Author Topic: CAREER: loyalty vs abuse  (Read 5973 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


  • Tourist
  • *
  • Posts: 3
    • View Profile
CAREER: loyalty vs abuse
« on: Oct 21, 2005, 12:08 pm »
Marci here, SMA chair.

Where does your loyalty to the show/theater end and your protection of yourself begin?

This past summer I had to rehearse three large shows back-to-back without an ASM (that's right, there are AEA contracts where assistants --even non-Equity ones -- are not required.) We rehearsed in a studio where you have to set up everything every morning and strike everything at the end of the day so the evening rental can come in. And since I was the rehearsal SM, not the performance SM (an idiosyncracy of this contract -- there's a resident SM at the theater and a rehearsal SM for each show. It's a remnant of the stock circuit, but that's another story...) I was constantly in rehearsal without a break.

As I have been an employee of this theater for the past 6 years, I'm privy to a lot of info I probably shouldn't have, like their financial situation, which wasn't rosy. So instead of insisting upon an assistant for at least the third show, I sucked it up and ended up with a severely herniated disk, a memento of all the lifting and carrying I had to do.

To make matters worse, immediately following the summer I ended up PSMing the premiere of a new musical in a new theater space. In this case, I had two ASMs, but neither had the experience necessary to understand how to do rehearsal shifts or set up a deck. So I had to do a lot of extra shlepwork. Additionally, the theater itself was understaffed and when one of my ASMs got sick the first day of tech, I had to do a lot of shifting and moving myself -- ONE DAY AFTER BACK SURGERY (thanks to that herniated disk!)

In both of these examples the theaters were extremely pressed for time as well as money. The summer jobs only have a 48 hour turnaround between shows and a five-hour tech before opening. The musical only had 2 10-out-of-12s, with management insistent that the second half of the 2nd tech day be a run-through. For a musical. With 40 scenes. And a turntable.

Now that we're all done feeling sorry for me, here's the thing: we are all constantly knocking ourselves silly, physically and mentally, to get the job done, because we're always up against the wall. If we DON'T make the sacrifice, the fear is the show won't be ready. But if we DO make the sacrifice,  what are we really sacrificing -- some extra sleep, or something bigger? And I'm not just talking about health. By going the extra mile, aren't we proving to the theaters that they can get away with hiring less people -- fewer ASMs, fewer run crew, no props people (oh, come on, I KNOW you all have ended up propping shows!) -- because we have demonstrated we can do it all? Even if we are putting our jobs on the line, is it better for us ALL to stand up and say, "No, I can't / It's not part of my job / I need help" and make the theater begin to take responsibility for staffing their shows properly?

What do you all think? I'd love to have this question as a Chat Room forum (maybe in a few weeks we can all get together?) but let's get the ball rolling now. Your comments, your stories, your suggestions -- and what can the SMA do, if anything, to address this?

peace out,

PS: The back surgery was very effective, and though I hindered my recovery by working physically so soon afterwards (I was allowed to return to work, but told not to lift or carry) I am doing a lot better now.
« Last Edit: Jun 08, 2009, 10:38 pm by PSMKay »


  • Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 60
    • View Profile
    • http://
A question of loyalty
« Reply #1 on: Oct 21, 2005, 01:56 pm »
I think you're absolutely right.  As SMs we generally refuse to let the ball drop.  We're the responsible ones, the ones who make things happen.  None of us want to open a show that's not ready and so we do go that extra mile to make sure it is ready.  We're problem solvers.

But sometimes, perhaps we should let the theatre solve its own problems rather than stepping up to the plate.  The fact that you were in this situation 3 times in a row is incredible!  How could this theatre not have learned that ASMs were absolutely necessary?  Ah, because you were doing your job: making the show run smoothly.  It's a tough position to be in...

Maybe we should step in for the current project, but refuse to accept a second without the problem being fixed.  Hopefully the next stage manager they hire will do the same.  I think we teach people how to treat us, so let's train them to respect us in our positions.

What a great topic!

