Author Topic: COMMUNICATION: Lack of communication  (Read 1672 times)

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JJ Hersh

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COMMUNICATION: Lack of communication
« on: Apr 22, 2017, 12:42 pm »
I'm currently working on a show with a small ensemble theater. As far as I can tell I am the first stage manager they've worked with, as usually the artistic director and the core members work together to fill various production roles, including props tracking and setup. One of the results of this is that there has been very poor communication and inconsistent duties for me.

This has become a problem, as I don't have an ASM, meaning I have no eyes backstage. Some examples: At some point, a black curtain was added as masking at the door and I was not told and did not immediately notice. A prop of a baby doll was added after opening and I was not told. The production manager(who is also playing one of the lead roles) decided that she would take responsibility for blood, which I was supposed to be in charge of, and I was not told. As a result, I've had a very difficult time tracking what I have to do, where props have to go, and how the backstage is organized. This all came to a head last night when I got an email from the artistic director/director telling me that she would be taking over all backstage tasks as I was making too many mistakes, and to please send her all of my pre and post show lists and my props list.

Basically, what I'm wondering is, could I have done anything differently to avoid this? I understand that I was making mistakes but I was really working hard to get this information from people(albeit without success). How do I keep track of things without communication?

Maggie K

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Re: COMMUNICATION: Lack of communication
« Reply #1 on: Apr 23, 2017, 05:51 am »
Lack of communication is one of the most difficult things to deal with as a stage manager and, unfortunately, there is only so much you can do to fix it.  You can only work with the tools you're given.  From what you've described, it sounds like this company does not have much experience with working with a stage manager and you may be a victim to "this is the way we've always done it."  I've found that a lot of smaller companies, particularly ones that haven't had a stage manager, sometimes have a lot of difficulties adjusting to having one.  They frequently don't understand what that work relationship entails.  It can be as simple as someone not realizing that the thing they've always been responsible for in the past now belongs under the stage manager's umbrella.  Making one person responsible for a lot of tasks that were divided among a large number of people takes more work than people realize.  They may think that they are hiring a miracle worker who will make everything better, not realizing that they will also have to work on the relationship.

It may be worth having a sit down discussion with this artistic director about everything that has happened and the difficulties you had.  The important thing in that kind of meeting is to not sound like you are trying to shift blame but that you are trying to understand where the breakdown in communication happened and what the company as a whole can do to make things better for everyone.  Did you have regular meetings?  Are there notes from those meetings?  Were regular reports sent out?  Those are things you can refer back to.  If they are unwilling to meet with you, then it is probably time to cut your losses.  Either the company is not ready for a true stage manager or it is not a good fit for you.  Either way, it's time to move on.

In the future, when you interview for a position or when you are first on board it is best to ask a lot of questions.  Who is responsible for that?  When are the production meetings?  What are my expected duties?  Be very clear in your own communications.  When in doubt, document everything.  If you are not getting what you need to do your job, then make the higher ups aware of it.

Dear artistic director,
I have attempted to contact "so-and-so" regarding "situation" but have not received a response.  Do you know an alternative way of contacting them?  Any assistance on this matter would be appreciated.

etc etc

Dear prop person,
It came to my attention today that a baby doll prop has been added to the show.  Could we meet briefly today to go over the prop list to make sure that everything I have is up to date?

etc etc

At the end of the day, all you can do is your best. 
I like the ephemeral thing about theatre, every performance is like a ghost - it's there and then it's gone. -Maggie Smith