Author Topic: Dealing with Panic Situations  (Read 6748 times)

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Caroline Naveen

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Dealing with Panic Situations
« on: Sep 05, 2013, 07:26 pm »
Hello Everyone;
I have an increasing difficulty in dealing with stressful situations. Here are some situations:

As a Child Guardian
Parent forgets there was a performance, 15 minutes to find a replacement no understudy. Instead of trying to solve the problem. I shot it straight up to the stage manager. (slightly panicky.)
Parents car breaks down. No way to pick child up. Straight to SM.
As SM:
Actor throwing up in dressing room, no understudy. 25 minute put in with a child actor for a main supporting character. Panicked a little.
Tried to help someone get an audition with the director, who couldn't make it to actual audition times. Huge mess because of lapse in communication.

These are HUGE mistakes to be making as a Stage Manager we are supposed to keep our cool at all times and I lost it in all of these situations and it showed a little/a lot depending on the situation. How can I help prevent these things kind of situations from happening in the future when they stress me out so badly? At least keeping my stress level from showing to the rest of the cast/crew. No matter how calm I think I am there always seems to be something to lose your brain over. Thoughts?
 
« Last Edit: Sep 05, 2013, 07:27 pm by Caroline Naveen »

planetmike

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #1 on: Sep 05, 2013, 08:33 pm »
Stop. Breathe. Repeat.

It's a learned skill for most of us. Experience and past history all add up to help make you the SM (or ASM) you are. I'm sure in those situations you described you learned something, and will hopefully handle the situation differently when it happens again. Also, talk with your SM afterwards and find out how they would have preferred you to handle the situation.

I started a thread on this topic a few years ago. https://smnetwork.org/forum/stage-management-plays-musicals/costumes-wardrobe-malfunction-hold-the-show/msg32320/ I did learn a lot from that experience, although at the time it was very stressful.

LCSM

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #2 on: Sep 05, 2013, 10:09 pm »
Though I'm still early in my career, I have found over the past few years, that the more crises I handle, the better I get at handling them. The first time I stopped a show, was I pretty shaky? Yes. Did my supervisor have to step in and talk me though the whole thing? Yes. Is that how it's going to be the second time I have to stop a show? I doubt it. Since then, I've had injuries in rehearsal, I've had people arrive with minutes to the performance, I've taken actors to the emergency room, I've taken myself to the emergency room and met an actor also in the emergency room (long story), I've had the lighting board shut down and reboot its self during a show (WHY?!?), all sorts of stuff. Partly, it's a matter of perspective, partly it's just a skill that needs to be developed. Keeping your cool in a stressful situation is not easy, but I have found - like calling a show, taking blocking, prompting, baking muffins, making stained glass windows, swimming, or riding a bike - the more you do it, the more naturally it comes.

And only recently have I come to understand the truth of "All things are not of equal importance." If the show doesn't go according to plan, you've got another shot at it tomorrow (or that evening, if it's a matinee). If it goes badly every night, it's over in a few weeks anyway, and no one dies (hopefully).

Maribeth

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #3 on: Sep 06, 2013, 12:30 am »
Something that helps me in tricky situations is: Panicking is not productive. Take a breath, think through the situation as calmly as you can, and decide what to do next. Unexpected things are going to happen- you can plan/prepare for some situations but not for everything. Figuring out how to deal with the unexpected without losing your cool takes practice and you'll get better as you go along.

Sometimes shooting it up the ladder to the SM is the right thing to do- I don't think that necessarily indicates panic. (If I were the SM and someone didn't tell me that a child actor hadn't shown up, I would be upset). Focusing on the most productive solution, without panicking, is what's going to be best for the show and for the people involved.

(As a side note- I've had the fire alarms go off (including tonight), an actor cut himself onstage and have to go get stitches, revolves break, sound system cut out, had to find $80 to pay an actor's cab fare so that they could get to the theatre before curtain, actors get sick, crew get sick, opera singers call out sick day-of, water flood the theatre between shows, a child actor show up at half hour with head lice, freak snow storms- and that's just what I can think of off the top of my head. And, I'm sure there are folks on here with much crazier "things went wrong" stories.)

ejsmith3130

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #4 on: Sep 06, 2013, 12:33 am »
As you continue to work you will gain some perspective too. I totally was you when I first started. I was a little ball of stress... Now I have calmed down a whole lot and am pretty chill. What changed? I realized that freaking out about a situation didn't EVER help me.

 
Stop. Breathe. Repeat.

I completely agree with this. The things that are happening to you are Not life and death. The last show I worked on was only an hour long, and we had to start 20 minutes late on the last day. A few years ago I would have panicked. Instead I try to channel my panic into actions that help solve the problem. That and I chew my nails. I will never have a pretty manicure, but it is way better than losing my cool in a professional setting.

And it is perfectly okay to excuse yourself at an appropriate time (or after rehearsal or whatever) and go cry it out. Stress is legitimately toxic, and crying helps release those toxins from your system.

Just remember that you are human and as long as you learn from your mistakes you are growing in the right direction. Stage Managers tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect, but no one is. Just remind yourself that if an actor can go up on a line in front of the audience and the show still goes on, you can flub something every now and then as well. Just breathe and take note of how you can do better in the future. Beating yourself up about it doesn't help anything.

