Author Topic: Who are we, anyway...?  (Read 13965 times)

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Celeste_SM

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #15 on: May 24, 2011, 05:23 pm »
Thanks for the info! 

I think you are right on to address the issue with them, and I hope your message is heard on the other end.

On_Headset

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2011, 05:51 am »
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I know it doesn't look like we are on the creative side most of the time, because proactive preparation and asking the right qqs allows us to solve many problems before they happen and there are those who don't understand how creative that actually is. But wow, when it comes to problem solving - especially while the show is running - there is no one more creative!
I put it to you that any time a stage manager invokes sheer creativity to solve mid-show problems, they're covering up for incompetence.

Problem-solving informed by knowledge and experience and best practices and expectations of how things will turn out and knowledge of your own limitations and all the rest of that brainy stuff is productive and helpful and an essential talent for stage managers to have. There's surprisingly little true creativity involved in this sort of problem-solving, though: some imagination, certainly, but that's the extent of it. You aren't plucking ideas out of thin air, you're running the numbers and remembering articles you've read and thinking back to other situations where you've had similar issues and invoking all kinds of information in order to construct a logical, well-informed and well-grounded solution.

Problem-solving informed by sheer creativity--"It's so crazy, it might just work!"--has a nasty tendency to make bad situations worse.

Phrased differently, when a director makes bold, creative, spur-of-the-moment choices, the result is usually challenging and bold and, while not necessarily successful, at the very least memorable.

When a stage manager makes bold, creative, spur-of-the-moment choices, far too often the result involves ambulances and insurance claims.

loebtmc

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #17 on: May 25, 2011, 12:28 pm »
I think you are confusing creativity with simply reacting. To me, creativity always comes from knowledge and experience, just as the freedom to create brilliance often comes from having boundaries. SMs are successful in solving crises because we have proactively trained ourselves for any eventuality, whether it's a blown fuse or the sound system crashing or covering an actor's track due to sudden illness / injury, but in a real life situation, it takes inventiveness. We have to be able to roll with whatever happens and make it work. When my sound system went down during a show, I talked my crew through finding things to stand in for the life and death sounds, relaying info to the cast, relaying solutions to the board op and the TD, letting folks know which cues were or were not going to happen - that is creativity. It came from my experience and training which generated a creative solution. Similarly, my knowledge- and experience-based creativity in nontechnical skills has convinced actors to go on stage with people they hate or in situations that terrified them needlessly (like being in front of an audience), solved costume or set shift issues, trained understudies or gave notes to performers whose acting language didn't match the directors, etc etc etc. Our job requires both halves of the brain, both sides of the table, both creative and technical.

I think SMs are the most creative people on the planet. We know how to make things work on a dime, we see 100 uses for an object that no one else has considered, we stay calm in crisis and, like MacGyver, defuse the bomb with a paper clip. Just as the definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity, creativity is knowledge and experience meeting challenges. And, if we are doing out jobs well, like Fred Astaire it looks easy, as if we aren't doing anything. So yes, I think we use our creativity all the time.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2011, 12:31 pm by loebtmc »

On_Headset

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #18 on: May 25, 2011, 02:38 pm »
I think you are confusing creativity with simply reacting. To me, creativity always comes from knowledge and experience, just as the freedom to create brilliance often comes from having boundaries. SMs are successful in solving crises because we have proactively trained ourselves for any eventuality, whether it's a blown fuse or the sound system crashing or covering an actor's track due to sudden illness / injury, but in a real life situation, it takes inventiveness. We have to be able to roll with whatever happens and make it work. When my sound system went down during a show, I talked my crew through finding things to stand in for the life and death sounds, relaying info to the cast, relaying solutions to the board op and the TD, letting folks know which cues were or were not going to happen - that is creativity. It came from my experience and training which generated a creative solution. Similarly, my knowledge- and experience-based creativity in nontechnical skills has convinced actors to go on stage with people they hate or in situations that terrified them needlessly (like being in front of an audience), solved costume or set shift issues, trained understudies or gave notes to performers whose acting language didn't match the directors, etc etc etc. Our job requires both halves of the brain, both sides of the table, both creative and technical.

