Does Stage Management define your Life, or does your Life define your Stage Management?

by Katy McGlaughlin

One of the sessions I was most excited about at USITT was the very last Saturday session, the Stage Management Round Table. It was facilitated by Michele Kay and boasted a panel of awesome stage managers. They led us in a discussion about Vulnerability, Trust, Communication, Cooperation, Creativity, and Collaboration. We shared thoughts and stories about how each of these things are important and how they build upon one another like the layers of a cake to create a great process.

It takes vulnerability to build trust. Once we have built a trusting relationship with our team communication can flow freely. If everyone can communicate their needs openly they will be more willing to “do what is right rather than insist on being right”.  While cooperation is an excellent starting place it tends to put people in a win/lose situation, but people who are willing to cooperate and then bring their creativity to the table can almost always find a way to collaborate. Of course there is a lot more to each of the elements but when they are working together it can take a production from fine to fantastic!

We talked about vulnerability meaning being open and not trying to keep our process a secret; admitting that we are fallible, owning our mistakes and not expecting others to be perfect. Trust is built by establishing clear expectations and by doing your job well consistently. My favorite quote about building trust was “don’t try to prove yourself just do the job well.” Communication is something we talk about a lot as managers; one of the interesting points we talked about was body language and how much we communicate when we aren’t even talking. Being aware of yourself is just as important as being aware of what you are saying. Cooperation sounds like a great idea but we talked about it being a win/lose situation most of the time because someone is giving something up. Cooperation tends to be task oriented and puts the production first but can ultimately take a victory away from your team. Creativity is pretty much the essence of what we do. Aim to problem solve and find solutions rather than look for problems and hold ups (we are often called upon to think about potential snags but we need to approach them in a positive way).  And final collaboration, the pinnacle of what we strive to do! Turning “I” into “we” and fostering a win/win solution. This calls for us (and our team) to subjugate the ego – by collaborating we share both the responsibility and the reward.

They also talked about the importance of defining who you are as a manager by what drives you as a human being rather than letting management define who you are as a human being.  As you are finding that definition consider how you want to be remembered, what do you want people to say about you when you leave? We made a lot of good comparisons to other types of management and talked about using the “soft skills” of general management (adaptability, flexibility, etc.) and just applying them to theatre rather than trying to make stage management its own beast. Of course theatre is unique in a lot of ways and management styles do have to be adapted.

Being in a room full of theatre managers was amazing! There were so many great insights and stories! The information was wonderful but more than anything, the connections with other like-minded people are the most incredible part of USITT. I am so thankful to have gotten to experience not only the conference but the people!