Author Topic: RUNNING: Maintaining the show (meta-thread)  (Read 15984 times)

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Debo123

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RUNNING: Maintaining the show (meta-thread)
« on: Mar 12, 2006, 01:16 pm »
So something else to chew over:

One of the guest artists on the show I'm doing right now actually graduated from my university in '75. In fact, even before coming to university, he received his Equity card as an SM at the age of 18. Now he acts and that's a whole other story.
However, point is we were discussing stage management yesterday after rehearsal, and he was telling me that it seems SMs nowadays don't care as much about maintaining the show, and don't concern themselves with being the defacto director after the show is up and running.
I am not doing a BFA program, but I would be interested in hearing what others think- those who are officially doing BFA and MFA programs now- is this something you get trained in as much as how to do paperwork and call cues, and also those who have been working a while- have you seen a shift like this? Any other thoughts?

NOTE: This is now a meta-thread, combining multiple merged threads on the same subject. - PSMK
« Last Edit: Jun 10, 2009, 03:22 am by PSMKay »

Mac Calder

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #1 on: Mar 12, 2006, 04:38 pm »
I think it must be that these courses are not teaching it, or that many SM's do not realise that this is their job.

During a short run of one or two weeks, I usually dont bother that much with maintaining the artistic integrity of the show, but the longer shows, hell yeah, it is a big part of the role.

IIRC the standard SM contract for equity includes under the role description something about "Maintaining artistic integrity" (my terms, probably not equity's), but since I am an aussy who does not 'do' union shows...

smejs

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« Reply #2 on: Mar 12, 2006, 05:50 pm »
Well, let me say that I think the SM's job should be (as per the union contract) to maintain the director's intentions of the show...but...

I have found that harder recently.  I have run into more directors lately who don't think I need to be around for actor notes or that they've discussed anything that affects me if he talks to them without me.  Or in one very rude case at a theatre I no longer work, I had an actress inform me that the (guest) director didn't know how to direct the scene and she was going to do it her way.  HER job (she said) was to continue to grow in the role and MY job (she said) was to be supportive of the actors as they did so.  The (out of town, and not asked back) director whom I really liked and I agreed on how the scene should be...which was not the way the actress did.  It was a somewhat short run, and even my production manager (who agreed with me) decided it wasn't worth fighting.  My crew proceeded to distract me during the specific scene so I'd stop worrying.

That said, usually, and in better theatres, yes, the stage manager is the only one around to try to keep the show what it was intended to be.  It is very difficult to let one actor continue to grow because you know they hadn't quite reached what the director had wanted by opening...and yet, try to curtail another actor in the same show who is now starting to overdo it and going BEYOND the director's intentions.  A call to said director never hurts, and sometimes, unfortunately, is needed by some actors who don't believe you.

Anyway, long story short...sort of...I am an SM who DOES care...but sometimes feel stymied by other people in the production (including administrative) about whether that really is my job.  I also am quite aware of all production values - as per what I believe my job should be - checking if lights have fallen out of focus (some board ops seem to only check if a light actually comes on, not if it's still doing the right thing), and paint notes for sets that are falling apart.  Sometimes it's also a matter of budget of how much you can upkeep a show.  It's harder and harder to get producers to pay for work calls these days.  

Erin

megf

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« Reply #3 on: Mar 12, 2006, 08:06 pm »
Speaking as a current student, sometimes it is hard to establish oneself as "on the staff" without having actual administrative (i.e., grading) authority.

My college doesn't foster any maintenance tactics usually - with one or two weekends of performances for any given show, it is rare for a director not to be there for the bulk of the run, and because this is a liberal arts program, the emphasis is more on the process than on hard-and-fast emulation of the pro world. Stage managers (who are *nearly* always students) typically work with maintenance issues only when they affect actor safety and last-minute changes to the technical running of the show.

A few questions for other students out there - I'd love to know how other universities work with SMs maintaining shows, particularly faculty-directed productions. What kind of authority do you have in terms of calling understudy rehearsals? If there is a consistency or discipline problem, does it need to go to the director first, or production management? Do acting faculty members get involved?

megf

Mac Calder

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« Reply #4 on: Mar 12, 2006, 08:42 pm »
My experiances with university level work as always been in union theatres (union as in student union, not AEA), where all but the venue technician and artistic director are students.

my other experiances in the education industry have been from outside of the organisation, more specifically as either a brought in grader or assistant 'professor'.

