CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Rose by any Other Name…

Stage Directions: In a field where personal satisfaction often out-weighs monetary payment a title can mean a lot. When I was hired for my last job I was officially called the “Production Assistant/Stage manager;” in reality I was assisting the production manager, shopping/buying for the shop, managing budgets, contracting crew, stage managing the Main Stage season, and working with the Second Stage stage manager. After I had been working for several months, and really started to understand the scope of the job, I had a meeting with my boss about changing my title.

18 comments:

Samantha Brown said...

This article brings up some interesting points that I never really thought about before. It is true that an assistant stage manager is a lower position than the stage manager even though they have different jobs during tech and the run of a show. The two jobs can be equally important on certain shows depending on how much action happens backstage and how many cues there are in the show. In the end the stage manager is the one in charge of the production and holds more responsibility over the show as a whole than the assistant stage manager. I understand that certain people like working backstage and never want to actually call the show and how they might feel like they are lesser because they have the word assistant in their title. Changing assistant to associate is an interesting suggestion that could work for some jobs, but I think it would be too difficult to change the title worldwide and have everyone understand what an associate stage manager is. I would not think that it was the same job as an assistant stage manager if I saw that on someone’s resume.

Evan Schild said...

A lot of what was said in this article is very true. Do I believe that the name should change? Im not sure. While everyone involved in theater is extremely important, the stage manager usually has more responsibilities than the asm. I do believe that the name assistant is slightly degrading. Everyone is working hard towards the end goal of making great theater. With switching it to associate I think is a great idea. However I'm not sure it will work out well. Would it be possible for an entire industry to slightly change the name? Also regarding resumes, when interviewing for a job people will still know you are doing the same amount of work even if you change it from assistant to associate so Im not sure if it is even worth it..

Scott MacDonald said...

This article makes a really good point. When working in events and theatre, there are a lot of “slashes” as DB calls them – the combination of jobs when one person covers two roles (e.g. Light / Sound Designer). I think part of this stems from the nature of the industry, because every production is different and presents unique needs. A lot of the time, if you’re in a role where it isn’t obvious what all your responsibilities are, your title may need to evolve as your position does as well. I think it’s definitely true that a title can mean a lot—and it rarely makes a difference in cost—so if someone’s role differs from what their title implies, the title should definitely be updated to reflect that. I think it’s also true that this comes into play with resume building. I’ve run into this from working on sound for events, because it’s not always straight forward as “Sound Designer.” When a large system needs to be loaded-in in a number of hours, you often need more people, so roles get divided up more. I found the various alternatives to Assistant Stage Manager interesting – I’ve heard Deck SM before, and think that it gives a much better idea of what the job entails. I think the Associate Stage Manager title would definitely be better than Assistant, and still using “ASM” would make things easy as the author notes. I’d be interested to see if this title is implemented more, to make the distinction between who is actually an assistant (e.g. production assistant) and who is the Deck or Associate SM.

Rachel said...

I think titles are significant and, at least at this point in my career, I would likely always choose a better title over more money. But I personally don’t mind telling people I’m an assistant stage manager. The people that matter (theatre professionals, my family, etc.) know exactly what that job entails and if I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t know, I usually add a short explanation of the job. I agree that the responsibility level of assistant stage managers and stage managers is more equal in theatre than the word “assistant” might imply in a lot of other fields, but I’m not sure theatre titles, which are different and unique anyway, should be pressured to conform to language used outside the field. And while ASMs have separate, very important responsibilities and a lot of agency, I don’t think “assistant” is inaccurate: ASMs ARE assistants in the rehearsal process and ultimately SMs will have to make calls (stop the show, etc) that ASMs won’t.

Jasmine Lesane said...

This article raises a lot of good points that I had never really thought about. I agree that the term Assistant does carry a certain connotation with it, and so though that connotation is probably unjust, it is easier to change titles than change linguistics. My father has expressed confusion before about how theatrical resumes seem very heavily rooted on implied things rather than certifications or position descriptions, which is interesting to me because even though every show calls for something different there are things that you will always do, but company employees have that same thing. Every company will ask for different things.so maybe on resumes job descriptions wouldn't be the worst idea? We do have interviews for asking about he specifics though.bAnyway getting back on track, the associate stage manager is an interesting title, because to me it makes me feel that they are partners, not in a hierarchy. That is definitely more representative of the work they do.

Vanessa Ramon said...

One of the first instances that this article brings up is the fact that your title should be accurate to what you are doing because it will make your resume more accurate. This is a very important factor that I had never thought about before. I am interested to know more about the social environment around changing job titles. Is there some sort of social stigma? or is it easy and non dramatic? Hopefully people are free to open this kind of conversation. Next, I absolutely love how the conversation is being had about the title 'Assistant Stage Manager'. I agree with the fact that many people associate the term 'assistant' with being lesser or working for the stage manager, but from my understanding that is not the case. I think that changing the Assistant to Associate can really have an affect on the way people view the position. Each stage manager position is different and relies on different skills and just because you would rather be the ASM over the SM doesn't mean you are not striving for the top position.

