Pay No Attention to the SM Behind the Curtain

by Katy McGlaughlin
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Are Stage Managers Ready to Step into the Spotlight?
Are Stage Managers Ready to Step into the Spotlight?

I’ve noticed a trend lately that has made me think; recently the “spotlight” has begun to shine backstage.

Notably the September 11th, 2015, Ham4ham in which stage manager, Jason Bassett, called the Ten Dual Commandments while the company danced and the video gone viral of Carrie Havel (Associate Director of Grease: Live!) calling the camera shots for the song Greased Lightning.  I know that there are actors who stage manage and even stage managers who act, but I am not one of them. It fascinates and terrifies me to see the up-swing in public acknowledgement of the backstage artists.  

Three years ago (come October) National Stage Managers day was first introduced by the Stage Management Association in the UK, according to their website “It is going to be one day of the year when everyone in theatres across the country can celebrate the great productions we work on, and the work of our backstage colleagues, and a great way to remind us all of the importance of the work we do." It has spread across the pond and stage managers in America have joined the celebration. And the work that we do is undoubtedly important, but does it ruin the magic to show how the trick is done?

It has been said many times, “If you’re doing the job right no one will know you even exist,” and I take a lot of pride in being invisible due to the efficacy of my team. That isn’t to say that I want to be ignored and forgotten, and I definitely appreciate having examples to point to when someone outside the industry asks what I do. That said, I have zero desire to perform and while I have no problem making announcements to the house over the god mic there is something about being pointed out that makes my heart race and my palms sweat. The artistic director at my previous job did a shout out in his curtain speech last year on National Stage Managers Day – I was flattered and touched but also completely thrown for the first few minutes of the show (luckily I had the entire overture to breathe deep and refocus). I would much prefer a heartfelt thank you to a public acknowledgement.

All of this leads me back to my initial assertion that this trend has made me think: Is this upswing in backstage interest related to the voyeuristic nature of social media? Are people fascinated by the inner workings of a show because it makes them feel like “insiders” or because they have a genuine interest in how it all happens?  And on the other hand, is there something wrong with the big picture when being acknowledged for our work is an exception and not a standard? I know that, as a stage manager, there are many times that I would rather shadow the call of a show than watch it as an audience member, are the typical audience members interested in what we do and how we do it?  Or are we just a part of the cultural desire for inclusion?