Most 'student' theatres I have worked with have an average run length of a week, maybe 2. Maintenance of artistic intention is not overly important then.

The shows I have graded or been AP on, all rehearsals were after hours, during lunch etc and as such, the SM usually colaborated with the 'supervising authority' (ie grader, the professor and assistant professor) and provided one of us could attend, things were rosy.

ps. all three positions reviewed each student, discussed them, graded them, and then the grades were averaged. Supposedly this gave a 'truer' grade

MatthewShiner

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« Reply #5 on: Mar 12, 2006, 09:16 pm »
Well, it's difficult as a young stage manager in a school student . . . I mean, unless you are taking directing classes and directing shows, actually working with actors, it's a hard responsibility to learn how to do.  I have been stage managing professionally for 15 years, and it is still a challange.

There are SM's who care, and want to maintain the show.  (I am actually in a very interesting position at my current theatre where there is a resident Assitant Director who is actually responsible for maintaining the show artistically - and it is not my responsibility.  Makes my life a lot easier, especailly on long runs.)

I think it is SM by SM basis, but I feel most SMs are interested in doing their job, and doing it the best they can.
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hbelden

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« Reply #6 on: Mar 13, 2006, 11:10 am »
It's a lot easier to give notes during the run if you establish a note-giving relationship early in rehearsal.  When I SM a show, I try to catch an actor or two after every rehearsal and give them a positive note about something they did in that rehearsal.  It lets them know that I'm paying attention to that sort of thing, and it lets them know that I'm "on their side", as it were.

I believe in SM's maintaining the show, but it is a few decades since directors trained by stage-managing other directors, so SM Maintenance is not as built-in to the system as it was.

I really hate when some actor tells me what my job is, and they get it wrong.  I'll hold on to the ability to give actors notes as long as I can.  There was one director - I think it was Albert Takazauckas - who was directing a particular actor who talked back to him at an early rehearsal - Said something like "I'm not going to do it that way" or "That's a stupid note" or something.  The director just said "Ok." and then didn't give that actor another note.  EVER.  So by previews, the under-rehearsed actor was in tears because he/she was floundering with no direction.  Ah, revenge is sweet.
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Sarah

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #7 on: Mar 13, 2006, 12:47 pm »
Quote
A few questions for other students out there - I'd love to know how other universities work with SMs maintaining shows, particularly faculty-directed productions. What kind of authority do you have in terms of calling understudy rehearsals? If there is a consistency or discipline problem, does it need to go to the director first, or production management? Do acting faculty members get involved?


When I was in grad school, this was always a problem. As a graduate student working with faculty directors and designers, there was an expectation that the MFA SM act as a peer on the artistic/production team. It was difficult for many of the younger SMs, simply because of the lack of life experience, to negotiate the waters of professional peerdom while afloat in a dinghy on the Faculty Sea. The faculty and the SM committee encouraged autonomy in the SM, yet the leviathan of "studentism" was always lurking under the surface. Peer/student/peer/student...auugggggghhhh! Some students used this as a crutch, though, and played the student card when a misstep landed them in lukewarm water.

Often, the SMs were more familiar and on the same peer level as the MFA and undergrad actors, which created another, more sticky wicket, when it came to discipline and maintenance. Our runs were only two weeks, 10-15 shows, with the director almost ever present. I found that in rehearsals, it was benefical to take the broad stroke director notes, and pay close attention to notes sessions after rehearsals, picking out a few important beats and events for each character. I didn't really get to exercise much "artistic maintenance" but I could here and there give a note I felt sure was appropriate to the direction of the show. This has served me well in the professional world, and now I have the added insurance of a conversation with the director before he or she leaves. (On a side note, did anyone attend USITT in Toronto? Winston Morgan gave a great and all too brief session on note giving. I'd love to attend his full workshop.)

As for understudies? Ha! Don't make me laugh! Didn't have that luxury.

