Author Topic: COMMUNICATION: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology  (Read 9133 times)

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Sarah

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Hey all...I'm not sure whether we should begin a new thread or not, but Meg brought up a great tangent to this topic. Please find below our short conversation.

Via PM, Meg asked:

Is it, in your experience, important for junior members of a SM team to have computer networking capabilities? I've encountered situations, as an ASM and as a PA, where being able to set up the office was hugely important - and in today's tech climate, that boiled down to being literate in Mac and PC, and able to set up a wireless network for general use.

My reply:

That's a great tangent to the discussion; indeed, I do think it's quite a feather in a junior member's cap if they are able to handle a lot of the networking setup when visiting designers and actors come to town. I've actually filled that role over the last two seasons here at my theatre and it really doesn't hurt the ASM's/PA's reputation if the director wants to check his/her e-mail and the ASM/PA is the one to get them on the network ASAP. The SM team is the communication hub, right? You've pointed out a fantastic analogy!

It's fact that technology is changing the way stage managers are able to accomplish success; like some of the respondants to the survey remarked, I think we really need to strive for the balance and master the technologies that are most useful and efficient, whatever they may be.


What do the rest of you think about Meg's question? Have you been the defacto "IT" SM/ASM/PA/intern able to leap firewalls in a single bound? Has it helped, in other ways or avenues, to have this knowledge?

Of all the questions we've raised so far, one thing keeps gnawing at my thoughts: what is the true nature of efficient communications?
« Last Edit: Jun 09, 2009, 01:08 am by PSMKay »

BalletPSM

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Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #1 on: Aug 15, 2007, 05:16 pm »
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what is the true nature of efficient communications?

Sorry...this is off the topic of IM programs as well and more in relation to the question above.

I think it is whatever is going to work out best for your production staff and you the SM.  If that's email...great.  If a designer specicically requests phone calls when there are notes that pertain to them, then that's what I have to do.  My last show I had  designer who said, "call me, no matter how late" becuase he couldn't be at tech weekend.  So I was on the phone with him at 11:30 at night. 

Once I had a costume designer who didn't have email OR a phone (yeah...that was fun) but needed all the notes the night after rehearsal/performance and so I had to STOP BY HER HOUSE every night after rehearsal/performance (thankfully it was on the way from the theatre to my house!) whenever I had notes for her.  But, it was the only form of communication that worked.  It wasn't too bad since it was a relatively small and simple show....but still.

This particular show, I have one designer who says that because of the large volume of emails they receive every day, they don't want daily reports, they only want the reports when something pertains to them.  So now I have to set up two mailing lists, one with their email and one without, and make sure that I figure out which report has to go to which one...eek.

Efficient communication will change with each situation...that's how it stays so efficient!
Stage managing is getting to do everything your mom told you not to do - read in the dark, sit too close to the TV, and play with the light switches!

Sarah

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Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #2 on: Aug 16, 2007, 11:06 am »
This particular show, I have one designer who says that because of the large volume of emails they receive every day, they don't want daily reports, they only want the reports when something pertains to them.  So now I have to set up two mailing lists, one with their email and one without, and make sure that I figure out which report has to go to which one...eek.

I think this is definitely tethered to the topic of efficient communication and technology, but it would certainly merit its own thread. I understand the potential problem with the "large volume of e-mail" but to me, this speaks of a designer who is not engaged with the total process, but, maybe I'm taking too idealistic an approach here. Playing the devil's advocate for a moment, this is one situation where technologies that SMs employ might serve to breed autonomy instead of collaboration.

BalletPSM

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #3 on: Aug 19, 2007, 11:20 am »
Mod's note -- I split this topic off the IM topic!


The issue with this particular designer is that your'e right -- he isn't totally engaged with the process.  He's the video/projection designer (we're using 11 projectors on 5 different screens, 2 of which are movable to create 4 different arrangements of screen in the center, plus live video feed...it's intense!  He's extremely talented and knowledgeable, but is thinking of himself more as just a "helper" rather than a full out designer.  I don't think he fully realizes the magnitude of what this director is planning to do.

In a perfect world, he would be at every other rehearsal offering up solutions, ideas, etc.  But, we're not a perfect a world, and he isn't under a contract from the theatre -- he's just invoicing for his time (this is community theatre!) so I guess I have to do my best to strike a healthy medium between his terms and mine.  In this sitch, I think that's going to be the most effective way to communicate with him without totally antagonizing him!
Stage managing is getting to do everything your mom told you not to do - read in the dark, sit too close to the TV, and play with the light switches!

