Author Topic: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?  (Read 2369 times)

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Sayen

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POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« on: Feb 11, 2012, 10:13 am »
I'm a castoff from Controlbooth here.  I work most community theater in addition to teaching and working as an auditorium manager at various schools.  There are a few things that I/we always take as law written in stone, but I don't know if they are actually found in any professional documents.  I've been reading through AEA's standards, but haven't really found what I'm looking for.

For example, it's certainly bad practice for a technician to argue with an SM during a show/cue, and at the local level might cost them their job, but is there anything in the union or otherwise that outlines a stage manager's power?

What about directors/producers who forget the stage manager has authority once a show begins?  Particularly in community theater I can think of several directors who have a habit of finding a backstage headset (one would bring his own and plug in) and calling cues or overriding the SM during a show.  It's obviously bad practice and wouldn't be tolerated professionally, but is there any larger governing document that says so?  Directors and Producers are often higher up the food chain and outrank a Stage Manager, so what limits their power?

I'm not asking with anything particular in mind.  I just realized recently I keep teaching these rules because that's what I was taught, and I'm not actually sure where they come from.  I would love to find anything official to show my students.
« Last Edit: Feb 11, 2012, 06:23 pm by Rebbe »

planetmike

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Re: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« Reply #1 on: Feb 12, 2012, 07:41 am »
In my own experience stage managing for community theater, it comes down to the working styles of the group. Some groups feel they "need" the director more than the stage manager, so the director gets to do whatever they want to do. Same thing with producers. Through the rehearsal process a stage manager should learn how the director will act during performances. If the director is hard to work with during rehearsal, why should you expect it would be different during a show? Stage management comes down to managing people, be it a technician (managing down the chain of command) or a producer or director (managing up). Keeping the lines of communication open between the SM and producer/director should help, but there will always be those directors who will create headaches. Good luck.

Mac Calder

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Re: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« Reply #2 on: Feb 12, 2012, 09:32 am »
As far as "Authority" - a Stage Manager position is like many lower/middle management positions - actual authority is minimal - but the direct line to people with power to make real decisions exists. Ie: A Stage Manager is often responsible for enforcing discipline, but in most companies actually doing anything (like a written warning) requires the producer or company manager to sign off on.

Verbally, an SM is well within their rights to tell a director "Look, my job is to call the show - stop stepping on my toes and BACK OFF" - but if the director keeps at it, the only real recourse the SM has is to talk to the directors boss (company manager/producer).

If a tech is argumentative on coms, then yes, the SM will often tell them to pull their head in - but if it keeps going, as with the director, normally your next step would be to approach the company manager/producer/...

Some companies are organised in such a way that the SM does have a certain level of power over the technicians and actors - and are permitted to issue written warnings etc - but as a general rule (at least in Aus), you won't find many Stage Managers making the unilateral decision to show someone the door.

MatthewShiner

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Re: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« Reply #3 on: Feb 12, 2012, 11:05 am »
There are a lot of stage managers who would like to think they are the "Authority" or Power, but reality, using words like "responsible" or "leader" are perhaps better, but at the end of the day we are just middle management, easy to have some one step in above us.

I feel like any stage manager who demand "authority" (ala Respect My Authoritah!), is reaching for a last straw - and sometimes we all get there - but if we are demanding it, we will find how little we have.

We don't have the power to hire or fire, but we do have the ears of lots of people who do.  We do document the show for the producers, so we are indeed starting a paper trail for those people who make decisions "I see here, by the SM's reports you were late four times to show calls . . . ".

Directors in the professional world are a very trick bunch, and if a director wants to come back note, tweak, change a show after opening, I really bump it up to the producer.  In the heat of the moment, I would defer to a director - but that's because it's usually a director who will get me hired.  (Now, safety trumps all of this . . . I will not do anything unsafe).  Now, if a producer wants me to do something . . . well, again, as long as it's safe, they are paying me, they are the boss.  NOW, I will, in all of these cases explain the situation and what their choice and request may require . . . "Oh, you want us to drop 500% more glitter on stage, you do that will require another hour of clean up, and put us in overtime, meal penalty and, even then, we might not be set for the evening show . . ."

It's very heard to remain a leader for a show, when you have a level of management above you that steps in (and often times seems to under mind your authority) - just remember, that you probably never had it to begin with.

That's why parenthood is good training for stage management - responsible for, never in complete control of  . . ."

As far as someone else calling cues, there are, on some contracts an AEA rule stating that only a SM will call cues except in the case an emergency.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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.

NomieRae

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Re: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« Reply #4 on: Feb 12, 2012, 02:04 pm »
Quote
Directors in the professional world are a very trick bunch, and if a director wants to come back note, tweak, change a show after opening, I really bump it up to the producer.  In the heat of the moment, I would defer to a director - but that's because it's usually a director who will get me hired.  (Now, safety trumps all of this . . . I will not do anything unsafe).  Now, if a producer wants me to do something . . . well, again, as long as it's safe, they are paying me, they are the boss.  NOW, I will, in all of these cases explain the situation and what their choice and request may require . . . "Oh, you want us to drop 500% more glitter on stage, you do that will require another hour of clean up, and put us in overtime, meal penalty and, even then, we might not be set for the evening show . . ."

This is a great summation of our job -- I can't tell you how many times I've had to do a cost/benefit conversation regarding new additions or PR appearances. While we can't unilaterally make decisions, we very often become the one (sometime the ONLY one) who sees the big picture of how it effects everyone on the show. Very often they go ahead and do it anyway - but that's the business.