Mac Calder

  • Forum Moderators
  • *****
  • Posts: 970
  • Gender: Male
  • Plan for the future, live for the now
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: Live Performance Australia / Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance
  • Current Gig: Technical Director
  • Experience: Former SM
A question of loyalty
« Reply #2 on: Oct 21, 2005, 08:24 pm »
In situations like this, sacrafices need to be made - and in my opinion it should never be your health (although it happens all to frequently IMO, the ammount of deep heat, panadol, caffine and ibuprofin I go through is ridiculous). When personelle restraints occur, it is often time to trim the show a bit. Most directors aim for the other edge of the universe, and usually, we as sm's at least manage to get to the next galaxy - maybe it is time to bring the director closer to earth - ie tell him "you cannot have that set piece which requires 5 people to move safely because you only have 4, I cannot do it without causing myself serious injury, why don't you make it smaller, cut out the ends and mask them with flats... or get the turns to assist."

Also, try and get a turn to assist you, even if it is "Could you help me a bit tomorrow, just for 15 minutes before and after rehearsal?" - of course you need to choose someone who will not mind doing this work as a community service rather than for $$$.

nb. IIRC turns assisting like that is not a contractual violation - but that is an Aussy (standard) contract, so check the contracts closely before suggesting it.


  • Guest
« Reply #3 on: Oct 22, 2005, 11:56 am »
I do hope that AEA heard all this, too, because when it's time to renegotiate contracts, this is the type of ammunition we need to secure the ASM positions in those contracts which don't have it.

If we don't have enough help, we can't do the job properly.  We are in charge of co-ordinating all these moves, not performing them, and in many contracts it says so.  That, of course, applies to performance, not rehearsal, and in that situation, ASMs or PAs are a must.

Use the example of yourself getting hurt 'just enough' so that you couldn't do the moves in rehearsal... what would the director do?  Cancel rehearsal?  Not on your life... he'd ask for actors to help, and if they didn't, he go to the producer and demand help.  So why can't we do the same thing?  Well, the financial issue is always there, but it's a part of doing business, and this is show BUSINESS.

Doing the ASM work at rehearsal means you're giving up your own breaks as well, and that means at some point you're not performing your own duties as capably.  Producers need to hear this, and so does our union, each time it occurs.

Bottom line is we try to do what's best for the production, but sometimes that has to include saying 'no' to improve our own situation, and sooner rather than later, right???


  • New to Town
  • **
  • Posts: 19
    • View Profile
    • http://
A question of loyalty
« Reply #4 on: Oct 23, 2005, 11:09 pm »
There is no way I would put my back, or my health, in jeopardy for work. That's a little ironic because we as stage managers don't sleep take too many pills and drink entirely too much coffee (no, we usually don't have enough time in the day to get enough a fraction of the amount of espresso we should intake).

When I am getting paid for a show (especially if it is not that much) there is no way I am going to kill myself for it. If the company is owned by a friend, or I am getting a great credit, or if it is community and I am offering an extra hand for free (for a good cause) I always go the whole sixteen yards. But when there is money involved, the company and the producers should be responsible and professional enough to hire an adequate amount of techs if they are expecing spectacle.

For me, loyalty to a show is not always killing myself to get everything done - it is using the time and resources I have to create the best possible product. Some tech goodies may have to be canned in order to dedicate the necessary time to stage management. The role of the stage manager is too important to neglect because the producers did not hire enough stage carps or operators.

As for not having an assistant stage manager, sure we would all like to think we are perfect supermans, but we all have limits. More harm is done failing to meet what we have said we can do than by stating what these very reasonable limits are.


  • Tourist
  • *
  • Posts: 1
    • View Profile
    • http://
A question of loyalty
« Reply #5 on: Oct 24, 2005, 12:26 am »
I had a similar experience at a summer theatre that I had worked at for 3 years.  In this case, I had an Equity assistant, but there was no Company Manager, no Production Manager, no Props person, no run crew [aside from a staff member's teenage son] get the idea.  I went directly to the Artistic Director and explained that I would not let the ball drop on the current productions, but that these staff positions were essential not only to the happiness, health, and sanity of her staff, but to the ultimate success of the show and the company - after all, the time I spent away from SM duties in order to fill all these other roles was time away from doing the job she hired me to do in the first place.   Now she is looking to hire an assistant to the technical director, who would be responsible for props [the theatre is so small there really isn't enough build work to occupy 2 people's time] and a stage management intern to pick up some of the extra load.
I hope Equity reps and producers get the message - I was lucky to work for such a stand-up company, but there are a lot of less accomodating producers out there.


