Author Topic: The Ultimate Decision  (Read 30629 times)

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KC_SM_0807

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The Ultimate Decision
« on: Jul 01, 2006, 07:57 pm »
After looking through the forums lately, it's so interesting to see how many people (with all different types of backgrounds and environments) are interested in Theatre, especially Stage Management.

I'd just like to know how everyone made the ultimate decision to become a stage manager.  Was it by choice, or did it just fall into your lap? I'd especially like to know how the student/novice stage managers got into Stage Managing, but I'd love to hear everyone's experiences.  :D

I'll tell you my personal experience to get things started.  My high school was brand new my freshman year, and I had played softball all my life and thought I was just going to continue that.  I then saw an audition poster for Sleeping Beauty, the first show that my school was putting on.  I decided to audition, and didn't get in.  However, I was in a drama class and my teacher came up to me and asked me had I ever stage managed.  I didn't even know what a stage manager was, so obviously I hadn't.  I agreed to Stage Mange that show and fell in love with it, and stage managed every show at my high school all four years that I attended.  Now here I am 7 years later, and have gone on to bigger and better things without stopping!  It definitely fell into my lap, and I just realized that it was fate and it was what I was put on this Earth to do.  I guess when you know what you want to do, you just feel it and it all falls into place!
"Perhaps, therefore, Stage Managers not only need to be calm and meticulous professionals who know their craft, but masochists who feel pride in rising above impossible odds."

ljh007

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #1 on: Jul 01, 2006, 08:07 pm »
From what I understand, mine is a typical story...
I auditioned for the first show out of the hopper in college (Six Degrees of Separation). Didn't get the part, but the director called me that night and asked if I would SM. I had technically SM'd in high school (basically calling attendance at the beginning of rehearsals for us - I know some high schools are way more comprehensive), but it was really a first for me. I quickly found that it was a dream job - organizing, coordinating, communicating, and producing. I became one of the most popular SMs for all theatrical groups around campus and got a ton of experience under my belt. After graduating (BA in psychology), I SM'd for community theatres on the cheap while maintaining a day job (or two). Eventually, I worked my way up through the local troupes, eventually getting better and bigger gigs until I landed a great position as PM. I'm not in that position any more, and am exploring the wild and wonderful world of gigging. My SM career was a total accident, and every day I can't believe I'm lucky enough to do something that is truly fulfilling to me.

centaura

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #2 on: Jul 01, 2006, 09:33 pm »
I don't know whether to say that I was forced into it or that I fell into it.  Mine goes back to junior high, and my mother insisting that I go to summer school.  Well, typical pre-teen, didn't really want to attend more school, so tried to find something that would be semi-entertaining/not school work.  I knew someone who was involved with the summer musical put on by the summer school, so the summer after 7th grade I was onstage in the chorus of Hello Dolly.  Spent the summer looking at all the folks working backstage and wondering why the person who had gotten me into the summer musical hadn't told me about the fun stuff (verses the being onstage).  So, next summer I was on the crew and loved it.

Then we hit high school, and then again there's mother in the background saying that I had to do something for an afterschool activity.  The drama department at my high school had been dead for two years following the retirement of the previous director.  But that year there was a new director who was putting shows together; I found him and offered to work crew.  He began treating me like a stage manager, nick-named me 'management' and we spent 4 years happily building a theatre department from scractch.

That's how I fell into it.  When facing the decision of what to major in in college, it wasn't even a choice.  The only thing that I loved to do was theatre & stage management, even though I was officially on the record as 'undecided' in my freshman transcripts [argument with the parent], the very first official thing I did my first fall at college was attend a majors meeting at the theatre department.

-Centaura

Mac Calder

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #3 on: Jul 01, 2006, 10:34 pm »
I have always loved theatre, however I never really considered it a career. I have always attended small schools - I spent the first 6 years in a school of 120 students, then I moved to a larger primary school for 1 year which had 300 students. It was there I got my first acting experiance. Then I moved on to high school, where I spent the next 6 years. We had 500 students, and our drama department was 1 teacher and about 20 students and the classes were soley acting. There was no theatre anywhere near by, except for a local town hall which had a stage, and our performing arts center was, for lack of a better word, crap. It was poorly designed, and had equiptment that was largely outdated. They put on 3 performances a year (1 for the year 9 drama, one for year 10 drama and one for year 11 drama) and they were all performances from the drama text book. A year later, I had the lucky opportunity to go on a back stage tour of Mary Poppins, and I loved what I saw.