I think SMs are the most creative people on the planet. We know how to make things work on a dime, we see 100 uses for an object that no one else has considered, we stay calm in crisis and, like MacGyver, defuse the bomb with a paper clip. Just as the definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity, creativity is knowledge and experience meeting challenges. And, if we are doing out jobs well, like Fred Astaire it looks easy, as if we aren't doing anything. So yes, I think we use our creativity all the time.
What you describe here sounds an awful lot like the skillset we'd expect a component secretary to possess (right down to "it only looks easy from the outside"), yet everyone seems to bristle and howl at the comparison. In the context of this discussion, I'm also not at all convinced that this type of creativity makes us "artists" on nearly the same level or to nearly the extent that directors, playwrights, actors, dancers, designers and the other core theatre artists are entitled to that label.

I also think you're making a mistake when you afford this creativity some special attachment to stage management. A designer who is unable to figure out how to find interesting and innovative uses for an object or work within a budget is, for most purposes, just plain incompetent, and never mind the fact that this sort of just-make-it-work skillset would be useful if not essential to any number of non-theatre professions. (The aforementioned secretaries, but also janitors, actuaries, tax accountants, bus drivers, garbage collectors, morticians, pathologists, dogcatchers, police officers... notice how none of these jobs are normally considered creative or artistic?)
« Last Edit: May 25, 2011, 02:42 pm by On_Headset »

MatthewShiner

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2011, 05:24 pm »
I think we get really attached to the concept of being an "artist" - when in reality there is an art to almost any profession.

I have always considered my self a grand facilitator, a manager of artists, a conductor of sorts.

I feel like to stand on a soap box and demand to be labeled an artist is not, for me, worth the effort.  I don't care how other people view me or my work. 

At the end of the day, I know what I am.

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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.

loebtmc

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #20 on: May 25, 2011, 06:49 pm »
This is where we disagree -

Quote
I put it to you that any time a stage manager invokes sheer creativity to solve mid-show problems, they're covering up for incompetence.

the rest of it - I am not saying we have the corner on the market, just that we are also creative being (being a great facilitator is being creative too...as is being a conductor in music, for example) and that our job includes both creative and technical aspects - and you'd be surprised how many folks in all jobs don't have what you say most common secretaries have. When those of us with that ability find work that allows us to express all those pieces of us, whether in theater or in the "real world", we are extremely lucky, and the people who hire us are lucky to have us.

I do consider myself an artist, and also a technician. When I was an actor (back in prehistoric days) and even today as a director, the same applies - there are technical as well as creative aspects to my work no matter what I do. Which is where this all started. If the grant folks disagree when the TCG considers me an individual artist, and if they think I am an admin even tho (as we know) we are not administrators despite aspects of that in our work, then we have some education to do.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2011, 06:53 pm by loebtmc »

PSMKay

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #21 on: May 25, 2011, 07:14 pm »
Great debate, guys.  I love stuff like this.

I'm thinking that this may distill down to the nature of the decisions we make on the job and how the components of those decisions reflect on cultural definitions of creativity.  There's also multiple concepts at stake here - administration, creativity, risk and art - and I think we may be mistakenly conflating them.

Production work, regardless of our occupation within it, requires multiple high-level decisions.  The question is whether we are choosing between existing options that we've learned to be reliable based on experience or common sense (analysis only), or choosing between those options and ones that have never been tried before (analysis plus synthesis).  The former version of decision-making, more common in stage management, is arguably seen as less "creative" as it involves primarily analysis - the dissection and separation of existing ideas.  Directors, designers, actors are seen as more reliant on synthesis - the combination of ideas to create new concepts.  The inventiveness that loebtmc mentions is certainly a factor in the decisions of a stage manager - we sometimes have to go pretty far afield to find our options given the diverse situations presented by production work.  Our choices as to which tools to pluck from our mental toolbox are the ultimate expression of our own creativity.  The question is how much synthesis we actually do, as opposed to how much is perceived as necessary to do our jobs by the outside world.  We know that we do a metric ton of synthesis.  It is ironic and somewhat humorous to me, though, that the synthesis we do is so far afield of conventional definitions of creativity that the folks generally acknowledged as "creatives" cannot grasp that it is in the same spectrum.

