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Backstage at the SM Survey

SM Group • Stage Manager’s Kit • November 6, 2017

Every two years, a national study begins in early November: The Stage Manager Survey. This 3-week survey has evolved over the past decade into the largest study of stage managers in the United States and, quite possibly, the world. At just five days into the 2017 survey, we have already surpassed the participation count of the 2013 but are still hunting the record turnout of 2015. So let’s look behind the scenes into the survey.

***Spoiler Alert*** If you have not already taken the survey, please visit Any SM or ASM who has worked on at least three productions (circus, dance, live industrial shows, opera, theatre, etc.) in the United States is encouraged to take this 15-20 minute survey.

The SM behind the curtain:
Um, that would be me. My biggest regret is that I didn’t come up with a creative name for the project back in 2006. In fact, I didn’t even name it, I just asked people if they would take a stage manager survey.

Origin Story:
I had started teaching and students were asking what was “normal” for a stage manager. Most of us had learned the profession through apprenticeships, so most people didn’t realize that others weren’t doing the job the same way. And often when they learned others were stage managing differently, they thought the alternatives were wrong or lacking. So the survey is designed to see what we have in common and to celebrate that there are a range of choices for almost every part of the stage manager’s job. As academic training becomes more common, it is important that we don’t standardize our job and lose the innovation of independent stage managers facing common challenges and finding their own solutions. And, on the flip side of the same coin, those independent stage managers or regional ‘pockets’ of SMs can benefit from learning about the advances of others.

I conducted the first 5 editions of the survey while teaching at the University of Iowa, which meant I could draw from the great minds of the many wonderful stage managers studying there. I moved this summer to Elon University brought the survey with me. I was fortunate to recruit a research assistant for this year’s survey. It takes 250-300 hours to design, test, distribute, and analyze the survey.

Qualtrics. I have used three different survey platforms, but Qualtrics is my favorite by far due to its flexibility and ability to crunch a lot of data. The raw data from the 2015 survey takes up 11,503 lines of a spreadsheet.

Why just the United States?
There are two sets of questions that would not translate well to other countries – pay scales and unions. But I have been asked by stage managers in Canada, the UK, and Australia about the survey. And Qualtrics has grown to the point that we could create a core survey that then separates based on country. If there is enough interest, perhaps the 2019 survey could expand….

Is the survey shorter this year?
Yes and no. For every cycle of the survey, I switch out 25-35% of the questions so that it doesn’t grow stale or predictable. This year is actually the longest survey at 106 questions. But most participants will only see 70-75 questions because the survey branches based on your earlier responses. If you are not a member of Equity, your survey skips 5 questions.  If you are Equity, you skip the non-Equity questions. If you have taken the survey in the past, you skip the first 6 questions because we have asked those questions for several surveys in a row and we will compare the 2013/2015 data to the new data of first-time survey-takers. So many stage managers have reported that the survey is shorter/faster this year.

That being said, this is still a huge survey and I am incredibly grateful that stage managers, not known for their abundance of free time, will give up 15 to 20 minutes to answer these questions. It is a testament of the generosity of stage managers to take such an extensive survey solely for the advancement of our profession. Thank you and check back in February for the results!

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