So I started researching theatre technology (because that is what intrigued me). I got invited to sit in on that same show with the lighting operator, and it was there I learnt what a stage manager did. That lit the fire that caused me to crusade for the improvement of our performing arts at school. I spent as much time learning as I could, and it became a hoby. I became involved in the local lyric theatre, first as a back stage hand, then as sound and lighting designer and operator, then finaly I stage manged my first show. A year after my first foray into stage managing, I started working on fringe shows in the city (an hour and half bus ride each way) as well as working with my drama teacher to create a show which we toured later that year. That was 5 or 6 years ago. And up until two years ago, whilst I did paid work over that time, I had always considered it as a 'bit on the side' (as I have normally worked on the fringe, which usually meant not full time). Then 2 years ago, I just said "Damn it all, I am not going to be stuck in a cubicle for the rest of my life" and that was that. 
« Last Edit: Jul 01, 2006, 10:40 pm by Mac Calder »

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #4 on: Jul 02, 2006, 02:20 am »
I got into theatre because my high school debate/speech coach (UIL/NFL) was also the drama teacher.  I started out acting.  Theatre was just another extra-curricular activity for me until I went to a summer theatre camp before my senior year.  That's when I fell head over heels in love with theatre and knew that it's what I had to do for the rest of my life.  I went to college as a theatre major, but didn't immediately declare a specialty.  I auditioned the second semester of my freshman year and got a callback, but didn't get cast.  After the callback, one of the grad students that I had become friends with asked me to come work on his thesis directing project.  I agreed because I really wanted to work on a production.  I started out as general crew, but he quickly recognized that my personality and skills were well suited for stage management, and since he hadn't found an SM yet, he made me his SM.  I didn't really know what I was doing since my high school productions didn't have a real SM.  I did everything the director told me to, and picked up on everything really fast.  I had a lot of fun, and the show went well.

After that show, I continued to stage manage student productions, then ASMed a mainstage show for my university.  It was fun, but I didn't think I would do it as a career.  At that point I was pretty convinced I would pursue theatre history or dramatic theory & analysis/dramaturgy, continuing on to grad/post-grad work to become a professor.  Then I stage managed my first mainstage show, Chicago, and knew stage management was what I would do for the rest of my life.  There was just something amazing about coordinating the schedules of 29 cast members into three different rehearsals (music/dance/blocking), managing a 15 person orchestra (largest to date at my university), coordinating the scene changes, overseeing a large crew and calling one of the most complex and spectacularly lit shows I have worked on that sealed the deal for me.  It's on that show I first got my reputation as being an SM that understood the balance between friendly and yet authoratative.   It's also the first show that I did where my parents actually understood what I did, that I was serious about theatre, and that I was really happy.  That was a very good feeling. 

And the rest is history.  I'm working now as a freelance AEA Stage Manager, and loving every minute of it!!

nmno

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #5 on: Jul 02, 2006, 03:44 am »
Started with acting: in Elem and Jr HS I acting in my churches theatre group (played Marion Paroo).  In HS I was involved in a lot of different activities so only acted in a couple of plays.

Went to college, majoring in Bio to be an MD.  Long story short: I decided that wasn't for me and sought out my new major...  Everytime I'd make a list (of course I made a list!), "Theatre" kept coming up but I couldn't bring myself to major in something so impractical (I was very vocationally minded).  After much thought, consultation with other theatre majors I respected (and because Jr year was approaching), I decided that I would get my BA in theatre, with the assumption I wouldn't be an actor...  perhaps work for the NEA? perhaps teach?  But definitely have a "real" job.

One semester I took a class "Experimental Theatre Workshop" (the experimental part being that we had to participate in all aspects of the production: play selection, directing, casting, designing, construction, run crew, publicity, box office, acting, etc.)  We did three plays and the director of one approached me to be her SM (since I was really the only choice, the rest of the available people being fairly undependable types).  Between her walking me through what an SM does and Ionazzi's book (the only SM book I could find) I pieced together what it is I was supposed to do (that is one funny production book to look back at!).  I found that I was more interested in the show I was stage managing than the show I was acting in. 

I wasn't completely sold and continued to test the waters (SM'ed another show for this class, after graduation got a PA job, then an ASM job, than SM...)  and just sort of found myself doing it.  Been working AEA for a couple years now. 