Antonio Ferron said...

I see this argument from many different angles. First, I want to say that it's awesome that this is being brought up and talked about. It's one of those small things nobody ever thinks about but can really mean a lot for certain people. In the theatre community I feel like there's an understanding of the actual importance and responsibility of an ASM. Though the actual tasks may change depending on the company, the responsibilities of an ASM are generally respected. With that said, the word "Assisstant" does have a "less important" connotation. Those outside of the theatre community may have a hard time understand exactly what an ASM is, which is to be expected. But, that doesn't mean there arent ways to more appropriately title the position. I think replacing "assistant" with "associate" is a pretty solid argument. Maybe the answer is to actually have both Associate and Assistant Stage Managers depending on the task. By either means we shouldn't have to use titles to know whether or not to respect the hard work that a member of a production team.

Sasha Schwartz said...

For as much as we talk in class about the hierarchy of theater structures and the roles every person working in a theater needs to fulfill, we probably spend just as much time talking about how none of the descriptions for each role are set in stone and how much variance there is between different theaters in terms of who does what and how it’s organized. The difference between associate and assistant is something I understand in terms of designers but not so much in terms of managers. I think it definitely makes sense that managers would have a more diverse range in terms of what they would be doing depending on where they are, even if they hold the same title since managers need to be aware of anything and everything that is happening in regards to the show. I think the weight of a title in reference to their connotations in the “real world” (outside of theater) is very important to consider also. A lot of non-theater people I talked to this summer about my scene shop internship assumed I was doing stuff like “fetching coffee” for the actual scenic painters. I wonder if there is any wiggle room in terms of how much managers are allowed to fudge their “job title” on their resumes to reflect their actual responsibilities.

Lucy Scherrer said...

I feel like in the theater industry, where what you actually end up doing for each show might vary dramatically depending on what each one requires, not enough weight is placed on names. We as humans subconsciously make so many decisions based on what someone's official job title is, yet we don't stop to consider if it lines up with what they are ultimately asked to do. Defining someone's job clearly and accurately in the theater world can be so tricky, especially when smaller theater companies have to have people do multiple jobs. The theater I worked at over the summer had just three people on their show production staff to handle all the lights, scenery, and props (sound was juggled show by show). The TD did all the scenery, the ME did all the lights but because he had shop experience he was also kind of like a head carpenter, and the scenic painter painted all the sets and did the props-- but, the props were also kind of handled by the TD or the ME. Basically, regardless of job title it came down to the TD and these other two people to handle everything in those three production areas in a massive team effort. You can see how it would be confusing when someone runs in with a broken chair and asks for a carpenter or props master to fix it, because they didn't technically have either but they also technically had both.

Liz said...

I see the point of the article and it is pretty valid. It is real that some ASM may feel they receive less respect simply because of the word "assistant" in their title. People in the theatre world have a better understanding of what the title entails but still, as ASM, especially during rehearsals when others haven't really started realizing the importance of your "real responsibility", you ARE the "less important" person in the room. You don't necessarily have to be there so you CAN go out and buy some coffee, or run lines with actors in the hall way when everyone else is insanely busy in the creation of art. I mean, this is reality. And personally I don't mind telling people that I'm an assistant stage manager assisting my stage manager and the show at all.
Money comes before title in my case. I was once hired as interpreter in a Chinese theatre and basically function as a PA/APM/ASM/run crew/tour guide.
Not trying to sound passive, but I doubt that the change of the wording from "assistant" to "associate" will actually force people to register that change in their mind against their instinct to follow the institutional memory.

David Kelley said...

While I was never a ASM or SM on a professional level I do see the validity of this article. I have Internet he past working at one place gone through multiple different tittle and for the most part done very similar role for the organization with negligible difference in pay. I have seen first hand the difference of respect one gets from being a production carpenter versus a assistant technical director even though the two jobs had me doing the same exact role for the organization. I have also seen the interesting difference of associate versus assistant when I was an Associate Facilities Manager. I would say there is an import the the tittle to which you are referred to, otherwise we would not have them. This is an interesting subject not just for understanding of ones job outside of the theater industry but also within it.

Alex Talbot said...

Though I am not a stage manager, I agree with what the author of the article is saying. I think that the title often assumes that the ASM actually assists the production stage manager, and in reality it is almost never the case. Each has its own job that has a different role, and considering it an "assistant" job makes it seem like it is less important, when in reality it has different tasks entirely. I like the idea of an "associate" SM, since it makes it more clear that the job is entirely different yet related to an SM's job, without taking down the importance of the ASM itself. Is a name change in itself completely necessary? Maybe not, but it is definitely something to think about when assigning titles to a job in a theatrical context.

Mary Frances Candies said...

