Author Topic: PEOPLE: Teachers, mentors, learning  (Read 2852 times)

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PEOPLE: Teachers, mentors, learning
« on: Nov 04, 2005, 12:28 am »
This is for everyone out there, from the new SMs to the old pros- we are all always learning.
Which people have been your best teachers in stage managment (or theater)? Where did you learn from them and in what context? What made them great? What was the most important thing they taught you? What would be the one most important thing you'd want to impart to any SM you taught, regardless of their skill level?

I eagerly await what will surely be interesting responses.
« Last Edit: Jun 08, 2009, 10:36 pm by PSMKay »

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Teachers, mentors, learning
« Reply #1 on: Nov 04, 2005, 01:32 am »
My mentor - sad to say I have no one really. I watch every SM I come across, but there is no one person that I look up to. I would rather pick and choose bits I like from everyone I see, be they SM's or not. I think if you close yourself off to looking up to one person and following everything they advise as if it were gospel, you can miss out on some really important things.

If I was to impart one piece of wisdom to other sm's, it would definatly be that the call times your write on the call sheets are for the talent, not for you. The call time for yourself is at least half an hour before. I have an immense phobia of being late. When I am filling another role (ie lx designer or on the rare occasions I have been 'talent') and I see a reahearsal has a call time of 7pm, I am there at 6:30, ready to start at 7.

If I was a stage manager and I put a call time of 7pm, I would be there at 5:30-6pm, so I know that everything is set up by the time people arrive. Being a theatre tech, rather than a dedicated stage manager, I have seen many other SM's at work. About half of them have arrived 5 minutes before the call time to open the room. An SM should be the first to come, and the last to leave.

The final thing I would advise - 'Talent' is fickle. They have their good days and their bad. Dont take anything they say at face value. It will come back an bite you in the rear 10 minutes later when you call beginers and the overly dramatic and sensitive 'talent' has locked themselves in their dressing room.

nb. I have noted that "actresses" do not like to be called "actors", even though the term is used in a non-genderly biased manner, hence my using of the word talent. Due to the unfortunate regularity that I work with people who do not fit the description, I have included inverted commas arround the word ;-)


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« Reply #2 on: Nov 04, 2005, 08:49 am »
In my growth as a stage manager, based firmly in the educational model, most of my mentors were instructors, but's it's funny how quickly you grow up and find yourself going from mentor/mentee to peers.  

When I got in the real world, I kind of jump started the entire ASM route, and starting SMing directly, and from there into PSMing.  But, when I did have an opportunity to work with other stage managers, either hiring Equity assistants, and working along side other stage managers - I am always interested in taking different looks at the job.  (I also think an interesting thing is if you ever get to work with a bad stage manager, and they are out there, you learn a lot as well as what not to do.)

The whole philosophy of life long learning instilled in my grad school now applys to everyone I work with from Intern to Production Managers - I like when people question the way I do things, or suggest new ways.  I am far from perfect, but I do have reasons for doing things the way I do - but it's nice to explain it, and often in explaining it, I will find out that indeed it was not the best way to do it.

I think the best thing to pass on is there is "no right way to do" anything - but this job is all about style and personality.
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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.


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Teachers, mentors, learning
« Reply #3 on: Nov 04, 2005, 11:56 am »
My best teacher “hung up his stopwatch” this year, but I still consider him both a mentor and a friend.  We met when he was PSM for a production that brought me in during tech week as a second ASM.  We went on to work together on 3 more shows and a workshop/staged reading, for two different theater companies.  

What made him great, the important things he taught me, and what I try to pass on to other SMs are all the same, but hard to narrow down to just one: preparation, honesty, confidence, focus, grace under pressure, and positive attitude are all part of it.  Some of these are traits that you can’t learn though anything other than experience.  One skill that can be taught (to the willing!) is accuracy, which goes along with the Never Assume Anything principle.

Don’t give an actor, director, or anyone on the production team, incorrect information.  “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer if it’s followed by “I will find out and tell you.”   It’s better to say “let me check my book/ask the TD/look backstage” than to guess on an answer, and have someone plan around that guess, only to find out later that you were wrong, and time and effort were wasted because of that.  At the very least, you can qualify an answer with “my understanding is that xxxxx, but I will confirm that (later/with the designer).”  

That said, mistakes will be made.  When they happen, don’t try to cover them up, don’t over-apologize, and don’t let the same mistakes happen again.  Explain the situation without adding drama, adjectives, or accusations.
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)


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Teachers, mentors, learning
« Reply #4 on: Nov 06, 2005, 12:12 am »
I like this thread a lot.  

The mentors I've learned most from have certainly been the other stage managers I have worked with.  I thought that I came through college with a good view of the craft.   When I began as an intern in a LORT house, the following year,  I realized that I would always, always be learning, and that was great.  It's an interesting perspective to sit down with your fellow stage managers in the office after rehearsal, or at the bar, and just discuss events that occur, hear what others have to say.  To have a fresh view on something that you may not have heard of.  The theatre I work at has a mostly resident set of stage managers, and PAs so everyone knows one another pretty well, and it allows this dialogue to happen freely.

The skill I'd like to impart to any stage manager is an attention to detail.  This applies to paperwork, to preset, to having that cup of water ready for the actor who only comes offstage once in the play,  to every facet of the job, and can really make a difference between a decent stage manager and a good stage manager.


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