Bwoodbury

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #5 on: Sep 06, 2013, 01:13 am »
I just have to shout out to MB and the knife in the hand gig. Good times.

nick_tochelli

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #6 on: Sep 06, 2013, 09:17 am »
To your question of how to prevent stressful situations in theater...the only answer is don't do theater. Things are going to happen and they will induce stress. That cannot be avoided. And lets be honest with ourselves....don't we all kinda like when things go wrong and we're able to come up with the solution? To me, that became one of my largest rewards as I was winding my career down as an SM. You are the eye of the storm, calm and serene in a sea of chaos.

One thing I learned over the course of time is that there is nothing one can do to prepare for everything. I was taught you should be prepared for everything that could possibly happen. You can prepare for the known issues sure, but unknowns will always arise. Best thing is to not inflict additional stress into the situation. Calm, slow and steady win the race. Board dies? Don't yell at the board op who is most likely the best qualified person on hand to figure it out. Lumping stress on top of that person to FIX IT NOW will only make the situation more tense than it needs.

loebtmc

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #7 on: Sep 06, 2013, 12:30 pm »
Word.

Our job is unnecessary if nothing untoward or unplanned ever happens. We are there - as is the ASM - to be calm cool and collected no matter what's happening, to think outside the box and find creative solutions, to plan for everything and also be able to deal constructively with those things you couldn't possibly have planned for.

Some of my favorite memories are fixes on the fly, events where we didn't know what has happening next, when boards or computers crashed or we had to invent work-arounds. And, almost always, the show must go on, in which case all this must be done without the audience being aware.

It is truly a challenge, but this is what so many of us love - even if no one knows or acknowledges!

KMC

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #8 on: Sep 06, 2013, 04:16 pm »
Put your mistakes in perspective. 

Did anyone die?  Did your organization lose substantial sums of money?

Unless the answer to either of these two is "yes" then you're overreacting.  Age and wisdom are your friends here.  You won't find a seasoned pro among us who can't look back on their past and say "Holy cow, did I screw that one up!".  And guess what, we all have lived to tell about it and chances are it's been a teachable moment that has bettered us as people and professionals.

I've made countless mistakes - but I've never made the same mistake twice.  Find your outlets to vent/commiserate in private, but publicly you need to buck up, learn from it, and move on.  You'll recover and you'll be a better Stage Manager because of it.

Get action. Do things; be sane; donít fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

LisaS

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #9 on: Sep 06, 2013, 10:11 pm »
And as a child wrangler, you did the right thing in the first situation. Your job is to care for the child and ensure they make all of their entrances, exits, and changes. Your job isn't to get them to the theatre (unless you have a separate arangement with the parents or producer). If there is a missing actor, that should be dealt with by the SM.

(By the way, I am a IATSE child wrangler as well as a AEA stage manager.)

PSMKay

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #10 on: Sep 06, 2013, 11:31 pm »
Panic, or the "fight or flight" reflex, is an instinctive reaction to perceived threats. It could be a threat to the production, the audience, the cast, yourself, or just your normal way of doing things that triggers it, but it results in an adrenaline rush that we all must face on a daily basis as stage managers. Some of us love it. Others can't stand it and burn out. In your case you were dealing with children in danger or nearby illness, both of which can trigger instinctive "threat" sensors and compound the problem.

What I'm seeing is that your reaction is more "flight" than "fight," and you'd like it to be the other way around. (EDIT: I should note that by "fight" I mean confronting the problem yourself rather than passing it up the ladder. I'm not advocating violence.)

The ability to choose to "fight" and resolve the problem on your own requires confidence in your abilities. Some folks have natural confidence, but for the rest of us it's much easier to be confident when facing a problem if you can link that problem to something you've faced before. Unlike the cliche, in this case you need to learn history so that you CAN repeat it the next time you're faced with a similar situation. I'm sure that next time you encounter these particular situations you'll be able to emulate what you saw your SM do. The true skill will come from being able to modify and build on those solutions when faced with similar but not quite identical problems.

At this point in your career you need to be exposing yourself to as many situations as possible so that you can build that memory index of situations as reference. Strong mentors are important, as is the diversity of your experience. Don't restrict yourself to just school settings. Get out there and do theatre in the community as well. Certain issues simply won't come up in an age restricted and heavily guarded school setting.

More important is to entitle yourself to your own job. You need to believe that you are capable of fighting, otherwise you'll undermine yourself by thinking "I need to be running away" or "I can't handle this" while you're in the middle of handling it - probably quite well. As a student it's very difficult to put aside concerns about what other people think of you. However, in a big meltdown situation it doesn't matter how you look while you're solving the problem.

The kids will freak out because theatre attracts the high strung and overly emotional. They expect to see each other freaking out and will spread the panic contagion accordingly. When you choose a solitary position like stage management you are earmarking yourself as the person who will not be susceptible to such things. Freak out all you like off the job, but the "popular" reaction to a problem is none of your concern when you're on the clock.