KMC

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #4 on: Aug 19, 2007, 11:41 am »
This is a very interesting thread.  The past two years at USITT myself and my former professor have done presentations on this topic.  The first was at the 2006 conference in Louisville was entitled "Digital and Wireless Communication for Stage Managers" and this year's at Phoenix was entitled "The New Language of Technology".  If I can dig up the powerpoints I will post them here, it goes hand in hand with a lot of stuff we've been discussing in a few threads recently.
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Sarah

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #5 on: Aug 19, 2007, 03:25 pm »
I was hoping the benevolent moderator would determine that this topic merited another thread!  ;)

Quote
we're using 11 projectors on 5 different screens, 2 of which are movable to create 4 different arrangements of screen in the center, plus live video feed...it's intense!

Crikey! I don't think "intense" accurately qualifies the situation...that's a lot of AV! I agree, though, that keeping your designer informed and feeling supported by you is the way to go. It makes me wonder why he feels like he's just a "helper" and, might it have to do with the way he chooses to receive his information regarding the production. Curious.

Kevin, I couldn't make it to Phoenix or Louisville...I'd really love to see your Power Point sessions, if you can find them. I tried to work a few days off for USITT into my contract this year, but, alas...it didn't work out as USITT falls the week before I tech Amadeus. Bleh. Maybe we can use this forum, with the creator's permission, as a starting point to build a future session for USITT.

In our PM conversation, Meg also pointed out that:

Quote
How fascinating, also, that this very informal seminar on SM and tech is taking place online...

There are so many layers to this topic that I think a good starting point is the question that prompted our moderator to split the thread: What is the true nature of efficient communication and how does technology help or hinder the exchange of information in the SM's world? My first response concerns Meg's observation that we can communicate about how we use technology to communicate through technology! Ogres are like onions!

Mac Calder

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #6 on: Aug 19, 2007, 09:30 pm »
What is the true nature of efficient communication and how does technology help or hinder the exchange of information in the SM's world?

Communication - the issue that Stage Managers lives seem to revolve around.

I love communication. I love to be in the know, and I like for everyone else to be in the know as well. I love thinking up new ideas for getting information to people, and I like to try and get people to use these methods (or even their own methods).

However often, other people only want to know things when it concerns them. To me, this is inefficient, as it can lead to people not working together as well as they should, however  to them, 'excess information' is inefficient in their minds.

There are a number of pivotal issues that often come to the fore in my mind (and many came up in the IM thread). The problem is, none of these issues have a definitive set of answers. They are all subjective - and communication is between more than one person - so there will be clashes on ideals.

Often technology is pigeon holed into "Hindrance" or "Help" - which is backwards to me - technology is not a means to an end, it is purely a method of delivering information. Information can be delivered 'near instantly' (as most shows only take place in a small area - tours excluded) in many ways depending on a number of factors, and if technology was not available to assist in the delivery of this information, we would find other ways of doing it. Maybe pigeons or a series of bells connected to strings, using Morse code or maybe messenger boys... It is more the ethical issues of the appropriateness of instant/near instant communication that I worry about.

Strangely enough, I am having trouble vocalising (textualising?) my thoughts on this subject, ironic really in a topic about effective communication.

megf

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #7 on: Aug 20, 2007, 12:50 am »
At the risk of setting off the academic alarm bells that lurk in this discussion...

Mac, I think the issue you're pointing out here can be looked at in the form of a question: are we looking at the medium (the technology) or the message (content - i.e., Actor Bob's dance shoes need new heels) when we consider communication in the theater workplace?

And a corollary question...

When and why do members of this business distinguish or conflate the medium and the message it conveys? It seems that the designer who requires a phone call or house call is conflating the two, while another person who emails and IMs and iCals the show to pieces is conflating the two as well, but reacting in an equal and opposite direction. A healthy balance - whatever that means in the context of a show - would, I feel, distinguish the medium and message without soapboxing it to death.

Does this help to clarify what you're saying? Please correct me if I've steered away from your original intent.

