Author Topic: Am I Being Too demanding?  (Read 1609 times)

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Annie

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Am I Being Too demanding?
« on: Mar 22, 2015, 10:07 pm »
I've been stage managing locally for about five years now, and I have a day job (as a Technical Director at a college) that pays my real bills but other than about four months of the past five years I've been constantly working as an SM and have started to accrue Equity points.  I give you this information to let you know where I am in my pursuit of stage management.

Last fall I had a show that began rehearsing in October and opened mid January of this year. The director is somewhat of a friend of mine and I felt really good going into it. We had a fairly large cast - 28 people and it was a musical so there were many elements that went into the production.

Rehearsals (although long and difficult) ultimately ran fine. We were more or less able to accomplish what was needed in the time given.  From day one however I explained to the director that I needed more than 8 hours for tech since that was also supposed to include a 3 hour sitzprobe and the show itself was 2.5 hours. I knew this wouldn't be a reality, especially trying to run and balance 15 mics for the first time. 
Sure enough, we didn't finish during the one day he had designated for tech, it took an additional two days of scheduled "runs" which left us with only two days before we opened and on opening night he had tv monitors installed and informed me we would also be running projections. It was a slightly more stressful than normal tech week. Then once the show opened he continued to give my board operators, and cast notes, call meetings, and essentially never gave me the show to run.

He's asked me to work with him again. In much the same scenario. It'll be a musical, but we'll only have a cast of 19. I've told him I'll have to think about it and send him a list of things that I need to know won't happen again if I agree to work this contract.  My list is as follows, and what I need to know from you is if I'm being ridiculous/too demanding.

- Once we open you will not call cast meetings or be present at them.
- Once the show opens you don't give notes to actors. If something is wrong or off, I will give the note. If you're very concerned talk to me about it and I'll make sure they get the note.
- If you have a technical note, bring it to me or the designer, not my board op.
- Assuming we have a successful and smooth dry tech, give me at least another full day for wet tech.  I'll likely need a 10 of 12 to accomplish what needs done.
- Once the show opens we don't add new elements.
- Once the show opens do not approach the tech booth during a show, I assure you if something is wrong I'm aware of it and trying to fix it. Your yelling isn't helping.
- You are absolutely welcome to attend every performance if you'd like. But you'll do it as a patron.  Don't interrupt or try to control mic checks/dimmer checks/whatever it is I'm trying to do on stage. 

Essentially I guess my issue is that I felt at no point did it become my show. Am I being ridiculous? Is this a reasonable list of requests? Have you ever worked with a director that didn't act as if he respected you and/or never backed off and just let you run your show? How did you handle it?

cdavisnyc

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Re: Am I Being Too demanding?
« Reply #1 on: Mar 23, 2015, 01:31 am »
I see where you're coming from, and I don't think you're being too demanding. As a matter of fact, this is all common practice in professional theater. However, your approach comes across as demanding, which will guarantee resistance. I suggest logical statements which make the quality of the performance the priority. 

This is a rule.
-During a performance, never distract the SM or technicians unless there is a safety issue.
Because:
-You are giving the current show your full attention. Notes given mid-performance may not be successfully recorded and may not be implemented in future shows.
-Distractions will cause further errors.

Directors with poor impulse control must be politely asked to write the note down, or ignored if absolutely necessary, then given your full attention in a postshow notes session. Avoid all mention of yelling or any kind of shaming. You may be right, but it will get you nowhere.

These are good:
-The show is "frozen" on opening, because actors & technicians do their best when they can fully focus on their performance without having to incorporate changes without additional rehearsal time. Many of your demands are duplicates of this core concept.
-Notes are best given through one person, the stage manager, because the SM has an eye on the "ripple effect" and will keep everyone in the loop who may be affected by the change. That's just efficient.
-Meetings are best arranged through one person for the same reason.

A corollary to the "frozen" issue - a director will resist freezing a show because rehearsal wasn't finished or because they can't let it go.
-an SM who develops a relationship with a director can help them pace themselves so that they accomplish as much as they can in the time they are given. You indicated this was not an issue.
-directors who can't let go just have to be managed. In time you may earn their trust, or you may not. The urge to make it better will never go away. And you know what? That's what makes them a director. Honor that. And then hit them with the logic.

