Writing The Production Manager's Toolkit

by Cary Gillett and Jay Sheehan

"If you think you have nothing to lose then the risk will always be worth it.  If you want something, ask for it.  All they can say is no. This type of mindset is entirely responsible for how The Production Manager’s Toolkit became a reality." - Cary Gillett & Jay Sheehan

[In the September 2018 SD issue Cary Gillett and Jay Sheehan wrote a wonderful piece about Taking Chances for their Production Manager's Corner column. In it they noted that the common denominator that gave them the chance to take risks and dream endlessly was the understanding that they had nothing to lose. This thinking is what ultimately led to them writing the insightful and invaluable The Production Manager's Toolkit, a wonderful resource for students and mid-career professionals. Here they tell us how the book was the result of taking a chance. -Ed.Note]

If you think you have nothing to lose then the risk will always be worth it.  If you want something, ask for it.  All they can say is no. This type of mindset is entirely responsible for how The Production Manager’s Toolkit became a reality.  Because we were both disappointed that there was no text on the subject of production management in America, both of us would have constant discussions on what to use as source material for our classes and USITT panels.  Finally, in 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas at the annual USITT conference our colleague Deb Acquavella, a professor at Emerson College, told us to “stop complain and write the book yourselves.” We both looked at each other and knew that was our path.  Great – so now what?  

With the idea for the book in place we stumbled into the Focal Press booth on the expo floor and said to the first person we saw – “so we have an idea for a book.”  We were convinced we were crazy and that nothing would come of it, but we had to try.  Why not – we had nothing to lose!  We got as far as to say that it was about production management when the person politely suggested we leave a business card.   We walked away laughing a bit like school chums who just pulled of a prank on a substitute teacher.  What were we thinking?  But we had nothing to lose, so why not?

It was about four weeks later, when we had almost forgotten about the trip to the booth, that an email arrived from Stacey Walker, the Focal Press Acquisitions Editor.  She explained that they were fielding requests for a book on production management all the time and they had been looking for the right people to write it.  Would we be interested in submitting a proposal?  Less than 2 hours later we were on the phone with each other both giddy and filled with nervous energy.  Now we had to actually do it!  

And so it happened. The proposal passed with flying colors and soon we were signing a contract to deliver a manuscript within 18 months.  “You are dreaming” and “no way” were words that came out of fellow production managers’ mouths as we discussed the project with them.  “You’ll never get a book written that quickly.”  And yet here we were, taking a risk in order to achieve something grand.  

We thought for a long time about how the textbook should be laid out and we agreed right away that the first part of the book should be the “hard and soft skills”, while the second part would be devoted to connecting it to the work in the various performing arts disciplines. Each of us specialized in different areas of production management, as Cary was on the theatre and dance side of things and Jay had more of a special events and music business background. This actually made for the perfect collaboration!  

We started the process of interviewing fellow production managers and then set deadlines for the next 18 months and made sure we stuck to them.  Each month that would pass would find us one or two chapters closer to completion. The next year and a half found us discovering more and more about production management, relationship building, and what kind of true leadership skills made everyone successful at their jobs. It was a truly joyous time and in December of 2015, the manuscript was completed on time. Gone were the voices of the detractors that didn’t think we could do it, and we rejoiced in our gratitude that maybe we could make a difference for young production managers. 

Next up was the cover art, and chapter page breaks, which were designed by friend and San Diego resident Joseph “Hesh One” Garcia. Hesh worked in such a collaborative and supportive way that it was easy to agree with this talented artist! 

Our next project to tackle were the photographic images and procured over 200 images that would make up the rest of the pages.   So…we did it…We set goals, and pushed ourselves. We stayed up many late nights to meet deadlines, often at the expense of our supportive family and friends.  “You’re Dreaming” became our mantra, and we did just that. We dreamed, and we took a chance. We took a risk but had nothing to lose.

Now it is two years after the book was published.  It was a top seller for Focal Press in 2017 and, most of the reviews and feedback have been very positive.  Proud does not even begin to express how we feel.  We are also honored, stunned and grateful.  Grateful we took the risk.

To learn more about The Production Manager's Toolkit and to purchase it got to: http://bit.ly/TheProductionManagersToolkitRoutledge

About the authors:
Cary Gillett has worked as a production manager and stage manager in the Washington DC area for almost two decades. She teaches production management and stage management at the University of Maryland, College Park, and serves as the production manager for UMD’s School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. In addition, she has worked as a production manager for the Round House Theatre, the Potomac Theatre Project and the Helen Hayes Awards, celebrating theatre in the Washington DC area. She is married to director and educator Bill Gillett, and together they manage their biggest production, Mary Louise.

Jay Sheehan oversees the production management and stage management areas for the School of Theatre, Television and Film at San Diego State University.Jay created and leads the Certificate in Entertainment Management Program for the school. As the faculty production manager, Jay oversees all aspects of production for the eight-show main stage and student production season. When he isn’t teaching, Jay also serves as the Logistics Coordinator for the Presidents campus wide Arts Alive SDSU initiative, promoting the visual and performing arts on campus. Jay is also an Equity stage manager and spent his early career at the Old Globe Theatre. Jay’s other jaunts around San Diego have found him as the Director of Production and Operations for the San Diego Symphony and Director of Operations for House of Blues, overseeing the 20,000 seat Coors Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. Jay is also owner of Cue One Productions and is a freelance special event manager who produces non-profit charity & concert events in and around the United States.