I will never forget the pressure of standing in my first pre-show meeting. The person on my left began to speak. I hoped that they would speak forever, my cheeks burning as I scrambled internally to come up with a good answer to the circle question. But he soon concluded, and my heart stopped. My turn. Eighty-something eyes shifted to look at me. Sweating, I answered with a shaky voice, stuttering a bit. I wanted to sink into the floor.
And then - everybody clapped. Genuinely. They weren't even making fun of me. What?
The mutual respect between the students of the Technical Entertainment Crew and the way that they support each other is my favorite part of this program. The advanced equipment in the PAC makes it possible to put on amazing productions, but the student team working together is what pulls all those elements together into something spectacular - like the Nutcracker Spectacular.
One could argue that TEC never stops planning for the Nutcracker Spectacular, since we think of ways to improve for the next year while the show is running. Technically, the process fully kicks into gear in the summer, when we start to look for sponsorships. Soon we move into the fall, sending email blasts and running commercials to sell tickets, and then, at the start of winter, the show opens. The weeks pass by in a flurry of builds and poster-hanging sessions. Before we know it, TEC's biggest production is in tech rehearsals.
Time flies faster than ever before when you're a senior. With all of the reflecting on the past and planning for the future, the present passes by right under your nose. I was affected no differently. Before I knew it, it was time for me to stage manage the 9th annual Nutcracker Spectacular.
I'd been preparing for the position of stage manager for weeks, thinking about the timing of cues and how I would lead the crew. My mind kept going back to the upperclassmen that had influenced me in the past and what made their leadership so effective. Even though they had graduated and were gone, I still looked up to them and wanted to fill their shoes. On my first show, upperclassmen immediately took me under their wing. First, they taught me how to operate the light board, so I would know how to do my job. More importantly, through constant encouragement, they gave me the confidence to handle my responsibility. It didn't stop at the end of the show. The more involved I got with TEC and the more I got to know the people in it, the more confident and resilient I grew. My experiences over my four years in TEC prepared me to stage manage the entire time, as I imagined being in the upperclassmen's place and learned from their leadership to gradually rise to it. I needed to pass on that favor by ensuring that everyone on the Nutcracker crew had a positive experience.
As stage manager, I had to learn quickly to take charge of a situation. Leadership positions are earned. I had to earn the trust and respect of the crew by always being decisive and aware and conducting myself assuredly. I also needed to encourage the members of the crew to lead me - we relied on each other to keep track of certain details. To my dismay, I couldn't be everywhere at once, and neither could my mind. Many leaders are necessary to cover the bases. So, one of the most important parts of a leader's job is to create other leaders by instilling confidence in them with guidance and support, and then stepping back to let them take charge themselves.
The best place for that to happen is the pre-show circle. It's a completely safe and accepting environment where the entire crew comes together to focus on putting on a successful production. When each member thinks about how they can embody professionalism, leadership, camaraderie, and fun, all of the pieces will fall into place. The stage manager asks a pre-show question to inspire everybody to think about one or more of these elements individually and to show them that it's safe and good to speak up and share what is on their mind.
On opening night, I read my first question aloud in a clear, firm voice and passed it off to travel all the way around. Looking around the circle, I was transported back to all the others that I had stood in before. Four years ago, I was terrified to even say a word in front of a group of people. The idea of leading them, guiding them, reminding them what to do? Forget it.
I still find it hard to believe that I have changed so much but it's not so unbelievable when I think about all of the learning experiences I've had on productions. TEC has taught me to take risks, rise to responsibility, and not to be afraid of making mistakes. In a few years, some of the blushing, sweaty people that were in that circle will look back and think the same thing.