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Messages - Rebbe

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Employment / Re: More on juggling: guilt and rejection
« on: Oct 17, 2012, 10:10 am »
Also, since I'm trying to decipher theater norms, I'm going to provide a hypothetical/contextual situation:  Let's say you're in discussions about a job.  There's no offer, but the company has been very specific to let you know they are NOT looking at anyone else for the position.  Things should firm things up in several weeks.  Let's say that you really want this job, but you also realize that... well, there's no offer.  Let's also say for the sake of simplicity that the theater circuit is small, and if you are talking with others word WILL get around.  To me, although practical, it feels somewhat rude to go out looking for something else.  But if I'm understanding correctly, in the theater world, "always looking" is totally expected - it's normal and there are no hard feelings about continuing to be on the market...  Is it so?

Lots of us stage managers have a strong sense of commitment and dedication, which benefits our productions, so it’s understandable to feel torn between looking and waiting.  Keep in mind though that the whole process of looking for work can feel intensely personal for the job seeker, while for the employer, it tends to be just business, even in theater.  They probably have people say “no” to them regularly for various reasons.  Early in my career I worried that turning down offers would have negative ramifications, but it always turned out that I’d been stressed out for no reason; other opportunities with those companies eventually came back around.  I think it’s completely fair to talk to your hypothetical company and say you’d like to get something in writing so that you can hold time in your schedule for that production.  If that conversation makes you nervous, a smaller step might be to ask them what their timeline is for putting together a contract, so you know whether they’re stringing you along for another week, or for several months.  Even if they hear you are talking to other companies, they could think you are looking to fill out your season; I doubt they would automatically count you as out of the running for their show. 

Until someone “puts a ring on it” so to speak, I’d think the expectation would be that both you and the company are still “dating” other people, so continuing to look is OK.  Despite what they’ve said about not looking for anyone else, you never know what could happen on their end.  Until it’s in writing, another stage manager who is “looking” could proactively talk to them, and they may prefer that SM’s qualifications or connections.   I was once holding time for a show where the PM wanted to hire me, but it got put on hold because the director had a favorite SM and they agreed to negotiate with that person first.  Turned out the other SM wasn’t interested, but I certainly kept looking until it was in writing. 

I think it would be helpful for the designers to have a hard copy of the 1st rehearsal script.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take care of that.  In many theaters I’ve worked at the production manager or dramaturge actually handles those first-day copies.  In any case, the whole team needs to start on the same page somehow, and if the actors get a hard copy it seems like the design team should as well.  That would save you the work of typing up what was handed to you in the first-rehearsal script.  If you have direct contact with the playwright, that may be helpful because the director won’t have to be your middle man on everything.  I’d ask either the director or the playwright if you could be sent an electronic version of the first-rehearsal script to make future changes easier to process ( you may need to make whole new pages).  Moving forward, I typically keep a cut-list for script changes, which I email to the production team and distribute in hard copy to the cast.  Since you don’t have an assistant, I think it would be fair to talk to the PM about whether anyone else on staff can provide assistance with script changes if a lot of them are anticipated.  It can take a significant amount of time to process and distribute them, and this task could be done by someone else, especially changes that come from the playwright and not the director.

Please check out the Uploaded Forms: Script Changes section of this website for examples of a cut list.  These other threads also have information that may help you:
NEW WORKS: new play!
NEW WORK: Script in process: how much paperwork do you re-do?

One of the questions that comes to my mind reading this is:  if there were no drama around this person, would you find it unreasonable to get him a hard copy, given the logistical challenges you’ve mentioned? 

If the answer is yes, then it seems like this can be resolved equitably if the focus stays on this issue alone, with the goal of meeting the needs of the person who hired you (in a big picture sense).  If the answer is "no" you probably need to find a way to leave the high emotions around his recent return, and whether or not his perception of you is fair, out of the conversation. 

Either way, You can tell him you'd be happy to provide a hard copy, you just need him to work with you to figure out how that can happen.  Any easy fix might be to have someone who is at the same location as the GM, and does regularly check their email, agree to print him a copy of the report when they receive it and give it to him.  Bringing up the fact that you have no office, and requesting that he provide you with workspace to accomplish this, or a budget to go to someplace like staples where you can make a print out, would be other ways to approach this.   If you are paid by the hour, you can point out the extra expense involved in paying you or an assistant .   

