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SM as Whistle-Blower

David J. McGraw • Stage Manager’s Kit • January 7, 2016

Whistle [photo by adil113]

Whistle [photo by adil113]

You are rehearsing a show and the director wants to change the script.  What should you do?  What can you do?

Stage Directions editor Jacob Coakley interviewed Howard Sherman about new productions being inspired/borrowing/stealing from older or original productions of the same show.  It is a terrific interview, especially when Sherman makes points about authorial intent and what we are teaching aspiring artists and audiences about intellectual property in art.


Now you are either wondering why this topic is appearing in a stage management blog or you know exactly where this post is heading.  While there have been instances of stage managers copying others’ paperwork, that issue is often about giving credit to the creator.  No, the bigger issue is what to do when you realize you are working on a production that is breaking the rules.


The best response would be to contact the playwright about the proposed changes.  But often this is difficult to accomplish or undesired by the director.  I am always amazed that a director, working on a script for the first time, knows what the show needs better than the playwright who developed the play over multiple drafts with multiple workshops.  Are we fixing a textual problem or eliminating a directorial challenge?


I will be the first to admit that I look the other way if the change is limited to a blocking reference: go ahead and change “here” to “there” or “upstairs” to “back room” unless those locations are critical to the essence of the show.  And if we support the flexibility of roles that are not intrinsically male or female (unless you are working on a Beckett play), then we ought to change the gendered pronouns to reflect the performers. 


But what if the director wants to cut or add a scene?  Or a character?  Or use text from another version of the play?  What is our responsibility as the stage manager?  Is it part of the stage manager’s duties to protect the script?  Do we give line notes out of allegiance to the playwright or to the director?


What is perhaps telling about the issue of SM as whistle-blower is that I’ve encountered each of the above hypotheticals, but I am hesitant to link to news articles. 


What do you think?

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