The assistant stage management team for Spring Awakening: Franklin Bennett and Leah Bowman (Courtesy Leah Bowman)
Another successful quarter at Northwestern is about to come to a close (time for a well-deserved spring break!), and I think this is a perfect time to reflect on how college theater is the perfect place to explore every single facet that keeps the theater world moving.
As I mentioned in a previous post, my biggest transition has been from performer to stage manager; it was as simple as getting an email. The production team of Recent Tragic Events was looking for one and without a second glance, I said yes. Since then, I worked as assistant stage manager for Spring Awakening and next on my list is The Wedding Singer. That being said, stage management is not for the faint of heart and I'm going to provide you with a few tips and tricks for those beginning (and even those who have a few shows under their belt) in this important role of the theater.
Step One: Organization is your best friend. It goes without saying that no matter how big or small the cast, crew, and production team of your production, you have to keep every last item and note organized. Since you are the center of communication, keeping track of changes is one of the most crucial elements of the position, and knowing how to access those changes with just a flip of a page in your production book, or the few clicks into your e-mail will help keep you sane. My experience: I currently have all of the shows I am working on, acting or stage managing, sorted on my computer in folders, so that every time I can/will/should save a document, it goes to the right folder. With the amount of production reports I see/make, this is a huge help!
Step Two: Know the people you are working with. The best part about performance is its diversity; you will never run out of ideas and personalities and methods due to the fact that each and every person involved in the process is unique. The challenge to this is that you are going to run into different ideas, personalities and methods! As the stage manager, be ready to wear many hats of communication; how to receive information from your director will be different from your costume designer, and how you deliver news to your cast may be different than how you talk to lights and sound. However, the overarching quality of respect should always be at the forefront of your delivery. Building as much of a connection out of respect will save you trouble in the long run. Even if you may not see eye to eye on everything, the working atmosphere will benefit from a little give and take. For example, just recently I sat down with the director of The Wedding Singer to chat about how he works and how I work. Taking the few moments to examine how we sync is going to determine how the rehearsal room is going to operate, and that leads to an efficient production.
Step Three: Never be afraid to say "I Don't Know..." ...But always be ready to follow that statement up with, "I will find that out for you ASAP." The way I see it, good stage managers will always have an answer, but great stage managers will admit when they need a little help. Besides the obvious fact that there are various teams who have more of a focus on certain elements of the show, stage managers come from different backgrounds and stages of professional knowledge. As you go through different shows, more information will be at your disposal, but for the time being, never worry about asking how something works or what that costume element is called. Once you do know the answer, you and the person who asked are all the wiser. Every production has new challenges; if I were to step into a show that has circus elements, I would be the very first person to ask the how and why of making it work because I have never had the chance to work with it before! Always be willing to learn something new every time you step into the rehearsal room.
While there are a multitude of other tidbits and information that I could send your way, I feel these three steps are what have crafted a positive journey into stage management for me. Overall, be ready to jump into a position that requires just as much passion and work as performance, and with that mindset, you are ready to start stage managing.