  • New to Town
  • **
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
A question of loyalty
« Reply #6 on: Oct 24, 2005, 12:43 am »
I was in a situation this summer where Equity was the only union represented at the theater where I worked.  So not only was I being paid quite well, I'm pretty sure I was making more than my directors, and than most of the people running the company.  Many of the staff were interns or apprentices, there for free, and working absurd hours, and long overnight shifts to get the set in, the lights hung, the costumes built.  

It put me in an awkward position, because the company had signed my union contract and therefore had to abide by its rules.  But how could I complain about MY hours when my friends and colleagues were working around the clock for peanuts?  It wasn't fair and it made me uncomfortable.

Ultimately, I made judgment calls about each situation as it arose.  The main question I asked myself was Is this unreasonable?  Is this outside of what we do as stage managers?  Also, Do I have a choice?  So, when I came in seven hours early on my "daylight day of rest" during tech, I said nothing.  I knew those hours with the director and lighting designer were needed to get the show up, and the fact is I could have said no.  I knew they'd be there and wanted to be there too.  The producer never asked me to come in.  But, when the performance schedule for my first show and the rehearsal schedule for my second made it impossible for my assistant and I to split our calls and keep our hours down to what was allowed, I did put in for overtime, because the overage had been beyond my control and was theoretically avoidable.  I also kept this fact VERY quiet from all the non-union members in the room!

I recently worked on a show on a special agreement contract with a very limited (and limiting!) number of rehearsal hours allowed per week.  The director decided to stagger the actors to get more out of the week.  I called the GM and explained that I would prefer not to miss rehearsals, but as I had an assistant we could split the calls if necessary.  I basically left it up to my employer: Pay overtime, or have your PSM missing a good chunk of the rehearsal process.  I said I understood if the latter was a financial necessity.  The GM saw the benefits to having me in the room at all times, and agreed to pay.  I ONLY billed for hours that the director scheduled.  I did not include prep, or clean-up, or work I did at home, as those things are all considered "normal" stage management duties, and are why we get paid higher minimums than the actors (in this case, $12 a week, but it's all about percentages!).

Don't get me wrong – I work plenty of hours and never get paid for it.  The difference, to me, is when I'm doing my job - and when those extra hours are necessary to do it the best that I can – and when I feel I'm being taken advantage of by a producer or director.  The difference between offering to break a rule or do something extra, and being asked to.  Making a good impression versus being taken for granted.  We often tread a fine line as SMs, because so much of an Equity contract only really applies to actors.  If we rehearse until 6:00 but I have to be there for the crew call at 6:30, I don't claim a meal penalty because it's just expected and always has been.  On the other hand, if I don't have time to step out for even 10 minutes, I'm not above asking the company manager to grab me a sandwich, or slipping a receipt for dinner into petty cash.

We all make sacrifices for the job, and there is a degree to which it's expected.  Especially when we're working for good people who've been good to us, who we hope to work with again.  We pitch in and help.  We understand the limitations of doing theater.  And yet... I'm in a union, and I take that seriously.  I expect my employers to take that seriously as well.  If you don't want to follow the rules, produce non-Equity.  Sure, sometimes *I* think the rules are stupid, and sometimes I'll look the other way for the good of the show, but never if I feel like I'm being taken advantage of.  And NEVER if safety is an issue!

Marci, I'm dismayed that you would allow yourself to be physically injured for these people!  Would you ever knowingly let an actor injure herself?  Safety is part of our job, and I believe that our responsibility to protect the company (cast and crew, union and non) extends to ourselves.  There has to be a point when you, the giving, loving, mothering stage manager, have to stop and look out for yourself.  This is theater, not brain surgery.  NO ONE should be getting hurt.

As for not having an assistant, I've found there are always young people willing to work for peanuts (or nothing!) to help out and learn.  Dare I suggest posting an ad with the SMA next time?  I've had some great interns/PAs in the last couple of years when I've been without an Equity ASM.  Even if they're not great stage managers, having someone to help set up, and to send on errands can be a godsend.  As part of protecting ourselves, we have to be willing to ask for help when we need it.  Anyone who expects you to be Superman doesn't have a very good understanding of the job and all that it entails!  Hopefully you're working for people who know that asking for help doesn't equal failure.

Sorry this was a little rambly (and my first ever post here too!) but I take this stuff seriously.  It's a job, and we're employees, even though we're not quite like anybody else.  I get mad when people forget that!


  • SM Expert
  • ****
  • Posts: 101
    • View Profile
    • http://
A question of loyalty
« Reply #7 on: Oct 24, 2005, 01:01 am »
adam said all I wanted to say....bravo for putting it into words!