However, as On_Headset alludes, the options we choose from are generally tried & true in some manner, pulled from our own sense of preparedness.  We keep our toolbox with us and fully stocked at all times.  We rarely would come up with a new and potentially risky idea out of whole cloth to address a given situation, whereas directors, designers, actors are expected to do so.  There is an association of creativity with risk, and a cultural concept that risk takers are the most creative members of society.  Within the confines of theatre I think we can all agree that we are the least given to taking risks.  The risks we do take are not often recognized as such simply because they are so cerebral/intangible.  The true catastrophes that could ensue from us choosing to behave differently - ambulances and insurance claims, as OH says - are not as blatantly obvious to those without a predisposition for weighing risk factors in their work.

Meanwhile, art and artistry are slightly separate from creativity, as Matthew mentions.  The use of unique materials - painting, sculpture, music, choreography -   when combined with the synthesis of new options in decision-making is what generates the socially recognized "art."  It requires greater specialization and is seen almost instinctively -   although not necessarily correctly - as "more creative."  You can understand the difference when you consider the relative "art" and "creativity" required in the composer/arranger/remixer grouping or in the difference between a director of new works and a restager/remounter.  You can see it in the phrase "Dr. X raises the field of (some traditionally non-artistic profession) to an art form."  I have expressed this concept poorly, I know, but hope I've made my point clearly enough.

Yes, the skills required for stage management do place us on the creativity spectrum, but by that regard so do the skills required for every other job.  That will not gain us access to the secret club of theatre artists, though, which seems to be the particular issue at stake here. Arguing that we use creativity or synthesis in our job will not convince the theatrical establishment to consider us as artists.  In thinking through the choices that I've made in writing about SM over the past decade or so, I've realized that I've almost unconsciously avoided the use of "art" when referring to stage management.  I've called it a craft, a trade, a career, but rarely an art, and personally it feels strange to do so.  I think whether we consider ourselves artists or not is a personal choice.

When I was working in the industry I did not consider myself an artist.  Creative yes, but not an artist.  In fact, I feel like more of an artist for doing tech stuff on this site than I ever did while in the rehearsal hall or booth, and web development is pretty far from the conventional definition of artistry.  If the artists wanted to go hang out in their clubhouse I was pretty much fine with that, as long as they gave me enough info to do my job.  Artistry aside though, I did consider my role to be equivalent in importance to the rest of the production team, and I think that may be the crux of the matter here as I stated earlier.  This is not a question of whether or not we're creatives or artists.  I think that this debate actually illustrates perfectly the reason why groups like TCG don't know how to classify us - we don't really know ourselves, and we're the classification experts here.  Given that our self-definitions as artists/non-artists/secretaries/80's action heroes/what-have-you even within this thread are so varied, I think what's more crucial is defining our importance in the grand scheme independent of categorization.

loebtmc

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #22 on: May 25, 2011, 07:23 pm »
beautifully said - (other than, we take some risks too...and I am grateful for my artistic side when it comes to certain types of problem solving)

The one correction is that my concern is not w TCG, which includes all those grey-area worker bees as fellow artists, but w the folks who assign grant money and funding related to events like the TCG conference (where there are panels and events that clearly include our skill set) and who classify us as admin -

MatthewShiner

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #23 on: May 26, 2011, 09:34 pm »
Quote
I put it to you that any time a stage manager invokes sheer creativity to solve mid-show problems, they're covering up for incompetence.

I disagree as well - especially the more one offs and events you do.  When the star starts singing a new song list mid set, what are you going to do????  You have to roll with what is handed you.  And yes, we should, ahead of time prepared for things to happen, but ultimately, you are going to run out of time and resources to plan for EVERY option of things that could happen onstage.

I actually am pushing, in my world, to fight harder to be considered more management, more administrative, more comfortable in the world of general management, production management and on the producers side.  Part of is my personal interest.

And I think that's a big part of this job, not only your personal style, but your own interest that helps form how we approach this job and the style at which we present it.
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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.