Scott (formerly Digga)

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #6 on: Jul 02, 2006, 05:02 pm »
Acted in HS and went to college for acting.  I don't sing well though and so I would work backstage on Musicals.  I SM'd 1 or 2 in college and some ASMing as well.  Senior year I went to SETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference for those that don't know) and interviewed for a number of SM jobs.  I had determined that acting wasn't my real calling as I didn't want to deal with the constant auditioning and rejection (though sometimes this job feels the same).  Somehow I talked my way into a job as a Tour SM for Chamber Theatre productions but that didn't start till August.  The week before I graduate I get a call from a friend who was the ATD at Seaside Music Theatre asking if I wanted to be an ASM there and I said sure.  I graduated - partied that night - and drove 12 hours the next morning to Daytona Beach Florida where SMing became my career.  In the end - it's what was paying the bills and I enjoyed doing it.  I figured as long as I keep getting work there's no reason I shouldn't do it. 

JenniferEver

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #7 on: Jul 02, 2006, 11:32 pm »
I don't know how I got here!

I did theatre in HS. took acting classes, was invited to take advanced acting classes. In addition to acting and singing, I was a choral director for one show and sort of an ASM for another (using the term "ASM" VERY loosely).

In college, I started at a liberal arts school, not sure what i wanted to major in. maybe music, maybe psych or ed. I had signed up for a theatre class my freshman year. The prof asked me to try out for shows. I didn't feel ready, I was nervous, but then he really encouraged me to be involved, so I did lighting for a few shows, then I tried out and for the most part did acting for a few years. Then my professors approached me about directing. They really felt I had a talent for it based on some of the discussions in workshops and classes. So i was called on to AD a show, then I did a lot of directing and they just kept asking me to co-direct. It was wonderful. I planned to go for my MFA in a few years once I could afford it. I decided to try SMing my last show in addition to co-directing. I just wanted to get SM experience to see if it was something I would enjoy and to have it on my resume and learn how to do it so that I could have it as a standby because SM jobs are a little more accesible than directing jobs. It turned out I really liked SMing. On the last show I remember my duties as an SM more clearly and distinctly and immediately than as a director. SMing is just such an intense experience once you move into tech and performances. I remember for the first tech runthrough the TD gave me the go ahead for places and said "it's your show" I really took that seriously, and I felt it. Instead of feeling the uselessness of the director on opening night, I felt invigorated. I had a great time SMing.
I looked for jobs and sure enough there are a lot more SM jobs than directing jobs, esp among people who are willing to hire people right out of college. So i applied for a few jobs and started working on this show. I'm not really sure what my future is regarding SMing v. directing, but I'm figuring ti out

TechGal

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #8 on: Jul 04, 2006, 01:05 pm »
I guess you could say it fell into my lab and then turned into a reoccurring choice. I usually tell my friends that I was bitten by the theater bug and have yet to find a cure.  I was home schooled so I didn't have a "high school school theater program" to be a part of per say, but there is a very good community theater in my town. When I was fourteen,
I decided to audition for their production of The Sound of Music because I'd always liked singing.  Well, I wasn't cast but kept pestering them to let me go something.  So, during tech week they threw me in as gopher/ 3rd ASM. I had a blast!  Everyone I worked with was really nice and I'd discovered the magic of the theater. 

The next production they did was Meet Me In St. Louis. Again I audition and don't get cast (seeing a pattern yet?).  This time though, they offered me the ASM job at callbacks.  It was during this show that I found out I had a knack for stage managing. I ran props, pulled curtains, supervised scene changes and loved every minute of it! It was during this time that I started checking out books from the library on theater and reading everything about sming that I could get my hands on. 

As time went on, I started asking for ASM jobs before auditions started and went about learning everything I could from the people I was working with. After a couple years went by and I became more experienced,  my name got around and I started getting job offers from other companies in the area. I landed my first SM job with another community group that specialized in musicals. When it closed another job ASMing for a university opera dept. came along, and through them I got to work in an IA house and start learning all the ins and outs of union regulations. 

I start college in the fall where I'll be majoring in arts administration with an emphasis in theater and minoring in Spanish.  I want to continue sming and see how far I can go with it!  I give a lot of credit for my success to the first company that I worked with because not only did they have have very high/professional standards for their productions, they were also willing to teach me the ropes and let me learn as I went along.
« Last Edit: Jul 04, 2006, 01:17 pm by TechGal »

ivonne516

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #9 on: Jul 05, 2006, 01:37 pm »
Well this is my story of how I became an SM.  I was curious about the job before I even knew what an SM did.  But I did my first ASM job in college.  I had broken up with my boyfriend, and 3 days later the SM for this really crazy version of Christmas Carol asked me if I would like to be her ASM, because the one she had before never showed up to rehearsal after taking the job.  I told her that my schedule was ...pretty open.  It was life changing, but it gave me a false sense of the job.  I thought it was boring and too easy, plus I was dealing with "the break up".  After that I did another ASM job, before I was the SM for the production at the end of the year.  Then I did another production as an SM; people were wondering why I was still SMing, they figure I like the punishment.   I really enjoy the organization part of the job. ; maybe is the controlling sense that sometimes you feel as a Stage Manager.  And at that point I knew that SMing was my calling, (pardon the pun) ;D   Good thing I did, I think I would had failed as an actress ;)
Ivonne

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #10 on: Jul 05, 2006, 02:42 pm »
I've been on a long journey and it's still going...