The Green Room / Re: Relief from insomnia
« on: Sep 18, 2012, 07:13 pm »
If I can’t sleep because something is on my mind, I find that getting up for a while and writing it down is helpful.  A to-do list, a pros/cons list, or just some stream of consciousness writing can help.  Once it’s on paper, I can put out of my mind and get to sleep more easily.

Tools of the Trade / Re: Style Question
« on: Aug 21, 2012, 01:19 pm »
I think BalletPSM’s point about the culture of the specific theater is important, and this is also an issue of personal choice.  Most places I have worked, even admin staff dress very casually.  A clipboard in hand and a pencil behind each ear are all the accessories I need.  Shorts, t-shirts, yoga pants…any of those would fit in better than a dress/skirt/suit during rehearsals and tech.  Lots of us have worked in settings that are not well staffed enough for SMs to avoid getting physical on a regular basis.  During the run I’d be more likely to dress up a bit because I’m less likely to be getting involved with anything messy, and if there is an emergency I might want to look more professional interacting with patrons.  But I’ve never encountered high expectations as far as a professional dress code among theater staff.  For ASMs, I think safe footwear and not displaying underwear while bending over are vital.  While yes, some people can accomplish plenty in a pair of heels, I feel they are more of a safety hazard than non-heels.

There are several threads on this site discussing views on the value (or lack thereof) of college education for a stage management career that you may want to look at.  Does your city have non-equity theaters?  Non-equity venues can be a great way to build your work experience.  If you're open to work that is not strictly stage management (overhire lights/carpentry, run crew), that could be a way to get your foot in the door at the equity venue.

Another path would be relocation.  You could move to an area with more options for theater employment.  You could also look for internships or apprenticeship programs; many are not tied to colleges.  I think there tend to be additional options for short-term theater employment in the summer, some of which provide housing, so that might be something to look into for next year to build your resume.

This is one of those not-so-fun parts of being SM.  His reactions to you may be more extreme than they are to the cast because he thinks you can take it, whereas he feels he needs to be more diplomatic with the actors.  It’s not fair, but maybe thinking of that will help it feel less personal for you.  It wouldn't hurt to advocate for show-conditions, so you would not be able to see the director's reactions.

I had a show were the director was getting irritated with me during tech, and like you I was running the light board and calling sound (plus fog!).  In my case, the LD was helpful in expressing that issues are more likely to occur when we are double dipping with SM/board opping.  You mentioned having some issues with your LD, but what about the Sound Designer?  Could the SD mediate with the director at all, or give you or the sound op any advice to run that element more smoothly?  Sometimes having a cooler head sit in the booth and observe what's happening can help you problem-solve.

The difference between his performance quality night to night might have to do with behaviors that go along with smoking, or circumstances outside of theater that cause him to smoke, rather than, or as much as, the drug itself.  Perhaps he could explore relaxation exercises to help him calm down or achieve whatever mental state he needs to be in to perform well.  But it seems unlikely that he will be able to figure this out on his own, even with the support of the company, during the run of your show; if he knew how, he’d probably already be doing it.  I say all this as someone with professional training in substance abuse recovery.  Another point to consider is that people change when they are ready to change, and negative consequences from drug use are often the motivating factors that lead them to want to make changes.  If you let him go from the show for violating his contract, you might ultimately be doing him a favor, even if there is a cost to the show.  To not implement a consequence of some kind given his contract violation would seem to set a bad precedent by itself. 

There are some examples of Prep AKA Pre-production lists in the Uploaded Forms board:

Check them out and let us know if you have additional questions.

Stage Management: Plays & Musicals / Re: Surprise Load In
« on: Jun 20, 2012, 07:53 pm »
You did alright.  Here is some of the evidence I see :
1.  You had a good enough relationship with the set designer that she came to talk to you before rehearsal.
2.  One of your first thoughts was to consider actor safety and comfort (appropriate clothes and shoes)
3.  You didn’t dwell in panic land, instead you worked out a plan to make the load-in work
4.  You gave the director options for contacting you in the future, other than by phone. 
5.  You demonstrated that you were looking out for the best interest of the show by mentioning that Oberon had limited availability, so the director had a chance to reconsider before inadvertently missing a chance to rehearse that actor

I agree that to some extent, you need to develop a thick skin to SM.  One thing to remind yourself of is that you are often the most readily available and safest person people have in rehearsal to vent their frustrations to.  Often it really is not about you personally, it’s about you-as-SM, which is not the same thing.  Some people are jerks out of arrogance, or insecurity, or because they think SMs are failed usually can't change people, but you can change how you react to them, and whether you allow them to bring you down.  As you move forward in your career, you always have the option of saying no to working with people or companies who tear you down. 