On_Headset

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #24 on: May 27, 2011, 02:28 am »
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I disagree as well - especially the more one offs and events you do.  When the star starts singing a new song list mid set, what are you going to do?
I was trying to direct my comments specifically to the idea that stage managers are "creative" or "artists" in the same manner and to the same degree as those who we might call "core" theatre artists. (actors, directors, playwrights, designers, etc.)

If by "creativity" we mean imagination and flexibility and innovation informed by experience and knowledge, then, yes: creativity is a good thing--but I'd argue that this is not creativity or artistry of the type we're discussing when we talk about "theatre artists", and that this skillset is neither unique to stage management nor at all foreign to the administrator/"glorified secretary" labels that SMs seem to bristle at.

But if by "creativity" we mean spontaneity and unpredictability and random ideas and off-the-wall, ostentatious, what-on-earth-does-she-think-she's-doing approaches to problems (which is what I would associate with "creative" directors/actors/playwrights/etc.), then I'm quite happy to label myself an utterly uncreative and humourless administrator. (This is where incompetence comes into it, too: if the star suddenly changes her set list and things go unpredictable, the worst possible thing for a stage manager to do is to become unpredictable and random and off-the-wall himself. If "creativity" implies using your imagination to devise solutions informed by your experience and knowledge, then by all means be creative; if "creativity" implies wacky schemes and jumping the rails and throwing caution to the wind, then you're probably going to make a bad situation worse.)

MatthewShiner

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #25 on: May 27, 2011, 03:20 am »
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if "creativity" implies wacky schemes

I would be the first to claim there should be no schemes in stage management, wacky or otherwise.
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ScooterSM

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #26 on: May 27, 2011, 12:21 pm »
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if "creativity" implies wacky schemes

I would be the first to claim there should be no schemes in stage management, wacky or otherwise.

Isn't that a large part of what we do though?  Make sure that other people's wacky schemes can happen and not kill anyone?
“I've never been paid a lot, but the theatre has kept me, and for that I shall be eternally grateful.” Tony Church

jNehlich

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #27 on: May 28, 2011, 01:51 pm »
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if "creativity" implies wacky schemes

I would be the first to claim there should be no schemes in stage management, wacky or otherwise.

Isn't that a large part of what we do though?  Make sure that other people's wacky schemes can happen and not kill anyone?

yes, OTHER peoples wacky schemes, not our our own. Those creative decisions are never in response to what we want or feel would be best- it's what would be best for the whole of the production and the team.

That said, I think the whole of this discussion (far beyond the original grant question) will never have a solid black and white answer because there's always going to be a grey area. I personally believe that art and craft lay in how we maneuver in that gray area which is often filled with scheming ideas and crazy personalities. 
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maximillionx

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #28 on: May 28, 2011, 06:27 pm »
That said, I think the whole of this discussion (far beyond the original grant question) will never have a solid black and white answer because there's always going to be a grey area. I personally believe that art and craft lay in how we maneuver in that gray area which is often filled with scheming ideas and crazy personalities. 

Art has never had a black and white definition, nor will it ever...part of it's wonder. But back to topic...

I love this discussion thread. Great topic but I've resisted until now.

Personally, I do not consider myself, when I am solely SMing, to be an artist, so the decision not to consider a management position an individual artist was not that shocking.  We are, imo, managers with artistic mentalities.  But if you feel like fighting for it loebtmc, I wish you success!

In my current position (Operations Manager) I consider myself an artist because of the different things I have to do in order to further the success of the theatre. Like paint, light, act, build, etc... I don't think I could be a manager in a non-theatrical sense, only because it's the art for which I started doing theatre in the first place.

loebtmc

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Re: Who are we, anyway...?
« Reply #29 on: May 29, 2011, 02:58 am »
I have, actually, been a part of the "figuring things out" discussion on many shows, and have brainstormed my way thru wacky and non-wacky solutions - for example with young directors/students/PWD issues/film folks dabbling in theater. And unless you want to go into management (which may or may not fall into arts admin) I do not want to be considered in that category. I think we are artists, even if the general perception of what we do is not what people traditionally picture as creativity.

But the bottom line is this: If TCG considers us individual artists, then the related grants should concur. Period.


 

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