You may need a little general practice in facing confrontation too, just to get you out of the habit of running away from things. Consider some sort of martial arts training or even getting a part time job in retail so that you're forced to approach/confront so often that it becomes second nature.
« Last Edit: Sep 07, 2013, 08:13 pm by PSMKay »

brettnexx

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #11 on: Sep 07, 2013, 09:21 pm »
The only way that I can tell you to be prepared is to make Paperwork, and that will only prepare you for what you know is coming.

I'll be quite honest, I've never come into a situation that I was too panicked to handle. It's my personality.

There's different levels of "emergency"

First there's the superfluous emergency. Which is forgetting a prop hand-off, calling a cue late/early, missing a quick change. It sucks and it affects the pace of the show, but it's easy to fix. If it's the first time, that's ok, make a note of it, and do it right the next time. This mistake, I don't think it needs to be told to everyone that it happens, if you can fix it. If you keep messing up either a)reconsider your career choice, or b) buck up, do the job you're getting paid to do. If you constantly make mistakes, on the same thing, fellow SMs won't trust you, actors won't trust you. A friend of mine was not cut out for stage management, but wanted to pursue it. She kept forgetting a handoff for an actor, this actor lectured her after the show, went to the SM and things were shuffled around, so someone else was put in charge of that prop. It sucks, but you're getting paid, and entrusted to do a job, you need to do it.

There are then, non-emergency emergencies. They are something that happens, that need to be fixed and can seriously affect a show, but non life threatening. If something out of the ordinary happens, I say"...ok..." stop for 2-3 seconds, take a deep breath, and as I'm briskly walking to fix the situation, I am on my headset letting everyone know what's going on. This can be a piece of furniture broke, mic pack not working, costume piece/prop broken or missing. or "small" medical emergencies. I had an actor who decided to help Stage Management and the Crew by moving his instrument by himself, which is a big double bass, and includes stepping down 16 inches with no intermediate step. He stepped oddly and the bass hit his head, and he got a cut. It was near the end of a tech rehearsal, so he wasn't needed, the other ASM stayed with him making sure he was fine and didn't have a major concussion. The PA ended up taking him to the hospital, where he got stitches, but did not have a concussion. I consider this a small medical emergency because in the end, he was able to perform, and he was only out for a few hours. Also, it was handled really well.

And then there are legit emergencies where you don't have time to second guess. They are life threatening, and if dealt with wrong. You have everyright to panic, but calmly. You need to deal with the situation, and then you can have a venting session, preferably with a drink, afterward.

I had an interesting summer where I learnt a lot about dealing with these situation, and equity rulebooks.

hbelden

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #12 on: Sep 07, 2013, 09:32 pm »
My dog has a history of being somewhat anxious and overprotective.  When the stressful stimulus is over, she literally shakes it off and walks away calm as ever.  I've taken that practice myself.  When I notice my panic reactions triggering, I literally shake my body all over once, hard, then take a breath and proceed calmly.  Wonder if that helps other people too.
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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #13 on: Sep 07, 2013, 11:48 pm »
Sometimes we are confronted by a life-or-death situation. We owe it to ourselves, our coworkers and our employers to be able to recognize and handle these situations with all due seriousness and professionalism.

There are also circumstances under which it's worth "riding" a wave of stress: where that stress will motivate you to do something more quickly, or more thoroughly, or otherwise in some way better.

But if, say, an actor's car breaks down and you end up holding curtain twenty minutes to accomodate it?

That's not worth fussing over.

It's not good. It's not okay. It's unacceptable. It's a serious problem. Many companies have fired actors over less.

But insofar as this problem is within your control, you're not going to address it by pacing nervously and snapping at the rest of the company. Your stressing out and fussing and being curt with coworkers is unproductive, it establishes a sour tone, it makes you look highly unprofessional, and it doesn't get the actor to the theatre any quicker.

My mantra in situations like these: "it's only a show".

Your lead actor is so nervous on opening night that you end up holding the curtain ten minutes so she can vomit in a toilet and pull herself together?

It's only a show. These things happen. Standing behind her pacing angrily and twitching won't get her on stage any more quickly. Learn to recognize these situations--where you can't intervene, where stress is unproductive, where the key elements aren't under your control in the first place, where you could not have been reasonably expected to accommodate this situation, and so on--and learn to let go of them.

It's only a show.

It's only a show.

Your fussing and stressing doesn't help. Let go. It's only a show. A month from now, nobody will remember what happened. It's only a show.

Jonas_A

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Re: Dealing with Panic Situations
« Reply #14 on: Sep 14, 2013, 04:43 am »
At times when the drama level hits record-high (usually with regard to schedules going out the window, directors/producers/performers being "horrified" at the standard of pretty much anything, etc.) I'm reminded of the words of a mentor of mine:

Really, we're all just adults playing dress-ups. Your show might be avant-garde/highly political/a sell-out, but at the end of the day, you're just making up stories. Nobody lives or dies by what happens on that stage*

* Actual life-or-death situations are his one exception. Those were dealt with as quickly and cleanly as possible, because not over-complicating them is part of this philosophy.

I find it's a nice reality check to put on things when people start to get highly strung over the show...

 

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