-Tech rehearsal does not include sitzprobe or mic checks or sound checks for balancing. These are all separate calls.

This ain't happening:
-expecting the director to attend as a patron. The director's brain will never shut off director mode. Perhaps the director will learn efficient methods of information delivery. Perhaps they will learn to trust you. But they will never stop being a director. If you want them to respect you as a stage manager, then you must respect them as a director.

Bonus points if you have lunch with the director to discuss a "post-mortem" of the last show: what went well, and what to change the next time around, and how to achieve that.

It's your show, whether the director thinks of it as yours or not. Keep that thought, not as a sense of ownership, but a sense of stewardship.

Don't take it personally. Every issue is a problem to be identified, and then a problem to be solved. But it's not about you. Well, unless you make it about you.

The best thing that you can do to prepare for your future is to learn these valuable diplomatic skills. If you move on from this experience to AEA contracts, much of this will disappear, but the skills you learn now will serve you well in the future in even trickier situations!

Last, go with your gut. Do you want to work this director's next show?

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loebtmc

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Re: Am I Being Too demanding?
« Reply #2 on: Mar 23, 2015, 02:27 am »
It sounds like it's a college production? In which case, you can approach it as teaching everyone how to work in a professional environment and therefore get the director on your team by reviewing contract rules and together instituting them. These, of course, include things like notes going thru the SM, the SM being the person who maintains the show etc. And for the actors/board ops/designers to understand the protocol/line of communication so they don't get fired from their first jobs.

This can allow you to do all the things you need without creating a hostile environment while you (together) teach the students and the director how to work in a professional manner.

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Annie

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Re: Am I Being Too demanding?
« Reply #3 on: Mar 23, 2015, 02:30 pm »
Thank you both for your feedback, it's really appreciated.

cdavisnyc, based off your suggestions I've changed a lot of the wording to be more logic based and less emotion based. I am upset when I think of the last production and it was showing when it shouldn't and some statements came off in ways I didn't mean them to.

I don't mind that he watches the show with a directorial mind. I don't mind if he wants to talk after a show about what happened or thoughts he's had and how to improve.  I do mind when in the middle of the show he decides to come to the booth to inform me of things that weren't perfect. I'm generally aware of these things and am already trying to fix it.

We had an official post-mortem last show and then an additional un-official one with the two of us and the Assistant Director over dinner and drinks. It went well at the time so perhaps I'm simply feeling burned from the prior experience and should just let it go.

Loebtmc - I wish it were a college production. I teach/work at a college and have no issues there with clear communication, standards, and making sure things run well.

This theatre considers itself semi-professional. Everyone gets paid, contracts are laid out on day one, and 1099's are given at the end of the tax year. The director has a masters in directing but somehow managed to do so without taking a single technical class so he's genuinely clueless as to how these things run.

Since I have no other shows lined up for the time slot and I know the theatres in town with the EMC program don't have anything in that time frame I'd like to take it since I'd rather work than not work and a little extra income is nice.

I appreciate your feedback and have scheduled an informal meeting with the director, assistant director and myself for later this week to go over the calendar and talk about potential.  Having slept on it I really think that half the issues can be solved by designated tech time and the other half by coming to an understanding of what it is a SM does and what his expectations of a SM are. Perhaps it won't be a big deal at all.

NomieRae

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Re: Am I Being Too demanding?
« Reply #4 on: Mar 23, 2015, 03:02 pm »
Yes, I absolutely echo what cdavisnyc said!

I have found in the professional world that these behaviors very rarely reflect on your job as a SM, and more on the anxiety of the director as a whole. Earning their trust and having them understand that the show going well is your priority sometimes helps solve the issue. I've had directors that felt that stage managers and crew don't "care enough" and therefore the director never feels like they truly can let go.

Though, a lot of time you cannot fix it and just have to ride it out best you can, having guidelines in place is a great first step.

Giving notes during a performance is a GIANT pet peeve of mine, as is thinking they can stand in the booth if the show is sold out. No no no.
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"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

loebtmc

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Re: Am I Being Too demanding?
« Reply #5 on: Mar 23, 2015, 03:47 pm »
well, break a leg - and the more you are able to get the director on your team - that is, being part of the solution - the easier it will be. But holy cow no notes during the show. Can you lock the door to the booth while the show is running?

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