I’m not really a person for many words. If you ask me if there is anything I want to tell you or any concerns I have, odds are I’m just going to say “I don’t know” or some variation of that. I just don’t have much to say being that most of the time I feel that everything that needs to be said has been said or people already know everything that I would potentially say. It’s hard for me when I come into a position where talking is almost the only duty; it’s ironic I ended up stage managing a major production.
I learned stage managing isn’t just about calls cues at the exact right times or getting the correct lingo when you talk over the radio. Don’t get me wrong, those are incredibly important duties but I have learned to believe that those aren’t the highest priorities of a stage manager and just doing those things well isn’t going get you chosen or hired as one. The most important job of a stage manager, at least how I saw it, is to make sure everyone on his/her crew is having fun. Without fun or enjoyment the world would stand still and all of us would stare at each other blankly and nothing would get accomplished. When someone is having fun they are more likely to do a better job, think faster, and most importantly want to come back and work under you again. Everyone benefits from a little bit of fun, not to the amount that it becomes distracting, just enough to keep people thinking “Hey. I’m glad I’m here."
I learned to be ready for anything. Bye Bye Birdie was an interesting musical to tackle. It’s not exactly what you would call the most modern of musicals probably fitting of the classification of dated. The script had been edited in many places and had cuts in others to try to make it slightly more appealing to modern times, but for me this just made it difficult to follow. None the less it was bushels of fun (Seeing a theme here yet?) I still remember the first cue I ever called during one of the technical rehearsals. I called it completely wrong. It wasn’t even close. No one noticed though so I did the second most important thing that a Stage Manager has to do; Move on and Forget. I eventually got the hang of things and the cue calling path seemed to smooth out as I was calling each one of them with much perfection. Everyone seemed to be having fun so I existed in a very happy state and life was good. The cues called in the production weren’t terribly hard to call putting calling them as the least of my worries.
I learned that a Stage Manager is useless…without a crew. He/She can sit in a chair looking all ominous and powerful for as long as they desire and call cues to their heart's content, but if there is no one on the other end nothing will happen, obviously. There are times when a crew member may feel useless, but every single person is important on a crew, and I’m not just saying that to be cheesy. I’m not a ‘You’re Special!” kind of person, I’ll tell you the truth pretty much all the time. Every single person on a crew is needed 100% of the time during a show. If anything a Stage Manager is the least needed position on a crew! They just blab the entire time and occasionally something will happen when they say a special word. If you think about it, the stage manager has no direct control over how the production comes together! Everything is ultimately in the hands of the operator, just some food for thought.
I learned how much fun being a leader is! I have some very distinct viewpoints that a lot of people would disagree with and would say that I’m only asking for trouble. Several of my close friends have become tired of hearing me say this but as I see it motivation should be seen though what experience can be gained, not about the position. Without putting the limitation on yourself of "I only want to be a Grip Head," you open up so many doors of opportunity. Instead get in the mindset of, "I want to lead." It’s an experience rather than a position. The experience you get is what you will remember for the rest of your life, not the position you had. There are multiple places on a crew where you can lead and with that it makes your goal of leading easier to achieve as well! The other thing I believe that most people don't is more personal, but I love to see others succeed and I hate to ‘take’ positions from people that they really wanted, even if I was the best fit. I believe this goes hand in hand with my previous point in the respect of that I don’t see it needing the best Road Hog operator. I see it as needing the Road Hog operator that wants the experience of being on a production crew and working with moving lights the most. It’s kind of a confusing point to put in text but hopefully that makes a little sense.
I could go on and on for days about how much I learned from Stage Managing Bye Bye Birdie and how much of an incredible experience it was for me, but I won’t. For my final thoughts I will say just this: Everyone shouldn’t aspire to be a Stage Manager, but instead aspire to have the experience of leading a large group of people through dark and winding path. In reality they are the same thing, but accomplishing the experience will be a lot more memorable than getting the position.