CMU School of Drama

Monday, September 26, 2016

Adaptive Leadership

Stage Directions: If you work in a close-knit theatrical community, you can guess the director or choreographer of a show just by its staging. And despite creating environments in multiple time periods and locations, many designers also have ‘visual signatures.’ So do stage managers have a style that is apparent to other theatre artists even when the SM is not physically present?

10 comments:

Katherine Sharpless said...

I found this article really interesting, especially the part McGraw wrote about what he tells his students, "the novice stage manager’s hardest show is the second one". He explains that in an SM's first show they are often reacting to their environment and to the needs of the production with nervous fervor and careful details. For their second show, they try to mimic what went well from their first show and aren't fully responding to the show itself. I feel strongly that this lesson can be applied to nearly any beginner and I feel the compulsion to copy from past projects when I begin a new design. Unfortunately, this article doesn't really answer the question it poses in the introduction, "do stage managers have a style that is apparent to other theatre artists?". Hopefully I can think of the other questions McGraw asked at the end of the article the next time I see a show and try to answer the question myself.

Lia Jennings said...

We have this conversation quite a lot in our management classes. Do we each have our own style? And if so can people see it through the production? I think we do. Every person has their own way to do work and approach things and I think it shows through our work and the production. It may not be as noticeable as a director or designer but I think that how the backstage is run and the entrance of actors can show the stage manager’s habits. We as stage managers hope to adjust our work based on each production and those we work with but there it never a moment where we can completely change how we do things and our choices. Our work is based on our personality and how we organize work. It’s the same idea that we can’t totally change a person even though we try as hard as we can.

Marisa Rinchiuso said...

This article posed a lot of great questions. I do believe that stage manager have somewhat of an imprint on their show whether or not they know it. It can be mostly subconscious, but as much as we adapt ourselves to shows there are always little pieces of ourselves we leave behind. I think it is a lot like when you hang out with different friends. When you hang out with a specific friend group, you are a different version of yourself, you talk about different things, act a certain way, but still yourself. By nature I think stage managers are very adaptable, so with each production they pull different techniques/skills out of their bag, but nonetheless the bag is still the same. To a certain degree, I think that is great. It gives stage managers just as much "style" as designers or directors. That is also why not all stage managers can stage manage every kind of show. The stage manager of an opera will be very different than a small, contemporary play, or a big musical with lots of children, or etc. I think it's a unique idea to think of stage managers imprinting their production; it's something I'd like to explore more during my time here.

Emily Lawrence said...

While I do think every stage manager has their own style and vibe, I do think that if they are not creating a positive work environment something is being done wrong. It is generally harder to be creative in an environment that is constantly negative, so creating a good environment for artists, as mentioned in the article, goes hand in hand with a positive one. Some stage managers have the mindset that they have to be harsh on the actors and stoic towards the director, and I do not agree with this approach. The stage manager is the glue to the production, so they must be the ones who are friendly but also strict. There is a fine balance of these things that help create a wonderful stage manager. I also believe that the stage manager is the bridge between the director and the actors. If the stage manager is on good terms with both of these groups, there will most likely be the best communication and work being created. I believe that the stage manager is not only there to make sure the show and process runs smoothly, but that everyone feels happy and creative where they are.

Sarah Boyle said...

I really like the way Marisa described being a stage manager, like being a different version of yourself with different social groups. In my high school theatre program, we had the same primary stage manager for three years. It actually led to a lot more tension between departments. I think everyone was used to her meeting wherever we worked best. For some that meant more schedules and assignments, for others that was more independent. A simple example I remember was props lists. She would compile a list during the rehearsal process and send it to me in an excel document to note what we did or not have in stock. Since I can’t work with neon green highlighting, I would reformat the document before adding anything, then send it back in my formatting (which I will admit, is obnoxious). The next time she sent it to me, it would be back in her formatting, but even though it was a master list, she never made me work how she did. I think the key to a good stage manager is being able to figure out how other people work, communicate, and what their priorities are, even if they can’t identify these habits for themselves.

Brennan Felbinger said...

I don't know that I would be able to identify a stage manager's "fingerprint" in the level of detail of their paperwork and table organization, however I do think that the stage managers work can definitely be recognizable when it comes to performances and communication. However, I think a lot of this can be attributed to generational differences. I find older stage managers are less active when it comes to technological communications, whereas new age stage managers are all about long emails containing lots of information. Neither one is "correct", however I think younger stage managers are doing what stage managers do best, adapting. I think it would be difficult to attribute the calmness of a room to a particular stage manager's work and be able to recognize them through that, because I think the atmosphere of the room can often be the sole work of the director and the cast no matter what actions the stage manager takes.

Sasha Schwartz said...

I think it’s very interesting to think about the signature of a stage manager in the same way we would think about the visual signature/ style of a designer. My first instinct is to say that a stage manager shouldn’t have a “stamp” since they should adapt to the situations of each show and make the team get along regardless of their own personalities. However, now that I’m thinking about it, I can totally see how different stage managers would leave their own unique mark on a production depending on their management style. Not necessarily enough for it to be visible to the audience, but enough so that the backstage environment is different and that actors and technicians have a unique experience with each manager they work with. Even just looking at our sophomore class of who wants to be a manager, it’s clear to see the differences in how they interact with others in a group setting, and how each of their personalities would be differently suited to specific types of shows.

Rachel said...

I do believe stage managers have distinct styles that you can see in their paperwork and calling, in the atmosphere of the rehearsal room, and in the way a technical rehearsal is run. It’s generally a more subtle influence than the director and the chemistry between actors, unless, of course, you get a genuinely bad stage manager (grumpy, snarky, overly aggressive, overly controlling, etc.), which, in my experience, can really wreck a process. In many ways, that style is directly related to our personality: are you the kind of stage manager that makes a team feel safe because you’re energetic and sharp… or the kind that makes them feel safe because you’re calm, thoughtful, and warm… or the kind that makes them feel safe because you always have the answer at the top of your head… or because you always listen. Are you forward and constantly present or are you quieter and more watchful. Most stage managers have elements of all the above, but I find they are usually stronger in one area than the others. All of those characteristics have a gentle influence on the process. There’s great potential for a good stage manager to make a hard process more pleasant and vice versa.

Sophie Chen said...

Even though I'm not a manager, this article was still interesting to read about. I can definitely see how different stage managers can have different styles, and I think different personalities of different managers already have an influence on their style. However what's most important is that the manager is able to adapt to different teams that s/he is working with to create a positive environment. If a manager is the most organized person in the entire world and on top of everything, s/he still is not necessarily a good manager if the environment s/he creates is a negative one. I never knew how big of a difference a manager's personality/style can make to a crew until I came to CMU, since all the management positions were unfortunately occupied by faculty back in my high school so it was interesting to experience different managers and the different environments they create.

Sarah Battaglia said...

This is so interesting, and something I have found that I am definitely prone to doing. What is so interesting about Stage Management, and why I love it so much, is that it is staggeringly different every show you work on and every different group of people you work with. I think a common trap people (especially people in management) fall into is one that says there is one way to manage. I absolutely find that I think a lot about what has worked for me before when I am presented with a problem at work, and while that is absolutely a good way try and problem solve often people get stuck in that rut and don’t consider that even though they have the same job title and their deliverables are the same the actual job and job environment are drastically different. When I am stuck problem solving I try to think about the people that I am trying to fix it for, and what about them has caused the problem to try and better inform how to fix it. I think the moral of this article is that in Stage Management there is no cut an dry list of rules for how to do your job, and the people who are really good SM's have to know that.

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