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The Honor of a Stage Manager

David J. McGraw • Stage Manager’s Kit • October 10, 2017

Happy International Stage Managers Day!On this International Stage Managers Day (October 10th or 10/10 to use the British shorthand for Tech like the American 10-out-of-12), we honor stage managers. I will never turn down a gift of chocolate and, although I will squirm and potentially blush when receiving praise, it does make me feel good to hear that another artist appreciates my work. I love hearing stories about magic SM kits that can produce the most obscure but absolutely necessary object. And SM jokes are usually very dry (“How many SMs does it take to– Done.”) or end with fools getting their karmic comeuppance (the SM getting the third wish from a genie is my favorite).  But I would like to use this special day for honoring stage managers to consider the stage manager’s honor.

Many fields produce hyper-organized professionals. Many businesses rely on time management gurus. Many industries employ quality-control experts. But where else but in the performing arts do all of these skills come together in a person whose very employment is the apex of conflict. The stage manager works tirelessly to ensure the director’s vision but is hired by the producer and serves as the official liaison of the performers. We are not the director’s assistant we are the director’s representative, we are not the producer’s representative when it comes to contracts but we maintain both quality and efficiency, and we somehow both report and correct any mistakes made by the performers while at the same time advocate for their benefit. For anyone else, these could be conflicts of interest, but everyone accepts a stage manager in this role due to our sense of honor.

Even if we are brand new to an organization…

  • We are trusted with private data like personal contact and medical information, along with the “real” deadlines and budgets
  • We are trusted to record all work hours and overtime even when we are employed on union contracts
  • We are trusted to hear the confessions and deepest fears of all members of the team
  • We are given keys to everything and
  • The actors willingly hand over all of their valuables to us when they show up to work!

Stage managers live by a code of honor. And a stage manager is only as strong as her honor. Our authority is derived from the trust that we earn from our teams.  When we have that trust, we can navigate through very problematic relationships with tact and diplomacy. Such is the magic of theatre: theatre shouldn’t work as well as it does or as quickly as it does, but everyone trusts that their self-interests are being considered and the stage manager is that representative.

So as we enjoy a day of memes, well wishes, and hopefully someone buying us a drink, let us remember the weight we willingly carry to make this crazy job possible. Let’s also be thankful for all the trust that others put in us. And let’s swear to maintain that trust. On SM’s honor.

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