Guidance for the Ones Who Keep It All Together

by David J. McGraw
The cover of Stage Management Basics: A Primer for Performing Arts Stage Managers
The cover of Stage Management Basics: A Primer for Performing Arts Stage Managers

Interviewing one of the authors of Stage Management Basics: A Primer for Performing Arts Stage Managers

Stage managers are the linchpins of productions, involved in making sure everything happens smoothly, from before the first rehearsal to after strike, across all departments. And yet so often people starting out in the role are thrown into it with little preparation or guidance. Stage Management Basics: A Primer for Performing Arts Stage Managers from Routledge Press, written by Emily Roth, Jonathan Allender-Zivic and Katy McGlaughlin, aims to change that, offering clear advice for those starting in the field—and sharing a wealth of documents and tools to help stage managers keep it all together. The trio began working on this book several years ago and last year one of authors, Katy McGlaughin, started her studies in the MFA Stage Management program that I lead at the University of Iowa. We sat down to chat about the book, her co-authors, and why they think sharing tools is so necessary.

Who is the intended audience for this book?

This book is intended for small colleges that don’t have stage management programs or, in some cases, stage management classes. Students are often put into stage management roles with little to no experience; this book is a resource for them. It is also a resource for their mentors, who may come from areas other than stage management. Stage Management Basics can also be a great resource for high school drama departments.

How is this book different from other stage management texts?

As the title suggests this book is all about the basics. It is designed to be an introduction and a practical guide. It doesn’t cover a lot of the more complicated career issues and it assumes the reader is early in their learning, not already a working stage manager, or even an experienced theatre person.

You have two co-authors on this book.  Would you introduce us to your team?

Emily Roth is the instigator of this project as she works as a freelance stage manager and production manager in New York City. Emily attended a small liberal arts college and discovered she had a knack for stage management but had to pick up a lot of it on the job.  She started developing a college handbook with Jonathan when they realized that it would be a valuable resource anywhere that didn’t have specific training for stage management.

Jonathan Allender-Zivic is primarily a lighting designer, but has also worked as a technical director (and stage management mentor) and is currently an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota where he teaches lighting and sound. This book has a special place in his heart because as the stage management mentor at both of his previous jobs he found that none of the available published resources answered the very basic questions that often need to be addressed. He brought a lot of great technical perspective to the book and offered Emily and I a lot of insight about what designers need from stage managers.

That explains why this book contains great perspectives on stage management from other theatre professions.  What is your background?

I am currently a graduate student at the University of Iowa focusing on Stage Management with the intent to teach stage management at the collegiate level while still working professionally (primarily during the summer). I received my B.F.A. from the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University and worked professionally for 7 years before before returning to school.

I love the glossary of American and English theatre terminology.  What is the backstory?

Routledge Publishing is based in the UK and one of our editors noted that we should change “tearing spike tape” to “cutting spike tape” because ‘if you tear spike tape it will curl’ – we were confused at first because (cloth) spike tape can be torn without curling, but after doing some research we realized that in the UK spike tape is more similar to what we call electrical tape, and, as such must be cut and not torn. While researching that answer we found other fun differences primarily in terminology; since so much of stage management is similar from place to place but the terminology is different we wanted to include the glossary to make the book more accessible.

In addition to the physical book, you also prepared an extensive online library of documents and tools.  What is the goal of this online library?

One of my favorite stage management texts is Stage Management Forms and Formats. Its only downside is that you either need to photocopy/scan the pages or create your own paperwork based on the content. Our website gives the readers access to all of the templates that we show in the appendices of the book. They can be downloaded and modified.  The online resource section contains all things that we found useful in our various stage management endeavors. Stage managers put in a lot of hours; anything that helps streamline communication and scheduling is worth sharing.

Will the online documents and tools be updated?  Are there plans for additional books?

As we find more resources and better paperwork we will compile them and try to have the site updated periodically. We have already started our personal revisions on the book but we haven’t begun conversations with Routledge about a second edition. We have also talked about doing a “next level” book examining stage management in more depth and including some of the next steps to growing as a stage manger. I don’t think I will be ready to tackle either of those until I finish my thesis next year but I am putting some of my insight to work helping a colleague organize the content of their book about media design – look for a release from Routledge next year!