Cutting the Cord

by Katy McGlaughlin
What if we couldn
When Fate cuts our communication ties, how do we adapt?

After my computer crashed on my first day at my summer gig I started thinking about how dependent we are on technology. Another post on this blog talks about the method of first contact, do you call or e-mail? (Before this summer I would have answered e-mail, no question) Without a computer I couldn’t even access the contact list. (Smartphones, tablets, and the ASM’s computer helped us run the first week relatively uninterrupted and I did get access to the contact list.) What I discovered is that even though stage managers communicate constantly we are potentially less connected to our teams than the generations before us, we don’t have to be as prepared, and we are training future generations to be even lazier than the current one.

E-mailing the schedule is a pet peeve of mine–checking a callboard (electronic or otherwise) or calling a phone hotline used to be standard practice for scheduling and both are things that can be done via cellphone today. More than once I have had e-mail difficulties and then cast members calling me because they didn’t know the schedule (or worse going to the wrong rehearsal space because they weren’t sure and didn’t call), when these calls come I often have to stop what I am doing and open the schedule document, or go to the online callboard to check schedule and if I am in transit or not by my computer I have to call them back – not a big deal - especially with a small cast but on my 30 person musical having them in the habit of checking somewhere consistent would be beneficial - and training an entire generation of artists that, if information isn’t delivered directly into their inbox they are helpless to find it, seems like a disservice. I also still occasionally find a cast member that doesn’t have consistent internet access. (I am currently texting a cast member the schedule everyday because his internet is too spotty to open the daily e-mail and we don’t have a callboard or phone hotline).

I love the ability to e-mail notes and reports but as I was computer-less and pondering I thought about how little actual interaction I have with my design and production teams. It is often harder to get a response from someone if notes are only e-mailed, people can ignore e-mail (or intend to get back to it later) but a face-to-face check-in is hard to ignore. Having a design team scattered across the country makes face-to-face check-ins an impossibility and the idea of snail mailing notes makes me chuckle, but calling designers to discuss questions often leads to a more succinct dialogue than a chain of 20 e-mails – each lacking intonation and the ability to quickly clarify. I can interact with my designers several times a day with technology but I don’t feel like I am actually connecting until I see them in person. I worked off of the wrong draft of a ground plan for almost two weeks because it was “the one from dropbox”, it wasn’t until we were going over it in person that we realized the error.

I am thankful to have my computer back and I will continue to e-mail the call and call people back after I have checked their schedule because, personal preferences aside, I want people to have the information they need to create the best production possible, but I will be more cognizant of my chances to interact and the method that I am using to communicate.