  • Tourist
  • *
  • Posts: 3
    • View Profile
A question of loyalty
« Reply #8 on: Oct 24, 2005, 01:25 am »
What, so soon?

Approximately 45 minutes after sending my Fall letter to the SMA Membership (the letter was the original thread post)  I received about a dozen responses from people. Some were similar "war stories," some were sympathy notes, and all asked the same question: "Did you report this to Equity?"

Before I answer that question, let me state LOUDLY  that the people who run both theaters that I mention in my letter are EXTREMELY dedicated and sympathetic, and they ALSO went above and beyond their own job descriptions to get the shows up and running. In the case of the musical, the managing director himself worked with the ASMs to safety-tape and mark out the deck, not to mention my production manager, tech director and crew working practically non-stop for a week. I don't want to make it sound like I'm the only person doing more than my share, nor do I want anyone to think I work for evil bastard people. In fact, I really like this particular theater company.  But I think a big part of this problem stems from the fact that we're ALL willing to knock ourselves out for the sake of the show, not just the SMs (more on this anon.)

Would you even be the slightest bit surprised that I --  chair of the SMA, an AEA member for over 13 years and a member of many AEA committees -- not only did NOT say anything to Equity, I didn't even tell the theaters I was having back problems?

First things first. Why don't I tell Equity? Let's say I call AEA (or ask the Deputy to do this) and say hey, come check this out, I'm doing a lot more than my contract says I should. So Equity comes and shakes their fingers at management.  At this point one of two things happen:
    -branded a troublemaker, that's the last time I work at that theater.
    -the theater says hey, we're not MAKING her do anything, we'll get to everything we need to do, she's just jumping in. THEN, branded a troublemaker, that's the last time I work at that theater.

This isn't to say I won't talk to Equity. I have. A lot. And I will continue to do so. But in this instance what am I going to say? "Hey, this theater makes me do XYZ." Are they MAKING me? Or am I jumping in because I need to get the job done and there's nobody available to do it? Let's face it, it's my own damn fault. All AEA can tell me is to stop doing that, because it's not  my job and because it ultimately devalues the position (more on this anon, too.) However, if the theater says "oh, by the way, you'll be running the light board," well, yes, then they ARE making you do more than your share. And that's something AEA can, and will, do something about. But in this case, there's nothing to report except my own stupidity. And many people at Equity, and elsewhere, already received that bulletin (!)

What I WILL talk to AEA about is the need to make ASMs a REQUIREMENT on ALL contracts, no matter how small, using my tales of woe as an example. But contract negotiations don't grow on trees, and changes take time. Every time the off-Broadway contract comes up for renegotiations we demand freestanding ASMs on all shows, period. Every time we get just a little bit closer, but we are still dealing with ASM/understudies. But every year the wheel gets a little bit squeakier and you know what they say about squeaky wheels...Anyway, I will continue to squeak as far as this issue goes. And I encourage you all to squeak too.

And the reasons I didn't tell the theaters about my back problems and, in one case, my need for an ASM, are definitely stupid and fear-based, but possibly realistic. Here's my fear: tell the theater you're injured and need help and they say, "Oh, poor thing. You'd better sit this one out." or "You know we don't have the resources for that! How can you even think to ask?" And then I have no job.

Did I even consider that the theater would merely say, "Oh, poor thing. No ASM, though," or even, "Oh, poor thing. I bet we could find a couple of bucks to pay for an assistant?" Hell, no. You don't want to make ANYONE think that you are in any way incapable of performing your job, do you? So you say nothing and end up a wreck, wailing, "It really didn't need to be this hard!"  I was so afraid of losing my job that I didn't think about the consequences of NOT asking for help, which is -- just talking about the job here -- you're then not performing your job as well as you're capable of. And if you're not performing your job well, why would the theater hire you back? Hmm....

Another theme running through the responses is: "What can I do? EVERYONE is pulling more than their fair share and let's face it, I know that I'm probably making more $$ than they are, it's the least I can do..."  Tell me about it!  When I was the resident SM at a stock summer theater, I used to stay up all night with the crew during changeover weekends and help with the strike.

