How to Say Goodbye to a Show - Stage Manager Blog

by David J. McGraw
For every "hello," stage managers soon find themselves saying "goodbye"
For every "hello," stage managers soon find themselves saying "goodbye"
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One of the perks of a life in theatre is the near-constant stream of collaborators.  But for every “hello” there is soon a “goodbye.”

This is especially true for me this past week as I saw the close of my summer show and I gave my notice to the University of Iowa, where I have taught for the past 14 years.  Sometimes the goodbyes are right on schedule as you knew the show closing date when you took on the contract; other times you are forced to decide when it is time to move on.

The goodbyes never get easier, but the pain is lessened a bit as you learn that it often isn’t “farewell” as much as it is “until next time.”  In fact, I have stopped saying goodbye and instead wish “until next time” as I hug a departing artist.  Do you suffer from post-production depression?  Here are a few techniques I have found that reduce the sadness of closing a show.

Create closing traditions for yourself.  I breathe an audible sigh of relief after every fight scene or high-alert sequence.  I thank each crew member by their formal name (Ms./Mr.) after their final cue or during the walk-out.  At the end of the show, I turn on the booth/backstage lights, stand, and join the applause.  To some degree I am applauding the performers, but I am truly applauding the entire production.

Find ways of giving yourself closure.  Is it taking down the callboard, putting out the ghostlight, or locking every door yourself?  Turning in your callbook to the producer?  Updating your social media profiles and email signature line?  I once worked at a theatre for three seasons and I decided to move to my next theatrical home the Sunday of closing rather than wait until Monday morning.  My ASM was staying with the theatre, so I said my goodbyes to the cast and crew before the show, called my final cue, gave the ASM my book, and walked out with the audience.  The house manager saluted me as I followed out the last audience member, got in my car, and drove off to my next adventure.  I have never had so “clean” an exit as at that theatre, but it was very satisfying.

Have constants in your life that continue well past your productions.  As stage managers, we are prone to devoting the majority of our waking hours to our productions.  So when a show does close, we often feel a huge loss not just emotionally but also in terms of our daily schedules.  Make sure that you have a regular life outside of your production and continue those daily routines.

This hopefully goes without saying, but never use a departure to speak your mind to individuals.  Share with your producer why you are departing if it was not part of your original contract.  Help the company grow.  But “getting things off your chest” with individuals during your exit will neither (A) help them improve nor (B) make you feel much better after a few days.  And there must be some theatrical rule that states that the person who annoys you the most will surely work with you again.  Not that I have ever encountered such a person….

We are so fortunate to work in an industry where, as managers, we get to form new team dynamics every few months, if not weeks.  Even the most dysfunctional of production teams only needs to operate for a few weeks and personality conflicts will either fade or get compartmentalized as Opening Night looms.  Change keeps things fresh and inspires creativity.  I will always feel a twinge of sadness when closing a show, but I try to take comfort in knowing that I will soon be saying hello again.