Author Topic: COMMUNICATION: Communication with the production team/what do they need from us?  (Read 4742 times)

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mgberton

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Hello, fellow SMs!

I've been thinking a lot lately on how to teach my stage management mentees/proteges guidelines for communication with the production team. They grasp the idea of tech week and performances - organizing and calling cues, running backstage crews, work days, and rehearsals (what I call the "tangible" elements of stage management). But many of them miss the nuances of the prep week, the production and planning phases, and the communication and lead up to tech week and performances.

I would love to hear some input on key communication with each production department (set, sound, lights, costumes, properties, front of house, directors, actors) and what you believe is the most important thing an SM can provide for each department. I'm hoping I can take this input and really highlight the steps of the process to my stage managers so they can handle the full process, rather than just those tangible aspects.

Mara

Edited to add topic tag- Maribetb
« Last Edit: May 08, 2013, 12:07 am by Maribeth »

ejsmith3130

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Something that helped me learn in college was actually having a blank sectioned rehearsal report with me during all rehearsals. That way I had a constant reminder that there were catagories that I had to pay attention to. Props, Set, Costumes, etc all had their own box and I would jot notes as things came up in rehearsal.

A lot of what I learned too came from actually working in the other departments. If possible you could have your students shadow the other department leads so they can see from a different point of view what is important. I think sometimes it is very easy to get stuck in your own job and not realize what others may need- a stage manager that understands what is important to a lighting designer because they understand the designer's job (even if just basically) is going to take better and clearer notes.

Maggie K

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I tend to follow the philosophy of the more info the better, as long as it is clear and understandable.  Most of the folks from other departments that I've spoken with have always really appreciated having as much detail about things as possible.  It gives them a better idea of exactly what you need that prop/set piece/costume to do.  For example, if I have a cast member who has been blocked to crawl around on the floor I like to let Costumes know that so they will design/build a costume that the cast member can crawl in (or let me know that the costume won't allow for that movement so I can let the director know.)  Another thing that is important to include is priority levels.  "Hey, we really need the couch in rehearsal by Friday but don't need the dresser until Tuesday"  will get better results than "hey, can we get the couch and dresser in rehearsal."
I like the ephemeral thing about theatre, every performance is like a ghost - it's there and then it's gone. -Maggie Smith

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Jessie_K

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A director I worked with (on a long-running constantly changing show) had a list of all the technical departments pinned to his corkboard. Whenever he had an idea, this reminded him to consider the needs and input of each department. Even though I was facilitating his communication, this list helped guide his thought process. In the future, I will keep a similar list to help guide my questions to directors during rehearsals and meetings as well as to remind myself to tell everyone else.

As I am currently teaching, I have done my best to encourage my students to do the same and to be able to figure out which departments are affected in any given scenario.

jrbucci

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I think that people often forget other forms of communication beyond reports and set meetings. Many of the shows I work on go two or three weeks between production meetings (which is fine if everyone is on the same page). I feel like its easy to get caught up in our day to day stuff and forget to have little check-ins with the departments from time to time. I try to either visit in person, call, or email each department once or twice a week. If your shops are onsite it's just so easy to drop by and say hello. Not only does this give you the ability to clear up any communication problems but it's also usually well received that you would stop by and check in. I always like to make it about them by saying, "Do you need anything from me?" or "I just wanted to drop by to see how you guys are doing? Have my notes been ok for you?" I know this seems like a no-brainer; however, with a busy schedule it can be pretty easy to just email out paperwork and nothing else. It also makes you seem both humble and assertive when dealing with communication issues because no one feels accused when one does occur.

Just the thoughts and ramblings of a mad man...

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mgberton

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Thanks, all! This was very helpful. A lot of other stage managers and designers have been reflecting these comments.

ambrosialx

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I agree with jr! Some people are just terrible at responding to emails so its good to have a little walk and chat. The accountant at my company has never sent me an email but when I go to her office I see she has printed off all my notes and highlighted out anything that pertains to her and has them on her desk for reference.
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SMeustace

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I found while working as an ASM with a lesser-experience SM that the SM's have little to no communication with the designers and prod. staff other than rehearsal reports and what's said in prod. meetings. This could be because they are not guided on or told to communicate with the designers/prod staff other than filling out rehearsal report templates. As a SM, I meet with my costume designer for a costume list and to understand the costume needs for the show. I meet with the scenic designer/props to go over not only the set and prop needs but to understand scene shifts.

Is this what a stage manager should be doing for every show, or am I just micro-managing too much?

What tangible (or maybe non-tangible) things do they need from stage management? Besides detailed rehearsal reports...
"On the first day the lord said....Light cue 1, GO! Then there was light".

MatthewShiner

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You should communicate as much as the project needs with each designer - no more, no less - while always keeping the door open for more communication if they feel they need more.

I find that I am usually the SOURCE of information for most of my design staff, and they end up coming to me (or the director through me) to get more information - I find, after an initial list or ground plan - there may be little they have to offer me.

My job is to make sure they have the information they need for success.

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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

Maggie K

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Checking in in-person is always great when possible, because there can be things that are difficult to put into writing.  However, I like to immediately follow up any in-person discussions with an email or a report that refers to the discussion.  I like to have things in writing so that I have something to refer back to.  CYA
I like the ephemeral thing about theatre, every performance is like a ghost - it's there and then it's gone. -Maggie Smith

Mac Calder

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I got asked yesterday in my catchup with my boss when I called my last "head of department meeting" was - he was shocked when I said it was over 3 weeks ago. The way life had been at our venue, I never had all HoD's in at the same time since - and whilst I could have re-rostered to make it so, life would have suffered for everyone. My manager was shocked that everything was running so smoothly. All I could say was that I took about 10 minutes each day that a HoD was in to shoot the breeze with them. I would forward through information like snippets from SM's reports as they come through, then swing by their offices, stand in the doorway or sit on a box of gaffer tape beside their desk and actually talk to them. Not ask for reports and emails (we still did that of course) but just take an interest in what was going on in their departments. I would email out a draft roster once a week and then make sure I headed over and talked about it with each of them, one on one. Was it more work for me? Sure... but it also yielded superior results to the previous administrations method of 1 meeting a week and a barrage of emails.

I guess what I am trying to say - things come out in conversation that may not seem important when you are writing reports. By talking to them you may find out that "truss three has some scrollers are really starting to lag a little bit - not noticeable to the audience but 'ya know... " or that the scenic artist spent the last 3 days painting the fake books for the bookshelf because they realised they could not go full depth and use real books like they wanted to otherwise the 'secret door' wouldn't open (so that blocking where the actor pulls the book and flicks through idly whilst standing in the study that the director improvised last session won't work).

To some, it is chatting, to a manager, it is information gathering.

 

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