Stage Management for Everyone

Yesterday, I attended the first in a series of theatre workshops hosted by the Student Development and Activities (SDA) office. The series, entitled Thespianics, addresses different aspects of the performing arts- getting in the business, production, performance, etc. Each workshop is led by a graduate student from the School of the Arts who is trained in that specific field. In addition to being a great source of information, it’s also a great way for graduate and undergraduate students to collaborate and learn from each other.

The first workshop was called Stage Management for Everyone, led by stage manager Vanessa Poggioli, SoA ’10. Vanessa introduced her ideas on to Make Theatre Easier in Just 10 Steps. Since the attendees were primarily stage managers themselves, Vanessa focused on how these tools can help stage managers specifically. But these lessons aren’t just for stage managers, they are great insights that could be applied to any field. Below are Vanessa’s 10 Steps and my ideas for how you can use these to make any show, job, or  project easier.

Making Theatre Easier in Just 10 steps:

#1 Always be specific!

Recording and sharing details is key to greater communication. The marketing team needs to know all the details of a product so they can showcase it most effectively. A leader should be able to communicate what they’re looking for very specifically. Specificity helps clarify what each person is thinking, so those ideas can be shared and ultimately unified.

#2 Communicate with everyone

Communication is essential to any good team. Make sure to take notes at meetings and send them to anyone who may not have been able to attend. Distribute a clear contact sheet so that everyone can get in touch with each other. It helps to have people specify their preferred form of communication you may wait for days for someone to respond to an email but a text message is instantly answered. Knowing each person’s preference will save time and ensure that lines of communication stay open.

#3 Be Diligent About Tracking

A stage manager has to constantly track script changes, props, entrances, and more. We could learn a lot from such diligence. Keep track of the exact status of a project. Take notes each time you meet with a donor or customers and then save those notes on a record that is accessible to the rest of your team. That way, next time someone has to speak with that person, they can easily go back and their history with the group. Did they ever call to complain? When was the last time they gave money? Do they have personal ties to anyone in the company? Those details can help you enhance the relationship and also provide great data that can point out some key trends.

#4 Google Can Help

Not to turn into a walking advertisement, but Google is one of the single most beneficial tools for collaboration. Create a GoogleDoc that everyone can edit to gather ideas or feedback. Use Google Calendar to set regular schedules, stay aware of other people’s time commitments, and schedule meetings.

Another brilliant idea that Vanessa suggested: set up an email account that is specific for a show (or project). You can direct all project-related mail to that address so it doesn’t get in the way of your general work or personal email. It also preserves a layer of privacy- if tensions on a project get high, do you really want everyone to know your personal email? Or to flood your inbox so you miss other important emails? A specific email address will help keep things in order.

#5 Expectation Management

Everyone is coming to your team from different backgrounds. Help get everyone on the same page by setting expectations from the very beginning. Set company rules, like a lateness or cleanliness policy. Talk with each person about what their position on the team is and what duties they are expected to perform. This will help avoid power struggles or a terrible case of “I thought you were taking care of that!”

#6 Efficient Scheduling and Auditions

Head off problems later by collecting everyone’s schedule at the beginning of the process. Make sure to take into account people’s other commitments before you hire them. For a show, do you really want to cast someone in the lead role if they also work, take classes, sing a cappella, and play rugby? At work, do you really want to assign someone to a project if they can never meet at the same time as the other members of the team? Think about these things ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

#7 Don’t Waste Anyone’s Time!

This should be the motto of every production, every job. Start by creating a culture of punctuality; if you show up late, people will think it’s okay for them to as well. Set the agenda for a meeting ahead of time and then think: who really needs to be at this meeting? Don’t have people come who aren’t needed.

#8 Protect the Company

This is stage manager-speak for “look out for the rest of your team.” See if you can make someone’s load a little lighter if they’re overworked or exhausted. Send someone home if they’re sick. Let people know ahead of time if there will be cameras around, or if an important person is coming to the office that day. Everyone benefits if each person helps look out for the others.

#9 Lead By Example

This should be a no-brainer. Be on time. Be polite. Return calls promptly. If you’re asking someone else to do it, you should be willing and able to do it yourself.

#10 It’s Only a Show, but It Can Be Stressful

Look out for yourself too, and be aware of your own limitations. When you schedule breaks, make sure that you take that break too. Ask for help when you need it. If you can, get an assistant or a partner to help share the workload. You will do your job much better if your own needs are met.

Thespianics continues through February 23. See here for a complete listing of the workshops offered. Or check out Twitter #thespianics to see our live tweets from the events.

Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10

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