BalletPSM

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #8 on: Aug 20, 2007, 07:33 am »
Quote
Crikey! I don't think "intense" accurately qualifies the situation...that's a lot of AV! I agree, though, that keeping your designer informed and feeling supported by you is the way to go. It makes me wonder why he feels like he's just a "helper" and, might it have to do with the way he chooses to receive his information regarding the production. Curious

This community theatre is on the campus of the local community college, so they have a lot of access to various college resources -- including this professor.  He's extremely good -- very good at what he does.  Which is why I think the director wanted to work with him.  But I don't think he realized the scope of this until now, when we actually started blocking (this is a new play -- I've been working on it since February...the director's been working on it since 4 years ago....maybe I'll put something up about it in the self-promotion).  Anyway...now he's hired a local AV company to do all the set up and implementation; he's just going to collect the images and video and put that all together, and then work with the switcher when we get into tech.  okay yeah I'm going to post this elsewhere.

On this topic...I think we've touched on this idea before -- how much information is too much information, and who actually needs to know everything? Does the administrative assistant in the box office really need to be on the email list for all rehearsal reports and production meeting notes?  My thought is no, becuase the box office manager is on the list and anything their assistant needs to know, they will tell them(example, these three seats will now be sold as obstructed view, make sure to adjust prices as such and tell patrons when they order). I think that we who "dole out the information," as it were, are the ones who need to control that and moderate who receives what and if we know that something is really important, we need to take pains to make sure that whoever needs to know that hears it as quickly as possible.  If someone who's not on our regular list needs information (like the shop manager is out of town and a costume ripped, so I have to call the manager's sister who's handling things while they're gone), it's our job to get it to them in whatever way works! 

In my situation, I have a designer who doesn't want to receive a lot of email. To a certain extent, he's right, and I completely understand his point -- he doesn't need to know that Actor 1 is now going to be doing a somersault and so his costume needs to allow for this.  I can't force him to open and read all rehearsal notes -- for crying out loud, I can't even get my regular designers to do that sometimes!  So, I've got to figure out a way to get him the communication he needs, and get what I need from him, without making him so mad that he quits or never wants to work with me again.

Email is great for this kind of thing -- I can just set up two lists, and if something pertains to him in the RR, I can send it to him, if it doesn't, I won't.  I know he'll read it, since I'm only sending him what pertains to him. 

The kicker here is if I don't realize that the note for the lighting designer that says "Actor 4 will now take their entrance from SL and their special for that scene needs to be adjusted" affects where he hangs projector 5.  Here's where the message becomes key, and the medium of its transference doesn't really matter.  Again, I think I have to use my best judgement.  I'm in the "better to know that not know," camp, but a lot of people aren't.

I think that in our quest to know anything and everything connected with a show, we sometimes assume that everybody else does too.  They really don't.  Often, designers want to do their own thing and even when we think they'll care about something, they don't.  I've stopped sending RRs and Prod Mtg. Notes to the rest of my office staff (marketing director, development director, administrator) at the ballet -- I found out they don't read them at all.  To which I jokingly screamed at them, "what!?  But there's stuff that pertains to you on there!"  They answered, "No, you think they do, but they really don't.  If there's something that actually affects front of house, then tell us.  But asking for another sword really doesn't concern us.  At all."  They were pretty adamant about it.  Since I want to know everything, I just figured they did.  But they really don't.  So now if something truly concerns them (like we have to cut seats because we're building a thrust or something), I just talk to them about it or send them a personal email. 

More time consuming for me, I guess, but my job is not to make my job the easiest thing in the world - it's to make the show run smoothly, and if this means I have to send 4 emails instead of 1 and make 2 phone calls and 1 house call, then so be it.  Yeah, okay, that can suck sometimes, but that's what I get paid for.  That's why I do this.  =) 

Effective communication has to be effective for everybody, not just the stage manager.  If email isn't effective for someone on the staff, it is my job, not theirs, to make it as effective as possible for them.  We can't expect everybody to be as diligent in their emailing as we are.  Just becuase I sit at a computer 8 hours a day in my office and then 3 hours a night at rehearsal and then 2 hours after that at home doesn't mean that Mr. Properties master does.  He shouldn't be -- he should be in the shop building! 
Stage managing is getting to do everything your mom told you not to do - read in the dark, sit too close to the TV, and play with the light switches!

Mac Calder

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #9 on: Aug 20, 2007, 08:00 am »
Maybe I should have clarified - I don't believe everyone should receive all information, but I believe that all departments should be aware of how things are running (in general) - even if it does not really pertain to them, as well as be able to access - and willing to access any information they need.

Meg - You are pretty much on track, in that I think we spend too much time on the medium we use to deliver information, rather than looking at the information we are delivering.