This is a real tricky question and one that there is obviously no "correct" answer. Are we doing these things because we WANT to do them or because we FEEL WE HAVE to? Make the distinction between HAVE TO and FEEL WE HAVE TO because we don't HAVE to do them. We just do. We may never work at that theater again, but we stood our ground. We take on the extra responsibility because we FEEL WE HAVE TO, and therein lies the rub: the more we do these things, even as our stock value rises as a "team player," the more we ultimately devalue our position as a "manager."  You think Joe Torre mows the outfield when the groundskeeper gets sick? Okay, maybe that was a bad analogy but you know what I mean.  The more we jump in and do these things, the more accepted that practice becomes, and the more it becomes part of the job. The more it becomes part of the job, the easier it is for management to bring it to the negotiating table and voila, we no longer have that protection.

For example, let's take a benign rule, like the one about the SM not ordering food for the company in those situations when management needs to provide a company meal. Imagine a scenario where the show schedule dictates that every Saturday and Sunday the company needs to be fed, and management has hired a company manager who cannot be there on the weekend to do this. It's a small company and an understaffed run crew and they are very busy from curtain down of the matinee until half-hour of the evening show. You feel terrible asking these overworked crew members to take this task on so you pick up the responsibility. Heck, it's only 7 people and you're one of them. Repeat this scenario a while, and management says, "What do we need this rule for, our SM does this for our company with no problems!" And in the next negotiations, poof! the rule is gone. And now you have the 25-person cast with three kosher people, one macrobiotic, 3 vegans, and 4 people on Atkins. Good luck! Oh, and make mine the veggie option. No cheese, please.

AND MANAGEMENT IS NOT ENTIRELY TO BLAME. That's right. You heard me. It's easy to portray them as the evil demons who prey upon our willingness to do what it takes, and let's face it, there are some people like that out there. But the majority of them are as hard-working and dedicated to their jobs as we are, and while not necessarily in it for the money -- let's face it, it's theater, a bigger gamble than the horses -- they are always looking for ways to stretch what little $$ they've got. So when I say "When we go the extra mile, aren't we proving they can get away with XYZ?" I don't mean that management is rubbing their hands together gleefully thinking of new ways to make our lives difficult. Of course if they think they can do without an extra ASM, a props person, an extra run-crew member, a full-time company manager, they will. When was the last time you heard a GM say, "Wow!  We're really under budget!"  What I mean is that if we keep allowing ourselves to overstep our boundaries and create practice that runs contrary to AEA rules -- for whatever reason -- than management cannot be vilified for taking advantage of it, or expecting it to continue, although we can certainly shake our fists at the heavens and be angry that they do (and then shake them at management, who create these situations when they decide to do a huge show when they only have a 24 dollar budget.)

We want the theater to succeed and do well because we want shows to stay open so we have our jobs. We want to work under the protection of the AEA contracts we fought to create and still fight to maintain. It's so hard to strike that balance, to give your all without feeling like you've been taken advantage of. For all the shows that confirm how much you love your job, there's one that leaves you crying in your beer, feeling like crap and doubting your place in this business.

About a week after I opened that musical I mentioned in the Fall letter I went out for drinks with some friends who've been in this business a good long time, with Broadway and road credits too numerous to mention. I poured out my tales of woe. They told me stories about rough situations they had been in (and not all of them at early stages of their careers) and how and when they completely "lost it."  With each story I felt better and better, and at the end of the evening I had worked my way out of the funk I had worked myself into.

Our jobs are pretty lonely when you think about it. We work alone or with one or two other team members. We tend to work with (and for) the same batch of people. We don't quite fit with management, and we don't quite fit with the actors. So when bad shows happen to good people, who can we turn to? You think you're the only person in the world who couldn't handle that situation. That's why talking to my friends was so helpful -- these are people you could light firecrackers under and they wouldn't flinch, and to hear them tell their similar tales of woe, made me realize I was not alone. Sure, there's that one perfect SM that never loses their temper and never beats themselves up over botching a rough situation. Guess what? If that one person ain't you, you have a LOT of company.

This is why an organization like the SMA is so necessary, to toot our horn for a second. Here's a great cross-section of SMs, at all levels of experience, and we are all here to support and learn from each other. There are certain fundamental parts of this job that do not vary regardless of whether you're doing the high-school musical or the latest Broadway smash, so don't feel that you have nothing to offer because you're just starting out. Your enthusiasm for the job might be just what someone needs to hear, and your question, or your response to a question, might make someone look at a situation in a whole new light.

