Keep Asking Questions, The Answers of Tomorrow May Not Be the Same

by David J. McGraw
Questions Marks
Image by Gerd Altmann

While stage management doesn’t have its own conference, we are in the heart of conference season for the performing arts.  More than any other time of year, this is an opportunity for stage managers of all ages and experience levels to come together to swap stories and to learn from each other.  I cannot wait to head to Louisville for this year’s USITT conference, including portfolio reviews coordinated by Erin Joy Swank and the new micro-sessions such as the aptly-named “Lessons I Learned I Wish I Had Known Earlier” session on the Expo floor.

I feel extremely honored to have been invited by Nykol DeDreu and Michele Kay to join their USITT panel, “Ten Minute Topics in Stage Management.”   The name is a bit of a misnomer as our panel of stage managers will be given as little as 1 minute per question to respond to a list of industry topics proposed at the end of last year’s conference.

I believe that panels like this one are vital for two reasons:

  • Most questions will be addressed by 2-4 stage managers and we don’t have to agree.  There is no single authority and hopefully our responses will reveal where there is a general consensus and where there is a wide range of opinions.
  • These topics should be addressed every single year.

For all of the wonderful ways in which social media can bring geographically isolated stage managers together, what is most frustrating is how we as a community address reoccurring questions.  But it is not entirely our fault – the medium implies that you can search through a conversation thread or find a FAQ.  While that is helpful for a purely technical question (e.g. pro tips for Excel use on productions), it leads us to dismiss some management topics as issues that should only be discussed once.  How often should we discuss good SM books, apps, and grad school options?  As many times as the question is asked.  When we grow weary of answering the same questions, we can step aside and let others address them.

I also sincerely hope that the answers themselves change.  Best practices in 2015 may no longer be so today.  Plus we, as a community, are learning.  At the SMA’s A View from the Wings in Chicago about four years ago there was an amazing conversation about how a non-binary understanding of gender impacted dressing rooms.  The older stage managers were learning from high school students who – and this is the important part -- had a seat at the table rather than in the audience and had more experience with the topic.

Not only the answers, but the questions are changing as well.  This weekend I moderated a panel on allyship and dismantling stereotypes at the Leading Women in Audio conference.  USITT has multiple panels on allyship as well a micro-aggressions and how to identify unintended bias.  Parents in Performing Arts and Birkbeck University conducted a survey in the United Kingdom for challenges facing parents in the performing arts.  These issues were not at the forefront ten years ago but they are today.  We are better for it.

So if you are packing your bags for USITT, I hope to see you at the conference.  And if you are in rehearsal, tech, or performances, thank you for keeping the theatres open this week.  Keep an eye on social media to see what we learned from each other.