I definitely understand where this article is coming from. With any job you work on, theatre or not, it is always nice to get due respect and credit for what you do. One of the most obvious ways to get this respect and credit is through proper titling of your position. I understand that Assistant Stage Manager may not fully encompass the job description. I understand the urge to want to change the name. I honestly feel like it should be up to each individual whether they want to be called Assistant or Associate. Job descriptions and responsibilities within the theatre world are so flimsy. I feel as though it is safe to say that someone in every department has at some point felt like they are doing more than what their job title describes. When something falls sort in the production, someone else from the team picks it up. That's why it's called a team, everyone on a production is working towards a common goal. That's one of the most beautiful parts of theatre, in my opinion.

Zara Bucci said...

Oh I have had so many issues with this in the past. One person calls you one thing and legally you cannot be named that title because of your age or your mentor or some other reason. I find it absolutely frustrating when there is confusion over job titles because- as the article says, you can put a lot of excitement and satisfaction into a title only for it to be ripped away and given the title of run crew member number 5. I have not gotten in the habit of up front asking what my title is at the start of a production or start of working with a company. This past summer at Lightswitch I went in as an apprentice and a basic label of “employee” and left with the title of Associate Lighting Designer for the company. Sometimes it pays off to continue asking.

Sarah Battaglia said...

Titles in theater always baffle me because like half the time they make absolutely no sense. The person in this article seems like they do a ton of work, and have the title production assistant which is the title I have on my resume right now for the work that I did this summer. It’s pretty crazy that someone could read our resumes and assume we did the same job when mine included getting coffee more than I would like to admit. It seems ridiculous to start to have a rule for what we call people in theater because they all operate very differently and with a different staff break down but I do think it is extremely important for employees to get the credit that they deserve. I also think it’s interesting that the author talks about the push back that people get when they want to be an ASM not an SM. The facts are that those are completely different jobs, and barely have any interaction with each other, so while one does assist the other sometimes really they are independent of each other a lot of the time. There has got to be a better way to articulate that to people through some sort of universal language, and if we don’t streamline titles that becomes difficult. I think over all we have to stop using the word assistant in high levels of management because it can be degrading, and create a negative connotation for a job that doesn’t deserve it.

Kat Landry said...

There are parts of this article I agree with and parts I do not. I absolutely believe, as anyone who has played both parts should, that the SM and the ASM are stage managers in their own right. They do separate jobs, often have different skills, and are equally respected and expected to carry out their tasks. I am generally fairly quick to point this out to those with their noses too far in the air to understand this concept. However, I don't think we need to be talking about getting a name change. Just take it upon yourself to determine how best to communicate what your job was on your resume. If you are applying to work at another theatre, they will clearly know what an ASM does, so there is no need to clarify. If you are not applying to a theatre, however, and you are applying to a large company or to work in a kind of entertainment that doesn't recognize the role of an assistant stage manager, you need to tweak your title or your role description to fit what they will understand. Maybe they understand what a stage manager does but see an ASM as a step down? Write "Stage Management Team." Maybe they have absolutely no idea how to translate a theatrical resume? Write it in CV form, where they can gain an understanding of your responsibilities and how they apply to their company's work.

It's really a very simple matter of communicating well and representing yourself properly. No need to hark on about a role that has been titled thus for at least 100 years.

Jacob Wesson said...

Stage Management is a hard field to understand, simply because everywhere you go, the stage manager will potentially have a different set of responsibilities, and, often, especially if they are under a contract, the salaries will be very similar. I agree with the author that the title of Assistant usually comes with the connotation that your work is "less" than that of the Stage Manager, but, in reality, the work is just different. An assistant is physically backstage, typically, acting as the Stage Manager's arms and legs while the show happens, and one can't function without the other. However, I can also see where having Co-SM's can get tricky. When you're in a rehearsal room, you don't want to be vying for the respect of the actors with a Co-SM, you want to be able to take charge for yourself. I'm also not in total agreement with the author that a Stage Manager would actually ever want to be called an ASM for resume purposes. As I've talked about, yes, they are very different jobs, but is it actually significant to an employer what the title is, or do they only care about the experience you got and how that job represents you as a person? I think it could go both ways, and there's a different answer depending on who you ask, but the conversation is an important one.

Megan Jones said...

I actually really like the idea of changing the "assistant" in an ASM's title to "associate". This is mostly due the connotation that the word "assistant" can carry with it with outside of the theatre industry. When you list that you were an Assistant Stage Manager on your resume theatre companies will have a general idea of what your job was, as ASMs are typically in charge of backstage operations. As they have this background knowledge they realize that this position is a very important one, and give it the weight that it deserves in the hiring process. However, this becomes an issue when you try to get a job in a non-theatrical setting. The word "assistant" is usually associated with being lesser, and this could skew someone's view of your resume. The title of "associate" makes it seem like you are doing something of importance rather than menial tasks, which unfortunately is the image that some people get when they think of the word "assistant". Using the term "associate" would be a great way to alleviate this problem without making too much of a change. ASMs would still be ASMs, but the nature of their work could be more easily recognized.