working all the time. It’s an unfortunate catch-22.

In a couple of months, it will be time for me to start the hiring process for the stage management department this summer. I’m generally efficient about it but after this experience, I will be even more so. People need time to plan around things – don’t make them wait so that they end up missing out on other opportunities. If you want someone involved, make it so and move on.

The Overture…

A good day to celebrate!!! Should be an international holiday.

Stage Management Day

This year, for one day, all over the UK, The Stage Management Association would like the spot light to pan off into the wings and pick up those backstage ninjas, stage managers. The day? 10th October, of course, because we think all stage managers deserve 10/10!

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10th October 2013 isStage Management Day (#StageMgrs13)  and we want to tell the world a little bit more about the work stage managers do and rejoice in and celebrate the ingenious and creative ways in which they go about it. Who better to organise this than stage managers themselves? Logistical experts and outstanding communicators, with artistic flair to boot! Just think how often you’ve heard the question “But what is it you actually do?…”  Well, now is your chance to answer that question and share the answer with the world, having a bit of fun at…

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