So, to conclude this massive missive, I again ask the original question, "Where do we draw the line?" There is no right or wrong answer, and a pat answer like, "Wherever you feel comfortable" is not the best conclusion. Maybe you feel comfortable propping your shows. Maybe a lot of people do, and all of a sudden it's out of the contract and now we all have to prop our shows. But I will tell you all that writing the Fall letter and this follow-up -- and reading the responses I've received so far -- made me think a lot more about how to better value myself as an SM, and how to better protect the SM position now and in the future.

Maybe we can rustle up a special guest or two and get together in the Chat Room for a real-time forum.

Until then, much love and fun work,

PS: Adam, I LOVE your post and the way you handled some tough scheduling dilemmas. I totally agree with everything you say, especially the part about realizing that SMs are not Super(wo)men. Unfortunately that's the way I was "raised" as an SM, and it's obviously taking a very long time to unlearn this. It IS a very fine line between doing what's best for the show and being taken advantage of, between bending the rules and breaking them, and I think you've done an amazing job of straddling that line.


  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 319
    • View Profile
A question of loyalty
« Reply #9 on: Oct 24, 2005, 08:09 am »
Bravo people for sharing your stories!!!!

Let me share my story.
This summer, my theater that I've been working at for three years decided to do a world premeire musical that also had NY producers interested in the production. I've worked with the director twice before; and he can be very demanding. My theatre, like many theatres, did not have the resources it needed to make this production work.
My director also wanted to rehearse in NYC for the first week. Luckly for the theatre, my parents live in Jersey, so I could stay there and commute. I did get the Equity bump in pay for rehearsing out of town.
The theatre did not provide me with an assistant in NYC. (She stayed in Albany) My commute door-to-door was 2 hours one way. There was also script changes each day as well. So I had to set up the space, go to Kinko's, and get back in time for rehearsal. This happended the entire week I was down there.
I was exhausted, and was making small, stupid mistakes.
When I got back up to my theater, my artistic director pulled me into her office, saying that the theatre in NYC was upset that it wasn't totally clean after we left.  I told her that I didn't have an assistant with me to help me do all the things that was necessary to get done. She said "Well, we were paying you enough for you to do your job as well as an assistant's job" .  She would never understand that she didn't buy me time on that production.
I've complained about shows before, but this one broke my spirit. It ended up being a huge hit, but who knows if it will go to New York. My relationship with my theatre was never the same (the show I'm doing right now is the last production I'm doing here)
With many theatres barely surviving, they are going to squeeze the life out of you. I was very loyal to this theatre; I worked hard on each show, going above and beyond what was expected of me. In the end I got screwed. The only loyality you should have is for yourself.


  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 468
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: AEA, AGMA, SMA, USITT
  • Current Gig: Freelance SM in Denver
  • Experience: Professional
A question of loyalty
« Reply #10 on: Oct 24, 2005, 10:58 am »
This piggybacks with another discussion on a different thread, about EMC points.  I know that EMC points are only possible on some contracts where an ASM is also employed under Equity contract.  However, at this point, I would like it listed in the contracts that the Stage Manager must have AN assistant, whether it be production assistant/intern or an Equity assistant.  This IS listed in the SPT contract, but in a LORT contract the Stage Manager is not required to have ANY kind of assistant in a LORT C contract unless there is a Chorus for a musical.  So, other than the fact that I had a production manager who understood and provided one, when I did Inherit the Wind with 40 people in the cast I was not required to have an assistant of any kind.  Sure it would be great to have an Equity ASM, but at that point ANY body to help is better than none.  And quite more sane.



  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 412
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: AEA
  • Experience: Professional
the character of the stage manager
« Reply #11 on: Oct 24, 2005, 03:24 pm »
When I was temping to pay the bills as I was starting my career as a stage manager, I got hired to the company I was temping for and then given very healthy raises and more responsibility very quickly.  Not having much experience in the cubicle life, I wondered what was going on.  My cousin, who is a vice-president and part owner of a really business-like business (something so abstract I'll never understand it - I think they buy businesses, overhaul the operations, and sell the businesses at a profit) told me that I had skills that were extremely valuable to his world, because they were so rare.  Things like organization, prioritization, awareness of details, pride in quality - in short, the basic make-up of every stage manager ever.  The company I was working for was paying me very handsomely for these skills - probably more annually than I'll ever make in theatre from year-to-year.  And to me, my assets were so second-nature that I just couldn't believe I was worth that much.  "What do you mean, some people can't alphabetize?"

