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When a Retreat is Moving Forward

David J. McGraw • Stage Manager’s Kit • August 10, 2016
What would you do if you could spend a week thinking about stage management, but not a specific show?
What would you do if you could spend a week thinking about stage management, but not a specific show?

I just returned from the Iowa Arts Summit, which included a very interesting session on artist retreats and residencies.  The conference attendees represented a wide range of performing and visual arts, but I couldn’t help but wonder what a stage manager retreat would look like.

According to the Alliance of Artists Communities, artist residencies (also known as retreats) “provide dedicated time and space for creative work.”  So if you accept that stage managers are artists (the issue of defining our art is the bigger challenge), then shouldn’t we have our own retreats?

But what would a stage manager retreat be?  A quiet cabin in the woods for you to recover from your latest fast-paced, high-stress production?  A library of historical promptbooks to peruse?  A shopping spree at an office supply store?

Perhaps it should include a gathering of stage managers.*  The first few hours might be awkward as we all try to organize/facilitate/moderate how the group functions (If you have ever attended a meeting of stage managers, you know exactly what I mean.), but once we have all analyzed the group dynamic, to just relax and talk.  If I am ever named a MacArthur Fellow, one of my first projects would be a stage manager retreat.  We might need to start off with an ice breaker, perhaps crafts involving post-it notes or what our Tony Award acceptance speech would include.  Then some board games and cards – something to do while we start conversations.  And, once we all feel comfortable, we can have candid conversations about our art.  Not other artists’ work, but our own art.  There will also be time for rest and reflection – the conference speaker shared the story of an artist who needed to sleep for 3 days to recover from exhaustion before he could focus on what he wanted to change. 

These retreats are about moving forward in new directions.  The fast pace and long hours of our jobs often force us into repeating techniques that have proven adequate in the past rather than experiment with new techniques.  What would you do if you had a week to just reflect on your art?  What would you want to change?  What inspires you as an artist but you have not had the opportunity to consider?  Perhaps we should all take a trip to that quiet cabin in the woods.  The one with the really good printer.


*I am still advocating for our own collective noun: a group should be called a “whisper” of stage managers.

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