Author Topic: The Creative Aspect  (Read 3484 times)

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The Creative Aspect
« on: Nov 04, 2006, 06:29 pm »
This article was written in response to an email received by our staff from a college stage manager, comparing high school stage management and professional stage management.  The email purported that stage management was not a creative field to be in once you got into the professional environment, and that it was overburdened by paperwork. 

I do beg to differ that professional stage managing is lacking in creativity.  It is an art, and I will always refer to it as an art.  For a while, I hid under the pretense that I became a stage manager because I had not a creative bone in my body--I said I was doing it to make all the really creative types look good.  I've come to realize that my perception of the art of stage managing was somewhat askew--as was my perception of myself and my own talents. 

Yes, we have more paperwork to do in the "real world"--more on that later--but there is certainly a massive creative aspect to Stage Managing in the professional world that is often overlooked by the more outgoing of our theatrical counterparts.  I understand that in high school theatre, the Stage Manager is often covering several roles that are usually filled by many different people once you get into a pro environment--where I went to high school, the SM was Assistant Director, Technical Director, Light designer, Dramaturg--it was kind of a catch all position that followed the Drama Club teacher around and helped out as student-in-charge of the crew.  You're dealing with limited budgets, very limited experience on your crew, and besides, the rehearsal process is often ten times longer than the show's actual run.  (We used to rehearse for eight weeks and run for a weekend.  It seems like torture now after years of three week long rehearsal periods and two month runs.)   
I can see how you would see the shift to the stratified and somewhat more bureaucratic world of pro theatre to be a loss in creativity, but it really just shifts to different areas.  You aren't painting and focusing lights and designing costumes (although I've certainly had to do all of the above in the past few years...)--instead, you're trying to figure out how to get a bunch of squabbling designers to agree on a concept, you're coordinating seventeen moving set pieces in a thirty second long shift, you're looking at a 4'x8' prop table and a pile of props and figuring out how to lay them out, you're trying to understand if the little old lady in row F will stop arguing with the house manager in time to start Act II, you're trying to figure out how to finish a performance when the electricity in the theatre blows with twenty minutes left in the show, you're creating a schedule that will get the show staged in a week while not going over the union's limits on how many hours an actor can work in a week--you're molding the other people that are working on the play, and in doing so, you have a huge hand in molding the play itself.

Besides the art of people-twisting, once you get into pro Stage Managing, you've also got things like staging understudies, recasting and transferring to tour--you essentially become the director after opening night.  I found out three days before a performance that one of my actresses was dropping out of a show, midway through the run.  She had no understudy, (don't try this at home!) and the play was heavily ensemble based with lots of aerial choreography and stunts.  The cast could only get to the theatre two hours before curtain to restage.  The director was out of town.  So I had to restage a show in an hour and a half around a missing actress in a way that would hold up for the rest of the run, get nobody hurt, and cover all the lines.  Did I mention that the show itself was three and a half hours long?

Just because you don't get to make design choices doesn't mean that you don't have to be creative--it's a constant thing.  For me, the best part is disguising the fact that I'm being "creative"--it's my own little play that I put on through the run.  Designers really don't appreciate knowing that they're being manipulated, and directors don't like to learn that they've got the same psychological loopholes that everyone else does.  So you have to be really surreptitious about how you do what is the real essence of your job.  :)

As for all that dreaded paperwork...the paperwork springs from the splitting up of roles that the high school stage manager takes care of him or herself.  Once these people are all in different places, you have to still make sure they know as much about the show as they would if you were still the only technically skilled person on the show.  Notes that you'd just file in the back of your brain now have to be written down and sent to someone else, who could very well be halfway across the country.  And then, of course, there's the whole legal matter of the rehearsal log, which is something high school Stage Managers rarely have to deal with--it's hard to get fired from a high school class or club.

But even so, the paperwork itself is one of the best expressions of creativity that a stage manager has.  A well written tech report conveys what went on in rehearsal (hey, we added a rainstorm in Act I, Sc. 12!) without insulting, startling, or annoying anyone, and without revealing more than is absolutely necessary.  (hey, we added a rainstorm in that scene because the dumb actress can't make her costume change in time without it!)  I've been in preproduction for my next show all week this week--it's the paperwork producing phase of the show before rehearsals start.  Two nights ago I spent about four hours putting together an actor/scene breakdown.  Last night I spent six hours going through the script three times for red flag technical issues and typing them up for the designers.  In truth, I have more fun during preproduction than I do at any other point besides tech rehearsals.

There is an excellent book on stage management by Daniel Bond by the name of Stage Management: A Gentle Art.  I am quite in agreement with Mr. Bond as to his definition of my chosen career.  Modern theatre is in and of itself a melding of the actors' and designers' art with the technicians' skills.  As the main broker of that often unwieldy union, the Stage Manager becomes the heart that beats at the center of what makes a production more than a performance, more than an exhibition, but an experience that can be remembered and treasured, one that moves the industry forward and challenges audiences to explore what the human psyche can handle.  The emergence of stage management as an art as much as a clerical position has in many ways defined the current era of theatre production.  We are modern theatre embodied.  Just don't tell anyone.

Tags: creativity 

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