I notice that you’ve listed your current gigs as HS and Community Theater.  Which venue is this speech for?  I’d be curious to know from the director exactly what power you are expected to wield, especially if this is for high school where my recollection is that teachers trump students.  If as SM you will actually just be reporting issues, not deciding how to handle them, it doesn’t make sense to me that you be put into the position of saying you have that kind of power. 

Perhaps explaining the role of stage managers would work better if the cast are fairly inexperienced.  I find that in professional theater, if a first day speech is needed, it is generally more about logistics (rehearsal hotline, tech week schedule, location of vending machines, etc), along with a  chance to convey a positive and collaborative attitude.  With the issues you mention, you might do well to put it in context, explaining why the rules exist and how they benefit everyone, rather than focusing on the negative consequences…that could easily set the wrong tone for the process.   My stage management style is to lead with respect and mutuality, and I don’t think framing myself as having special “power” as SM is conducive for that goal.   

As SM I’ve never been involved in writing a house report, that would be the responsibility of the House Manager.  A House Report wouldn’t be required of the SM team under AEA contract.  I would imagine it breaks down ticket sales and attendance, and notes any complaints or incidents involving audience members.  If you are asking about the performance report or show report written by the stage manager, there are a number of threads covering that subject. 

The Green Room / Goodshows
« on: Jun 12, 2012, 06:30 pm »
I was joking with friends recently that someone should invent "goodshows," where we could share what shows we have seen and what we thought of them, as with books on goodreads.  Does anyone know if such a thing already exists? 

Students and Novice Stage Managers / Re: Training
« on: Jun 07, 2012, 04:21 pm »
It might be helpful to ask your former ASMs for feedback on what was helpful from their training, and what could have been better as far as preparing and supporting them in their roles.  If it was simply lack of interest, or trouble handling stress, that’s a different problem then finding that they don’t know SL from SR, and would give you some ideas for future training.  Also, do you remember things that were helpful when you first learned to ASM?

Along the lines of what Gil said, the ASMs might be more successful with a more contained sphere of influence; asking them to track props, set pieces, costumes, etc for just their side of the stage, and give them templates or a format for doing so (you can find some here in Uploaded Forms).  Giving them examples of running paper that they can reference might help them catch on better than simply asking them to "write everything down"; that request could feel overwhelming.  If they are in rehearsals with you, you can give each one ownership of specific things (maybe one sets props, another checks attendance) so they have tasks to give their attention to, and get a sense of the flow of the show and level of detail involved backstage.

I think the company made a mistake in charging full price and not letting the audience know the actor would be on-book.  By the director’s response, it wasn’t an active choice, as in “I would love to see this character read his lines from a notebook!”  It was a choice of last resort, a compromise made because he thought it was the best available option.   It seems to me the community at large had a right to be upset.  I’d be annoyed if I went to a play, and for no apparent reason, an actor was clearly on book after opening.  Part of the magic of theater, to me, is that people can memorize entire volumes of text.  Having an actor unable to do so take some of the magic away.  Other compromises could have been, as others have suggested, hiring a new actor who would have an excuse for being off-book, or extending Previews and postponing opening until the original actor could get the script down.  It seems like the director would have been better off admitting he could have made a different choice, rather than disparaging the audience and community.

I think criticism has a place in the theater world.  It can’t be taken too seriously, as each review is just one person’s opinion, but different opinions are valid and can be useful.  This review in particular was balanced, providing both positive and negative feedback on the show.  When we as theater professionals are vested in a production, we know what it’s trying to be, and that can stop us from seeing what it actually is.  We can watch a performance, and knowing the subtext and motivation discussed in rehearsal, enjoy what’s happening onstage, while the audience, without that background, is disappointed.  Reviewers sometimes provide a reality check on that, especially for new plays which might be modified before the next production.

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