The Times They Are A’Changin’

by David J. McGraw
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Signpost to the Future
What if I don't want to head to the future?

I am now officially an old SM.  Not because I have been doing this job for a quarter century.  But because today I found myself on the losing side of history.  All because of a phone call.

Throughout my career (can you just hear my voice getting raspy?), I have always called each cast member during prep week to share the schedule for the first rehearsal.  I also e-mail it, but I make a point of trying to connect with each actor before they arrive at the rehearsal hall.  I want to know if they have any concerns about the production or if there are any immediate problems that I can solve or at least offer my sympathy if they can’t be solved.  I want to earn their trust before they are overwhelmed with all the new faces at the Meet and Greet.  I also want advance warning on who is crazy.

Let me be honest: I hate making these phone calls.  I am not big on phone conversations in general and I always get nervous about making the right impression.  I keep a cheat sheet by the phone and I often sigh with relief when I get voicemail.  But I have always called to introduce myself.

Today I devised a class exercise for my students to explore the best way to conduct these calls.  But before I could start the assignment, one of my students whom I admire greatly requested if she could “fight” this project.   While this might seem confrontational, I do want these future leaders to challenge the status quo rather than be passive students.  And this student, whom I will miss when she graduates next month, systematically broke down my approach to demonstrate how e-mail communication was more efficient for first rehearsal announcements: faster for large casts, more effective at confirming e-mail addresses/spam filters, less risky that someone could misunderstand the information, etc.

So like any mature adult, I immediately went to Facebook for validation.  And the results were mixed.  Several very successful stage managers joined my side about starting with a phone call.  Some equally successful SMs do both, but usually start with e-mail.  Some primarily use e-mail and only resort to a phone call if an actor does not respond.  This clearly will be a question in the 2017 Stage Manager Survey.  The hardest posts to swallow were from the stage managers, older than me and whom I see as mentors, gently explaining that they used to call but made the switch to e-mail 5-10 years ago.  

Personally, I am not willing to give up this tradition: while e-mail can be an effective communication tool, a phone conversation can help achieve my true goal of establishing a relationship.  I understand the efficiency concern, but I see it as a good investment of time in a week that is relatively light for me but often can be very stressful for my cast before they arrive.  So I am not going to hop on this bus even if it is headed towards the future.

And for my students: next week we record Actor Hotlines!