When I was in HS my drama coach (I was definately an actor) asked me to stage manage a show, I think I was a freshman, 14yrs.  I did it and it consisted of watching for lines and making sure everyone was there...  I acted for the rest of the 4yrs in HS.

When I started college I went as an actor and after not being cast in the 1st show, I was asked to SM.  We were doing Dracula, I would SM my 1st show with a crew of 15, more special effects than I can count, two board ops and props up the ying/yang.  I'm 18 and the entire cast is older than I am, some by many years.  I made it out alive, solved issues I never knew I could solve in front of an audience (I always dropped lines and could never improvise, but when SMing, I could do it all) and managed a crew that consisted of 2 theatre people, the other 13 were from somewhere in the school - they just wanted to be involved.
Still an actor, I came back for more punishment my second year in college - I worked a 1 act festival, 15min before each nervous high school director's show went up they gave me a script and told me where the cues were and then I called the show with their ops.  I'd never seen the shows...talk about a rush: it was a competition, I didn't want them to look bad because of me...and no one ever did.

**********5 year hiatus from school and thearte*********working at Hollywood Video*********

Back in school, still an actor and I graduate as one, pulling off some great theatre.  I decide to go to a summer intensive in Colorado and then on to grad school.

Grad 1yr - great experience being actory-things like seaweed and swamp monsters.  And some real classes.

Grad 2yr - what the $@&! am I doing here?  Stick it out, you're paying and more than 1/2 way there

Grad 3yr - I have a masters degree in acting and now I want to stage manage

Post grad 1yr - acting in Chicago, couple cool gigs including Chicago Shakespeare, they keep calling me.   Got two paying SM gigs.  Day before tech of the 2nd SM gig I get a call to come in and replace an actor at Chicago Shakes, I'm called by one of the local casting directors who also has the power to get me on TV: and she likes me...and thinks I'm good.  I tell her that I'm sorry, I have tech tomorrow and that I'm SMing, I couldn't possibly leave.  She asks me to have someone cover and come in to see the director.  I turn her down.  I feel like my life is changing and I'm starting to tkae control.  Yet, it feels so out of my hands at the same time.

Post grad (almost) 2yr - call comes from a local theatre company that has made good, they're growing and their regular SM has a medical emergency, I had sent in a resume over a year ago and it's crappy, but they call me anyway.  WE FIT.  I've been SMing and PMing for them ever since.  Having finished a season and a quarter, moving into my second season with them (pay raises each season) I'm hoping it turns into a full time thing.  They're not equity yet, but it's so close I can taste it...I'm starting to save $$ for dues.
« Last Edit: Jul 07, 2006, 03:21 am by KC_SM_0807 »
Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.
-Rosiland Russell

Fisheje198rm

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #11 on: Jul 07, 2006, 01:54 pm »
:-)   I like Sharing Histroies of how we all started.


for me it started in Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.

Freshman year. the Theatre Dept was  in dire need of a ASM, somehow the TD there knows me from a contact in my home state (Washington). asked me to ASM, i was like uh... sure...  before that point  i have been acting since 1993, Deaf Kids Drama Festival, summer production, community theatre etc etc.  from that point on  he gave me the Stage Management handbook, he said "read it, live it, breath it and USE IT!" from there my first production at the universtiy was ASM 2nd to 5th production i was the SM then the last production...  PSM for the school year.  well you can see i got hooked in to it.  the feel of being in control of the entire run from the first audition to the closing performance that is what got me hooked in to Stage Managing.   

 after being SM and ASM in that university.  i went back to my home state, and started to work for a program in Seattle Children's Theatre, Deaf Youth Drama Program, since 2002, been the SM for that program's Festival and summer production.  low pay, but i dont care,  every time i SM a summer production for them,  i always get a intern from other dept in Seattle Children's theatre... you can image the fun i had....   ;D

SMJon

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #12 on: Jul 07, 2006, 03:24 pm »
It started when the theatre department at college needed a Stage Manager for a production.  Nobody else wanted to do it so I volunteered.  I actually didn't want to be SM because of all of the stories I had heard and seen from years of acting about the workload of the Stage Manager.  So I became ASM and one of my friends took the SM position.  Well, she ended up being a very bad stage manager and to keep the peace and the show going, I actually ended up doing much of the SM work that she forgot or just passed off.  I bought every single book about stage managing and read all sorts of guides.  By the end of it, I had become one of the department's most knowledgable stage managers and was offered to SM more productions in the next year.  And well, now here I am seeking a career in the field.  So a singer/actor turned Stage Manager is my bottom line story.  Although I do enjoy acting/singing and still do it (sometimes on the professional level), I will always be a Stage Manager at heart.  I even started to organize my life as if it was a play or musical.  And I find that it actually made my life easier to handle.  So I guess stage management is a life skill. 

