Author Topic: Creating a Handbook  (Read 5439 times)

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jayscott

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Creating a Handbook
« on: Sep 24, 2011, 05:17 pm »
I am now the resident stage manager at a professional company and also the production coordinator and one of my extra duties is to create a handbook for other stage managers, because I can't do every show.
I was wondering if anyone had to do this before and if they had a basic outline. I'm just not sure how to organize/approach this manual.

Thanks,

BKrynicki

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #1 on: Sep 24, 2011, 06:09 pm »
You could organize it along the timeline of a show, ie what you need to know, do, fill out during prep week, followed by rehearsal weeks including any forms or formats that the company might use or be accustomed to, and continue for performance weeks.  Start by including obvious tasks, that might inpire or cause you to remember other less obvious ones.  Include routines the company is used to (first day is always a production meeting with these people, followed by a read through, etc.). 
Extra sections for special performances - speeches before Opening, school matinee routines, Holiday performance traditions.
If you work with other unions a cheat sheet on their rules is helpful, not all of course, but the ones the SM will most frequently encounter, break times, when the orchestra can tune, how many hours in a day...
Callboard layouts, room set ups, etc.
If you are calling the first show make notes as you go on everything you do as you go along and use that as the beginning of your handbook.  If it's your first show with the company make a list of all the things people tell you..."oh we always have this and that...", "remember so and so needs to have this by such and such time".  My first handbook started as a collection of stickies I was giving to visiting Stage Managers.

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Thespi620

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #2 on: Sep 24, 2011, 11:10 pm »
I created a "handbook" of sorts my senior year in college, it wound up being a word document of week-by-week tasks, from pre-production through strike.  Each week I'd start a new entry and take notes as the week progressed, on things as basic as who comes to production meetings or where to get the paint cans to set the SM table on when the risers are up, to specific directors' quirks, etc. Then, after the show closed and I had time, I went back and edited, added in references to specific forms, etc. We gave our most experienced ASMs our forms at the end of the year, and they will hand down an amended handbook, along with their forms & ours, so we cumulatively build on each others' notes.

I found it to be quite helpful to create the document in conjunction with working on a show, because things would pop up that I wouldn't recall as notable in a post-mortem handbook draft, but were commonplace and tricky enough to warrant a quick line or two.

[The SM is] a very gifted, slightly eccentric master mechanic [keeping] a cantankerous, highly complex machine running at top efficiency by talking to it, soothing it, & lovingly fixing whatever is broken. 
-J. Michael Gillette

missliz

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #3 on: Sep 24, 2011, 11:32 pm »
My last theater had a great little handout that counted down to opening: what should be accomplished by the monday before opening, 2 weeks before, 3 weeks, etc...I found it very helpful.
I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least. -Ionesco

ejsmith3130

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #4 on: Sep 04, 2012, 11:48 pm »
I created a handbook for a Company/Stage Mangement postion I held one summer. A lot of the information I included had to do with set ups of spaces, contact people for anything and everything, and forms I had used that the company liked.

I am a really visual person, so in addition to just listing things that need to be done, I like to see diagrams and information laid out in tables- I think it makes it easier to reference during the course of the job.

juliec

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #5 on: Sep 26, 2012, 10:47 pm »

Hopefully, you've already created this by now, so you'd have many more pointers to add than I present here.  But since this thread has resurfaced and I've done a lot of these, I thought I'd just add some extra things that others may find useful.  I've created several handbooks for previous jobs and they stayed in use for training long after I'd moved on.  Caveat: I've never done one for theater, except for my own personal notes.  Also, my previous responsibilities were for building/starting new teams, whereas you may have a team already in existence.

1. It always helped me to start with an outline first, including things like: processes, policies, forms, contacts, etc.  This outline becomes the table of contents.  For processes, I would draft each section roughly, and refine as I went through the process myself.

2. I also start with big picture/contextual orientation first to help them get the lay of the land, which included some team history, mission/vision, larger goals (in this case, it might be a season schedule), how the department fits into the company.  For anyone working with other departments, contact lists (and *why* to contact them) are critical.  Navigating the organization is the first step to getting comfortable with a job.

3. I think it is important for people to have both a 50,000 ft view of their job as well as the 100 ft view, so I would include an overview about what the SM's core responsibilities are.  Also, cheat sheets are great (one-pagers about the most important things, and then you can include detail elsewhere).

4. If your company doesn't already provide a general handbook, you may want to outline specific office tasks, like how to use the printer/copier or how to login to a web app - just basic productivity in another section.  (If you can address it by an office tour, do that).  Get into specifics once they have their bearings.  If someone from outside of the company is taking over for you, this is super important because knowing these little office things will affect their ability to get off the ground.  If it will always be someone from within, they'll probably already know these things, so you won't need to provide that.  I would err on the side of caution though.  You never know when they'll need to get someone from the outside, and that's much more likely to happen with theater than it was in the corporate world.