Kestrel_Childers

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #8 on: Mar 29, 2006, 05:40 pm »
I always found it difficult to "maintain the show" while in school as well, not only because they didn't exactly go into any depth about this other than the fact that we were suppose to do it, but also because with the shows we did in school, either the run was so short 1-3 days, that you either didn't have to maintain the show or there wasn't much opportunity to.

Or because the director was a student or faculty member, so they were always around giving notes and going to the shows so we didn't have to maintain the show, and also it seemed like the BFA actors weren't informed that maintaining the show was part of our job, so some would often wonder why we were giving them non-technical notes.

Staylor

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #9 on: Mar 30, 2006, 03:16 am »
"It's a lot easier to give notes during the run if you establish a note-giving relationship early in rehearsal."

I agree - especially as I am not an actor, I try to establish a relationship of involvement in the artistic values of the show from day one in order to speak with authority once the show is running. I don't feel it's my place to give notes to the actors when the director is shaping the show (even to compliment them - what if the director is taking their character someplace and I stop them?). I do, however, get involved by doing extra research about the show and making sure the actors know I'm involved and interested.

I have been told by my actors that SMs who maintain the show are rare, and that they're comforted knowing that someone's actually in charge (and that they have someone to turn to when another actor is suddenly changing it all up!). Maybe directors need to be more, um, direct with their stage managers about it!

Debo123

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #10 on: Mar 30, 2006, 08:59 am »
A nod to Sarah's comments above:
One of the things I have done in the past and will continue to do in the future, especially as I get out and do more long running shows, is ask the director what he or she would like me to keep an eye on as the show keeps running. For example, I worked on a children's show in rep last summer, and the director told me he wanted me to keep an eye out for one of the actors; the actor was extremely funny, but had a tendency to take the moments too far for a children's show where we needed to be conscious of our audiences' short attention spans. Having that in my head from the director, I was able to not only look out for it, but also feel supported as a young SM giving notes, really for the first time. I think it was also reassuring to the director that even though it was just the non-Equity "children's show" in a summer rep situation, somebody would be looking out for it when he left.
With the show I am working on now, the director has very specific qualities for every single one of the scenes/choruses (it's Greek). I take notes in my script as I hear him detail what it is that he wants from each character.
Are these common techniques in the world outside of university? What else do you do?

jensparkingonly

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #11 on: Mar 30, 2006, 03:40 pm »
Maintaining a show is a difficult thing, and, I agree is becoming a lost art in theatre.  

1) In most small regional theaters the director (usally the owner of the company) is almost always on hand to watch over his/her *baby* and is giving notes on the sly.  

2) Econmically, alot of theater's can not afford to run a show longer then 3-4 weeks, unless it is a smash hit money maker beyond the subscriber base audiences.

Show maintenence is not something that is really taught in grad school: the runs of shows are way too short to really need to concern maintenence. We had some discussions about it in stage managment class, but  what I have learned has been on the job from trial and error...lots of error.

In my experience, giving notes and show maintenence is not about age, it is about trust.  If the actors can trust that you always have correct answer and have a complete understanding of what is going on, they will listen and in most cases (the rare diva excluded) take the notes you are giving.   You, as the stage manager, have to make yourself apart of their ensemble. When you hold a show and are calling it, you are an invisible character on the stage with your cast. I have often been the youngest member of an ensemble, but been given ultimate trust because my actors trusted me to make the right calls when scenes needed a tweek because I have been attentive to the entire process. (FYI-it take practice and experience. I really didn't feel confident in my ability to maintain a show until after 5 or 6 years of stage managing and I was lucky enough to work with a director who would point out to me good and bad growth in a show and give me the insight to fix it without violating my authority as stage manager.)

Here is what I do:
1) I write down intentions, emotions, and line readings in my script as well as blocking so I can be aware of the emotional paths as well as the physcal paths of the actor. That way I can give emotional clues to the actors as well as physical cues when they get *lost* in rehearsal.  Actors tend to relate their blocking to the emotional. This also helps establish that I am paying close attention to them, building trust.