MatthewShiner

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #13 on: Jul 09, 2006, 06:45 pm »
 :P

How I Became a Stage Manager
By
M. (Matthew) William Shiner

I never remember on career day choosing this career – I am not sure who in their right mind would chose this career.  That in itself probably proves I am not in my right mind.

I started off (please no comments) as a child actor, and quickly found out the life of an actor is not all glamour and opening night parties, and soon found myself wanting to get out the business.  I actually remember HATING stage managers, and trying to get away with murder.  It must be karma coming back to haunt me sometimes when things don’t go quite as smooth as I would like.

In high school I made a decision to leave behind that part of my life, and I started to prepare my life to be one of the following; counselor, minister or high school teacher.  I started my undergrad education as psych major at UC Irvine, and probably would have stayed out of theatre for good, unless there wasn’t those pesky fine arts requirements.  One literature class lead to an acting class lead to declaring a theatre minor, then a theatre/pysch double major, and then finally dropping the pysch all together.  Watching a performance of Churchill’s Cloud Nine I was hooked.  I mean, I remember the night in the audience of Barnum starring Jim Dale in which he sang “Out There” just to me – I swear that to this day – I knew the magic of theatre and the power it has the audience.  But in college, I became enthralled with how it was all put together.  How did they do those quick changes?  The scene changes?  How was that lighting effect done? 

So, I spent a year (not by plan, but by chance) shadowing a grad stage manager at UC Irvine (Lisa Schiable) – first as crew, then two shows as an assistant stage manager – at that point I was hooked.  Yes, I continued to try my hand at acting (I had a flare for physical comedy and comedy in general – anything stylized.).  I wrote several plays that were performed and won contests.  I directed.  I designed.  But not one thing ever did it for me – it was having my hands a bit in every pie that seemed to be for me.

I also found out, I was kind of good at it.  I had the right personality for it.  I took pride in my work.  I had an incredible work ethic (I don’t mind long hours).  I had found my calling in life.  But it was never a light bulb.   I was asked to ASM here, SM there, and soon, I remember someone asking me what I did for a living, and I said I was a stage manager – and it hit.  That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I remember my first real paycheck as a stage manager, it was something like $800 for two weeks work.  I was so happy to pay my rent with money I made for doing something I had been doing for nothing or next-to-nothing for so long. 

As I continued growing and learning, I learned that a lot of who am I is EXTREMELY well suited for this job.  Most of it comes very naturally for me and I do it well, well enough to make a very good living at for the past five years, and really no end seems to be in sight.  (Although at the end of a long week . . . sometimes I wish there was an end in sight.)

In the end, I think stage management found me more then I found it.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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.

Tigerrr

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Re: The Ultimate Decision
« Reply #14 on: Jul 11, 2006, 07:57 am »
Wow, some very cool stories.

I started acting (in school) in 5th grade, then more in junior high, in and out of school.  There were no sm opportunities in my high school, even though we did 5 full length shows/year, and a One Act play festival.  Then in my first year out, I ran into my old high school costume designer and asked if she was doing anything and if she needed my help.  So I worked as a Dresser on The Mikado, and a cast member from that was directing a One Act at a local community theatre and asked if I'd like to SM.  I did it and fell in love with it.  Over the next 6 years, I did about 3-5 shows a year at this community theatre, as well as every year at the Edmonton Fringe Festival (one of the largest in North America).  I also did a couple of Equity Co-Ops and independant projects.  Finally I said "screw it" and dropped out of a BA in Economics, took a year off, then did a BFA in Stage Management.  Took a year to save some coin, doing several projects, then moved to Ontario, where I'm FINALLY starting to do my Equity apprenticeship 10 years after SMing my first show.  The way it's going, I'll have my card by this time next year.  Sure, I took a long route to get here, but I wouldn't trade it for a minute.

As a side note, I was updating my resume the other day, and just for fun, decided to list every show I've ever SMed.  Turns out I'm currently working on my 45th show!  My BF and I decided to have a "50th" party when I hit that point! :)

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