Author Topic: Is this normal?  (Read 3260 times)

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vborey

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Is this normal?
« on: May 25, 2007, 02:42 am »
I learned stage management from a book (well, actually three books that are on their second round of last renewals from the library). I've never really seen a real stage manager in operation and I have no clue if what I'm experiencing is just a typical SM day or if it's just me. I studied anthropology in school and somehow, through a series of fortunate and unusual events, ended up becoming a company member of a small and rather poor theatre where almost everyone is volunteering their time and efforts and even space.

I'm motivated to get the show done and to get it done right, but often find myself completely turned around and missing details left and right. It's driving me nuts. Actors consistently come up with schedule changes - "I can't be here next Thursday because..." and then two days later, they'll say they can make it after all. The director (whom I like very much) adds prop pieces and later changes her mind about them during rehearsals or sometimes she does this on her own and forgets to tell me. The props people bring the right props in, but half of them break or malfunction so that I need to fix them in order to have them ready for the following day (instead of waiting another week). The costumer is telling me he can't find stuff on the budget we've given him with the demands that the director has. Our technical director is vague about a lot of the things I need to know about - like, when the stage will be completed (it's being built from scratch) and when the lighting bars will be hung and whether or not we'll be able to borrow certain equipment by a certain date. We're broke and can't afford to reimburse people until after the show closes and I've been given the "we can't spend money on anything else, but be discreet about it" command. The production staff is showing up an hour early to meetings because for some reason they're not comfortable bringing stuff up in the actual meeting & they want private time with me because (I'm guessing) they want me to ok decisions that they think the director will not approve of. And.. people are not even close to hitting anticipated deadlines.. I give them one date. They'll agree. Then (whether I send reminders or not) they'll show up three days after the deadline with a draft of what they think the finished product will look like..

I don't necessarily mind all of this. I mean, I enjoy the challenge and being at the center of all this creative energy. I'm working with a lot of great people and it's a terrific play. But, there's a nagging voice in my head that's telling me I could be doing something better. I'm literally spending almost every waking moment on the play & have reduced my 'regular job' work hours & am putting some of my own money into it, just so that we can keep moving forward. I'm repairing things and sewing and hanging lightbars and doing minor build stuff and running lines and coordinating and taking blocking notations and scheduling and gearing up towards tech week (next week) and still...I often feel like I have no idea what is going on around me. My mind is like a sieve. Wrapping my brain around a nine actor scene shift seems slightly beyond my grasp most of the time. I'm on book most of the time & am finding it super difficult to track what's going on onstage while I'm feeding lines to people.

So...the question is: Is it just me or is this what it's like for all SMs? And..does the process eventually start to make sense with experience, or is it wildly dependent on circumstances?

« Last Edit: Jun 03, 2007, 03:39 pm by vborey »

MatthewShiner

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2007, 07:58 am »
Yep. 

It can always be like this as you continue in the business.  Somethings get better, somethings get worse, but as you stated, it's always wildly dependent on circumstances.
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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.

KMC

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2007, 08:26 am »
Welcome to stage management. :)
Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

centaura

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2007, 10:44 am »
Some of the things you're talking about would be different if you were in an environment where folks were all getting paid, or better yet, where it was their full time job.  If it was the TDs full time job to make sure that the stage was ready by a certain date - there had better be a reaaaaally good reason why its not done.  So, yes, part of your stress (with the flexible due-dates and questionable quality of things) is due to the nature of it being a mostly volunteer production.  Some of the other issues, picky director, things changing without you being told, wrapping your mind around the 9 actor scene change - those types of things come with the job description.  Have fun!

-Centaura

jwl_868

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2007, 12:28 pm »
I can identify with your situation.  I’m a volunteer, I’ve learned stage management from books (and by mistakes), just about everyone involved is a volunteer, and everyone wears several hats.  (Though things are a little easier in my case; it’s a dance studio with one recital and one full ballet each year.)  But much of the work comes down to lists and staying organized.  I also think your work will become much easier once you find out who you can count on and who you can’t. 


Joe

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2007, 01:27 pm »
So...the question is: Is it just me or is this what it's like for all SMs? And..does the process eventually start to make sense with experience, or is it wildly dependent on circumstances?

So my short answer is "yes and no".  Working in a volunteer environment (not just theatre, but ANY time) when people are not being paid for their work there is less committment and follow-thru.  What's the repercussion?
As you move up, things get more structured.  Actors are required to have conflicts approved at casting.  When there is more money involved, there are more people looking at how that money is being spent.  When there is more money it is easier to throw money at problems if necessary which alleviates stress.  But there will always be directors who have super-secret conversations with actors or designers making changes that you don't know about.  There will always be people not making their deadlines.
At the lower levels, there is more rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty.  As you move up professionally, there is less of this...  But then there is a new set of challenges and a different kind of crazy.
Every show is different and had different needs so you are having to constantly change your system, paperwork, etc.  However, with the benefit of experience, you'll begin to recognize the signs and head off problems before they become problems...
I've been working for a while at the LORT level and am pretty good at what I do...  But I still have at least one moment on each show where I feel totally overwhelmed, feel like I've made horrible mistakes. 
My advise would be to try to work as a PA at a professional theatre in your area...  You'll learn by watching a more seasoned ASM and get a better sense of what the job is/could be to decide if this is something you want to do. 

Mac Calder

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2007, 03:06 pm »
I was given a book on fifth circle management theories the other day by a friend (not exactly my normal reading, but it was quite interesting) and it reminded me a lot about how theatre runs. How putting on a show really requires you to take a holistic approach as opposed to the secular etc (that is a post for another day). But another thing it also mentioned was about setting mission statements/expectations/goals.

Long and the short of it - most of us set goals beyond our reach, and they are often poorly thought out, and when we cannot reach those goals, either due to difficulties that arise, or because the goals were poorly set, we shift the aim back to meet with where we currently are. The golden piece of advice it gave - think of your goals, define them, make sure they are reasonable, but keep them high. If you have to sell your mission to others, then they are not thought out enough. Then work to meet those goals. If it means you need to get new people in who are more receptive to your goals, then that is what you need to do. If it means changing companies, maybe you need to think about that too. But what ever you do - do not lower your expectations. Keep moving towards them. And remember that communication and discussion is key. You want other people to hear your goals and think "You know, that is something I want to be a part of" - so once you have your goals (maybe at one of your first meetings) tell people your goals.

I hope you can get where I am going with this post...

vborey

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Re: Is this normal?
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2007, 11:36 am »
True. It seems like sleep is helping too.

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