2) I always attend the actor's notes sessions and listen to the notes the director gives the actors. This always gives me insight on the types of things the director is looking for and how he/she is tailoring the show

3) I always have a conversation with the director prior to the final dress rehearsal and discuss a formal "handing over" of the show during the finaly notes session.  I ask the director to say "the stage manager is now in charge and any performance notes will now come through her."  This establishes a clear line of authority for the actors. I also let the director know that I would love to get any notes they have about show maintenence throughout the run so I can pass them on.  At this final dress rehearsal, after the directors announcement, I clarify with the actors that I will be giving the notes and taking questions about the show that they may have.  I also set guidelines for notes, for example all notes are given prior to 15 minute call or will be posted by sign in sheet.

4) I also discuss with the director the types of "growth" they want to see as the show settles so I can watch for it and reign it in if the growth happens in the wrong direction.  For example, an actor morphs a funny line into a slapstick moment that pulls focus from the story of scene.  You can always guage an actors growth with the deeper/wider theory.  If the role becomes more meaningful and honest, telling the story, it is growing deeper (good growth). If the role becomes bigger, exaggerated and superficial (ie...playing for the laugh) that is wider (bad growth).

Best of luck!
Jen Matthews
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"In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten: we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we  move, unfettered, among the stars." -ML

erin

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The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #12 on: Apr 03, 2006, 10:25 pm »
Artistic maintenance, for me, is the hardest part of the job.  I am not a director, have never wanted to be a director, and don't think like a director. 

I have nightmares about running understudy rehearsals.  My greatest concern regarding my current show is running understudy rehearsals for a show that is more ballet than drama.  Am currently fighting to have the assistant director at least teach the choreography....it seems beyond the scope of my job and ability to teach complicated dances.  I know that it is part of my job responsibilities, but if i were a competent choreographer and director i wouldn't be a professional stage manager.

In school (including grad school) i never ran a show long enough to do more than basic upkeep (e.g. line and blocking notes).  We discussed how important it was, but never got to actually *do* it.   

All the directors i've worked with have been very good about turning the show over and being supportive, but they also undermine my ability by having notes sessions with the cast while i'm dry running cues and transitions during rehearsals,  or going out to the bar after a rehearsal and making major character and/or textual changes but not passing that information on to me the next day.  How horrifying is it to give a line note and be told "we changed that last night".

So yes, it is our job, but not one easily learned.
« Last Edit: Jul 03, 2006, 04:30 am by erin »

ReyYaySM

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maintaing a show
« Reply #13 on: Jul 07, 2006, 04:12 pm »
With my current show, anytime I've been about to give a note, the actor has come up to me the moment I've walked in the Green Room and started talking to me about the scene.  Or, I walk into the Green Room and they are talking with their scene partner about what was different that night and how did that feel, and they'll ask my input as to whether it worked better before, or if I liked what they did that particular performance.  It's been a nice process and has been very effective. 

Then last night I went to check in with one of the actors because she had done something in the scene that she has told me before is her least favorite and that she has always had trouble with it.  There is no other way to really describe it except that it felt really different last night-- the energy, her intention in the scene, her line delivery.  It wasn't really good or bad, just different.  So I was chatting with her in her dressing room, and told her that the scene felt different tonight and asked how she felt about it.  She started getting very defensive and upset that I had made a comment about the scene.  I was hoping for an open dialogue to check in with her about the scene and it just made her upset and flustered, which wasn't my intention.  I almost feel it would have been better to not even have talked to her about it. 

Any pointers on giving notes to actors?  Do you usually do verbal or written?  Do you have a certain way you phrase your notes that illicits open discussion as opposed to defensiveness?  Any insight is greatly appreciated!


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Re: The SM times are a-changin'?
« Reply #14 on: Jul 07, 2006, 05:57 pm »
I do line notes two ways -

1) in person, quietly - general notes like " I see you're having trouble w that sequence on p. 34 - please give it an extra look and let me know if you need help running those lines outside of rehearsal, I will be happy to make the time/assign (the PA) to assist you"

2) email - I jot the line notes on my legal pad as part of my running notes for the day, and when I type up the reh report at nite, I will email the actor and let him/her know if the line is consistently wrong or feels locked.

I don't give line notes while they are in that transitional memorization stage, and once the lines are locked if it's minor (doesn't affect the meaning of the sentence, doesn't add time) - such as her character name instead of her - stuff like that. And sometimes you just have to live with it.....

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