I see a lot of this kind of surprise in this thread.  I read the subtext of several posts as being "Anyone can do what I do if they had enough time or assistants.  I'd better not complain too much or they'll find someone else."  What we need, as a class, is a stronger sense of pride.  We've all worked with actors and directors who are a pain in the neck because they're so arrogant - but you like working on their shows because their arrogance comes with a great degree of talent.  Let's be arrogant.  Let's know our own worth, even when we agree - for whatever reason - to work for less than we are worth.  And let's have the pride to say producers paying us AEA scale, even though it's more than actors' minimum, are getting a GREAT deal on our services.  On any of the thirty-odd contracts there are, at all tiers of those contracts.

I also want to say that loyalty, like trust, WORKS BOTH WAYS.  If you give your loyalty to a theatre, you have the right to expect the theatre to be loyal to you.  The producer that says "why aren't the coffee cups cleaned?" when you're putting all your time, sleep, and eating hours into planning schedule, updating crew sheets, communicating notes, and getting the show up needs to be educated about what puts the show on the stage.  At the end of the day, that's the only thing that matters, right?  That the audience sees the best show that the theatre, with you as its stage manager, could put up?
Heath Belden

"I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right." - Sondheim


  • New to Town
  • **
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
A question of loyalty
« Reply #12 on: Oct 25, 2005, 12:07 pm »
I have worked for a summer stock for 4 years now. I like everyone else who posted here have war stories about working my ass off and never complaining or collecting overtime and definately NEVER had an assistant even when I begged and pleaded with the Producer. But i won't go into any of that becauase it is basically the same as everyone else. I do want to say two things.
First, Adam suggests that you can get a volunteer or an intern to come in.  I have tried to get even a free assistant stage manager, an intern, I have even found someone to work for free with me. But my producer still would have to house this person since the theater was in the catskills. He wouldn't even do that. I tried to reason with the producer and we had hour long chats about this problem but he still would not budge. So i lost out and did yet another season doing everything myself.
 Second, like Marci, i also got sick during a summer season. Though it wasn't back problems it was strep throat. I, unlike Marci, told them that I couldn't attend tech, opening and a few performances of the show because I was just too sick to function. I spent those days in utter agony lying in bed feeling guilty for what I had done. But i really could not function. I could barely speak, i had a fever, i couldn't swallow so i didn't eat for about a week. I thought that the company really understood this and was simpathic to my illness.  After all, i have been there working hard for 3 three other seasons and never once had even a cold or missed a day of work! But later when I was better, my producer and I were chatting and he said something to the effect of, "Well we know what a pussy you are when it comes to sickness. You act like a baby when you get even the slightest sick." I almost quit on the spot!!  I finally stood up for myself and did what I needed to do...i mean i had strep throat for goodness sake! Not to mention four days after I was diagnosed i was sitting in rehearsal with a blanket around me, no voice trying to give lines to people for the next show in the line. And he has the balls to tell me that I was a pussy! That is what i got when i stood up for myself. I get called weak. I don't think i will put myself through another summer in that place. So much for standing up for my health issues.  

Stage Managers are supposed to be inhuman, power hungry, never stop working kind of machines, and when we have a breakdown or get injured people worry about the stability of their workers. What a prodcer has never broken down? We are human and should be allowed to say no with some respect and not fear the loss of our jobs or the respect of the others we work with.

A delicate balance lies around here somewhere.


  • New to Town
  • **
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
A question of loyalty
« Reply #13 on: Nov 07, 2005, 11:18 am »
Sort of a tangent, but all the talk of ASMs made me think of it...

On the Cabaret contract here in NYC, the ASM requirement is determined not by the technical needs of your show, but by how many performances you do!  I was on a show last year that began as 3 shows a week, and then expanded to 6.  Suddenly, after not having an ASM for rehearsals, tech, and a limited run, Equity said I had to have one.  Since the show was all set up and ready to run without an assistant (and it was an easy show so this was no hardship for me - I had PAs in rehearsal), they would have had NOTHING to do.  The producers and I agreed it was silly and got Equity to waive the rule, but bizarre rules like this often put us in weird spots when it comes to assistants!


Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
18 Replies
Last post Jul 10, 2010, 06:27 pm
by MatthewShiner
6 Replies
Last post Mar 22, 2012, 01:00 pm
by dallas10086
12 Replies
Last post Jun 15, 2016, 08:47 am
by Michelle R. Wood