Sarah

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #10 on: Aug 20, 2007, 11:48 pm »
Quote
I love communication. I love to be in the know, and I like for everyone else to be in the know as well. I love thinking up new ideas for getting information to people, and I like to try and get people to use these methods (or even their own methods).

I think this is one of the primary reasons I am a stage manager.

However...

Quote
I think that in our quest to know anything and everything connected with a show, we sometimes assume that everybody else does too.  They really don't. [...] More time consuming for me, I guess, but my job is not to make my job the easiest thing in the world - it's to make the show run smoothly, and if this means I have to send 4 emails instead of 1 and make 2 phone calls and 1 house call, then so be it.  Yeah, okay, that can suck sometimes, but that's what I get paid for.  That's why I do this.  =) 

A designer can choose not to read all of the rehearsal report or meeting minutes but, if everyone on the design team remains on the distro list, at least said designer remains in the information loop and the onus of specificity is removed from the SM's shoulders.

The house call scenario is a great example of an SM required to spend an inordinate amount of time on the medium of communication versus what's being communicated. I'm not saying it's bad or wrong or this or that approach would be better, or that the SM shouldn't do such a thing. I think, though, that SMs should also reap the benefits of ease from contemporary communication systems. Actually, I'm not sure what I'm saying at the moment, but I'm going off to figure it out...

Aerial

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #11 on: Aug 21, 2007, 12:18 am »
We've recently had almost the opposite problem of the one being discussed.  Our production manager just cut our rehearsal report distribution list significantly, cutting out almost all the admin staff and interns, due to people talking about information that was contained therein that was more for documentation purposes (Actor X was late...).  She cut off all but the essentials, so now when we have a question that pertains to say operations or marketing, we have to send out a separate email.  As it turns out, our admin staff seemed to be the people who read the reports most, because we keep getting emails "Can you put us back on the distribution list?" to which the reply has to be "Talk to the production manager", while we have designers who don't look at the reports...  We'll get used to it, it just seems like a lot more work because it's a new system.

BalletPSM

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #12 on: Aug 21, 2007, 09:25 am »
Quote
The house call scenario is a great example of an SM required to spend an inordinate amount of time on the medium of communication versus what's being communicated. I'm not saying it's bad or wrong or this or that approach would be better, or that the SM shouldn't do such a thing. I think, though, that SMs should also reap the benefits of ease from contemporary communication systems. Actually, I'm not sure what I'm saying at the moment, but I'm going off to figure it out...

Believe me -- I didn't LIKE doing this at all!  But when the designer doesn't have email or a home phone, how else are you supposed to communicate?  I was fully embracing the technology at my fingertips -- my designer wasn't, so I had to drop by whenever there were questions or notes for her.

Stage managing is getting to do everything your mom told you not to do - read in the dark, sit too close to the TV, and play with the light switches!

hbelden

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #13 on: Aug 21, 2007, 11:21 am »
BalletPSM - I would have suggested the designer come to the end of every rehearsal.  Why should the travel time be added to your workday, when your time is already so crunched, and the designer doesn't have other commitments to the show?

I think that the people who get rehearsal reports should be those that need to act on the notes contained therein.  Everyone else, it's not their business.  For that reason, I've decided to split the daily call into a separate e-mail.  Marketing might very well need to know at what time a particular actor is called, but they probably don't need to know the timing of a quick change, and they certainly don't need to know that the lead actress was late or that her daughter has a fever.

I've also come around to asking "When do people need to get this information?"  Ideally, of course, it would be as soon as I know about it, but until I develop telepathy (research progresses, but slowly), the ideal isn't going to happen.  If I learn about a prop note on Friday afternoon, and I know that the prop shop isn't going to be in until Monday morning, why not wait until after Sunday's rehearsal to distribute the rehearsal report?
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Sarah

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Re: Effective communication as it relates to today's technology
« Reply #14 on: Aug 21, 2007, 11:24 am »
Quote
Believe me -- I didn't LIKE doing this at all!  But when the designer doesn't have email or a home phone, how else are you supposed to communicate? I was fully embracing the technology at my fingertips -- my designer wasn't...

I understand your situation completely; of course we do what we need, to get the information out. It just floors me that this particular designer is able to successfully insulate herself from the electron, when I find them (electrons) an indispensable part of my tool kit, and indeed, life. It's almost post-modernist backlash, in the critical sense. But I digress...and I'm still trying to digest the fact that gasoline and geography are part of your communicative process.

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