In a community theater situation it can be rather tricky - I do remember having some luck with sitting down with a director and explaining how important it was for me and my learning experience to have the show in my hands once open. In that same vein I'd try to level with the board ops and let them know that if the designers have notes I am happy to take them after the show. If a scare tactic is necessary I have definitely pulled the "I am responsible for the safety of the actors" card. If they'd like to be responsible for someone tripping on the stairs because they put the cue in the "right" spot, they can be responsible for it... That kind of theoretical responsibility usually makes people re-think their actions... usually.

That all being said - some things will never change no matter how "professional" the people are that you work with. Some directors will drive you bonkers and will have to be locked out of the booth come showtime. Some board ops will fight you on cue placements and then you'll just learn to work around it or get another board op ;)

--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

PSMKay

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Re: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« Reply #5 on: Feb 12, 2012, 10:13 pm »
Our old standby, the LORT agreement, is pretty vague although it has some juicy little morsels that might help (emphasis mine):

Quote from: LORT Agreement
63(H)(2) The Stage Manager or Assistant Stage Manager must be present on the deck or in communication from the booth with all backstage areas during all
performances, run-throughs, technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals. Under no circumstances shall anyone other than the Stage Manager or Assistant Stage Manager be on book calling the cues of a production.

63(I)(2) Duties Exempt from Overtime Calculation. A Stage Manager shall fulfill the following responsibilities for the production for which he is engaged and these
duties will not be counted as overtime or as part of the limitation imposed above in section (I)(1):
(a) Calling, scheduling and coordinating all rehearsals, note sessions and any other calls.
(b) Communicating and coordinating with the artistic, production and Theatre Staff.
(c) Maintaining the artistic intentions of the director and the Theatre after opening to the best of his ability, which shall include giving notes and calling rehearsals when necessary.

63(J)(1) It is agreed that it is the duty of the Stage Manager to assemble and maintain the production script for the actual technical and artistic operation of the
production and that the production script remains the property of the Theatre.
Directors getting on headset backstage would cause a conflict with the 1st item there. Any tech arguing with the stage manager is by default precluding them from communicating with other members of the team. While it is our prerogative to spend our time as we will to the best of our ability, any crew member monopolizing our time or prohibiting clear communication over headset would be preventing us from doing our job. The job also requires maintaining the intentions of both the director AND the Theatre. It says nothing about what to do when these two POVs are in conflict. If worse comes to worse, you can use the leverage of assembling a clear prompt book to push the decision if you really must rely on an authoritarian crutch instead of soft skills.
 
However, my preferred source for defining something like this is the BAT Agreement. (Again, emphasis mine.)
Quote from: BAT Agreement
55(B)(1) Because of the responsibilities of the Stage Manager for the success of the production and safety of the Actors, the Producer agrees that it will use its best
efforts to employ a person who is experienced in theatrical stage management. There shall be at least one Stage Manager for each production.
55(G) (Duties of a Stage Manager)(1) A Stage Manager under an Equity contract is, or shall be, obligated to perform at least the following duties for the production to which the Stage
Manager is engaged, and by performing them is hereby defined as the Stage Manager. The Stage Manager shall:

(snip...)(e) Assume active responsibility for the form and discipline of rehearsal and performance, and function as the executive instrument in the technical running of each performance;

(f) (BAT Agreement says:) Maintain the artistic intentions of the director and the Producer after opening, to the best of the Stage Manager’s ability, subject to the Producer’s approval;
(CAT Agreement says:) Maintain the artistic intentions of the director and the Producer after opening to the best of the Stage Manager’s ability, which shall include giving notes, calling brush-up rehearsals of the cast when necessary, and preparing understudies, replacements, and extras when and if the director and/or the Producer decline(s) this prerogative;

(snip...)
(h) Maintain discipline as provided in the provisions of this Agreement;
(i) Ensure that the safe and sanitary conditions of the playing and/or rehearsal areas are maintained;
(j) Ensure that facilities or provisions made by the Producer for the security of personal property are available and operable.

The folks in the smaller regions have it laid out VERY nicely. Discipline, safety, security, documentation, but the Producer always wins.

Of course, not everywhere is San Francisco/Chicago and not everyone will follow along just because some rulebook says so. Some companies don't go union specifically so they can avoid a structured chain of command.

lawvd

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Re: POLICIES: Standard policies for a SM's authority?
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2012, 09:56 am »
I once said to a visiting LA-based professional director "get the hell off headset NOW." In retrospect, I wish I had said it more calmly and without "the hell", but it had been a VERY stressful show with a company who had no clear policies. He gave me a really nice apology before getting on the plane back to California.

Everyone is really correct here that it goes back to the rules that are written down. Pros have your Equity contracts and rulebooks, community theatres (who probably have a higher proportion of prima donna directors) tend not to be so formal. In the company I work with most often, we finally developed a set of "Production Guidelines." We distilled every pro rulebook we could lay our hands on down to a terse four-page document, which was adopted as policy by our board of directors. I think the clause that would most relate to this thread is "All artists and staff members involved in the actual running of a performance shall comply immediately with all instructions and cues given by the Stage Manager or an Assistant acting under the Stage Manager's direction."

I would urge any community theatre to put in the work to develop such guidelines. You are welcome to look at ours at New Member Link: http://www.oshponline.org/prodguide.pdf [nonactive].

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