When we planned our editorial calendar almost a year ago now, and I didn’t realize then how absolutely appropriate to the start of school our selected topic of stage management would be. What does stage management have to do with school? Well, let’s take a look.
Stage managers are the unseen heroes of the ASC. Whether our audiences know it or not, every minute that they see on stage has been considered–for safety, for execution, for realization, for coordination, and repeat-ability–and prepared for by our team of stage managers. Stage managers are so much more than “the person responsible for the lighting and other technical arrangements for a stage play,” as the Oxford Dictionary would have you believe. Theatefolk.com gets much closer, pointing to the administrative tasks–maintaining a contact list, taking attendance, creating schedules, being the first one to arrive and last to leave, setting up the room and tidying up at the end of the day. It starts to sound more like another career we value with that enhancement, doesn’t it? Further, they are a communication center, making announcements, sending out schedules– being “the person everyone can go to when they need answers to questions or help solving problems.” (Hishon, Theatrefolk) They must record many details and stay on top of the flow of the production and each individual performance, making sure everyone is ready and able to play their part. Then they report on each show, keeping everyone on the same page and letting all of the teams involved know how things are going. They are “the glue that holds the show together.” They do all of this without taking a bow, without getting their name over the title, or in lights. They make everyone look better without getting the credit that the directors or actors do, but the wise theatre recognizes that it is only possible to do excellent, awe-inspiring work when stage management is excellent and supported.
I can’t help but think how much excellent stage managers and teachers share in common. ASC frequently thinks about the classroom as a stage–encouraging our teachers at our quarterly seminars, and those who use our study guides to get their students on their feet to explore the work of Shakespeare through questions of staging–and, yes, playing. When Ralph Cohen, our co-founder, and the founder of the Masters in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin University, wrote the catalogue for MBU’s pedagogy track in 2001, he called the first required class for students in the teaching emphasis “Classroom Staging” to call attention to the role a teacher plays as a performer in generating interest in Shakespeare. I wonder, though, if teachers aren’t more aligned with the other, amazingly challenging and important role of Stage Managers.
At ASC and in the schools I’ve had the privilege to visit and work in, I see how teachers prepare for each day, take care of a staggering number of details, relay information from various resources, develop (and modify) schedules to accomplish the objectives for weeks, months, a year. We could think of each unit as its own production, with the students performances receiving applause (or not) but the teacher striving silently to create the environment that best insures their success without any opportunity to take a bow or receive the outward praise that they have earned. Yet, they continue to serve selflessly.
Finding joy in a job well done and the success of others puts excellent stage managers and excellent teachers into a class (see what I did there?) of their own. Those of us who are lucky enough to work with these remarkable people don’t often take the time to recognize and appreciate just how fortunate we are to have their care and selfless commitment. So, ASC Education is pausing this month to give an ovation–thundering with gratitude–for all you do, for your actors and your students. Thank you for making us all look good. We couldn’t do any of it without you.