5.  Maybe a philosophical issue, but I am not very draconian about forms (personal preference - I also don't like telling people how to do their jobs as long as the results are right).  I include them as examples or resources.  People will usually use the forms you give them anyway, and I think a little deviation allows for some flexibility, freshness, and evolution.  Since they will be in a decision-making position, it may help to let them know how much they can deviate from the manual; that may depend on the culture/age of the company.  In my corporate life, we were very liberal which allowed for some great invention.  Sometimes the wheel did get re-invented and sometimes the wheel was improved.  But it helped us learn what was "best" and see different ways of working.

6.  Try to keep it short, because it will grow and you want people to get started quickly.

7.  For anything requiring complicated computer navigation/new software, people *love* screenshots.

8.  To get people up to speed, the manager also provided them with a personalized "Getting Started" doc, so that they knew what their first projects were going to be, which meetings they needed to attend, distribution lists and who to include on notes, who they needed to start talking to, how to navigate the fileshares, what documents would be helpful to read and where to find them, etc. so that they could be an involved team member as soon as they started.  (Unlike #2, this is a section related specifically to the department).  Knowing who/how/when they need to interact with was key.  For your project, I would have a section that is a timeline-styled procedural doc that other posters have mentioned.  Basically something that very specifically says, "These are the pieces of your job.  Do this."

9. ... which brings me to Checklists.  Who doesn't love checklists?  For this project, I'd use a lot of that format because you want whoever does your job to hit the ground running without missing a beat.

10. I also want to keep the information only in one place because it's easier to maintain only one section if it changes.  I will then reference (via link) that section as needed.  Resist the temptation to copy/paste information.

11. My favorite part of creating handbooks is the hand-off, when the first person who is going to use this gets it and they become the "owner" of it.  They become responsible for adding anything they would have found useful, or anything that has changed.  I hate maintaining handbooks, but it is a great first assignment for someone new and it gives them something very useful to do.  Especially because they are the final audience.  Since they just read it, they know exactly what they would improve about it!

12. Especially if it's a close-knit team or a training doc, I often have a section where they can pass on a few words to their peers at the end of the handbook - something that conveys culture and voice.  Sometimes this becomes a functional "best practices" section, or a "what to do if...", or just a humorous selection of quotes.  Often this ends up relaying something about the culture or values of the organization (for example, "a short, fast response is often better than one after 2 weeks of research", "Use spellcheck.")

13. Finally, I don't see the handbook as ever finished.  If it's useful, it will be a living, breathing object that evolves as work processes of the organization does, even long after you've moved on.  It is important to me that other people also own it and can update it as necessary.  I would opt to use some sort of collaborative software, preferably one that tracks authorship and dates.  (In my previous life, we used wikis... but this is theater we're talking about!)

Jessie_K

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #6 on: Sep 27, 2012, 07:57 am »
Juliec- you've made the handbook for making handbooks!

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mkristinect

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #7 on: Sep 18, 2016, 05:36 pm »
I'm resurrecting this thread with a slightly different version of the question...so maybe recycling the thread is more descriptive.  I was recently hired as production stage manager for a new theatre in town.  We are not a producing company as such, but half the year we will be curating low-tech, self-produced work by local artists, and half the year we will be renting. 

Aside from the fact that the job itself is uncharted territory for me, I need to come up with an orientation handbook for incoming SMs.  This won't be terribly complicated and I have ideas, I was just hoping for a bit of feedback on content.  If you were putting up a show where you got one day to load in and tech, what would you most like to know about the space?

If it helps, we have basic QLab2, an ETC Express board, and a rep plot.  Also, I will most often be there to help with tech, but I'd like to give them a point of reference.  WiFi password, bathroom codes, location of first aid kit, that sort of thing.

Tempest

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #8 on: Sep 19, 2016, 11:51 am »
Who they need to send performance reports to, and what needs to be in them. I know every place I've ever worked has a slightly different distribution list and slightly different "Oh, we REALLY need to know this," random bits of information.
Also, a list of who to contact when something goes wrong. Power goes out, toilets stop up, QLab computer kicks the bucket, etc.
Jessica: "Of course I have a metric size 4 dinglehopper in my kit!  Who do you think I am?"

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PSMKay

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #9 on: Sep 20, 2016, 02:08 pm »
Dimensions of the doors, available linesets, location of sink, prop food prep/storage area, dressing rooms, laundry. Can restrooms be used without being heard from the stage? How does FOH communicate with crew? Is there any particular way you want us to set spikes? Are there cue lights? headsets? backstage paging system? Do I need a code to use the photocopier? Do I need to press a special key to dial out on the phones? How much lead time do you need for program inserts? Does the house have a standing comp/papering policy?

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mkristinect

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Re: Creating a Handbook
« Reply #10 on: Sep 24, 2016, 01:05 pm »
Thanks!  Very helpful.  :)

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