One part of my job as a Production Stage Manager is to help maintain the artistic integrity of the show on behalf of the creative team. While doing this job I have to make decisions on whether to address certain notes. You would think “what’s the decision”, it’s my job so I should go in pursuit of everything, be your best and see that the show is it’s best! But sometimes, in my job, my best decision is not to go down that slippery slope that shoots off in a million creative avenues. Giving actors notes, that go beyond the technical realm, requires you to know what is intended by the director in a specific moment of the show and being able to help an actor find the right way to express that intention that best suits their approach to the material. Confused? You don’t know the half of it. Then you have to factor in who, said actor, is playing opposite of because inevitably the reason a particular moment has slid away from its center is because the two or more people in the scene have forgotten why something was originally constructed. Then there is the audience, the life blood of Broadway, they may be responding incredibly well to something they love that has absolutely nothing to do with that moment that you are trying to address. Never underestimate the power of an audience’s reaction…an odd laugh has crushed hours of sensitive direction and crippled sentences so carefully constructed that Mr Shakespeare himself would be in envy. I have known amazing actors to resist playing to the most base laugh through an entire preview period only to spiral rapidly after TONY nominations are announced. So even the most carefully thought out suggestion of a note can go on an endless adventure down a rabbit hole and strike you right between the, “well the stage manager told me to do that” eyes.
Please allow me to breakdown the creative process using the beautiful and often dysfunctional family tree. You have the roots of our sapling; the play, the music, a sensitive opus. The story itself wielded by the pen of the Playwright (or in the case of a musical, the Book Writer, Composer & Lyricist). You have got the trunk of our tree; the creative team lead by the Director who devises the best possible way to tell the tale and is aided by a slew of other creatives such as: the Designers, Choreographer, Musical Director, Orchestrators & Dramaturge. This trunk is often formed, nurtured and fed by the Producer(s). The branches both thick and strong and branching off into beautiful spindly shapes are the Actors, Singers, Dancers. It is the creative spark of all these parts that creates the beautiful, colorful, wispy leaves that people, our patrons, come and admire.
So, back to my point about sometimes a note is better left alone… not every branch tolerates being cut back without sprouting back out in the completely wrong direction and then you get yourself in a position where you need the help of your trunk to make sense of the pruning… This is all only in play if a very cold frost doesn’t come along sending your tree into a sudden autumn.
I am not a mental health professional. I am not a professional writer who has done extensive research on my subjects. I am a mother of three who, with my partner, is doing my best to raise our brood. My daughter Olivia suffers with Bi-Polar disorder. It’s a real disease for all of you skeptics out there who think it’s nothing some firm Midwestern parenting couldn’t handle. In fact several times over the last year my little girl has been in such a manic state that it could not be controlled, even by this skeptic who believes that there’s nothing good Midwestern parenting can’t handle. Let me tell you a little bit about Olivia, she was born eleven years ago to a mother who suffers from this same disease but choose to self-medicate before, during and after childbirth. I understand the desire to self medicate when your options for psychiatric care are outrageously costly private care or overburdened state run facilities. So, my angel came to us under what some may consider less than desirable circumstances. When she was an infant I would look deep in her eyes and I would see a hundred years of living deep in those beautiful dark brown eyes. Olivia is a well mannered, intelligent girl (albeit sufficiently lacking in common sense) with a wonderful imagination, a few good friends and a good sense of humor. Her only draw back is the rage that rips through her entire body and has done so from the ripe old age of three years of age. This rage presents itself at home mostly and would caused this little girl to loose all control scratching herself bloody and hating herself and being alive. Once again I took on the parenting deficient role and tried my level headed best to get her to “control herself”. Fortunately, I have Doreen as a partner, who started dealing with the medical end of this right away. In my defense I did take her to a few alternative healers who seemed to be interested in dealing with her allergies, which were and continue to be extensive, but they weren’t able to hone in on my baby’s wiring. So fast forward several years to a fourth grader who’s disease starts presenting itself in school. The at home behavior now includes voices telling her what to do (often resulting on inflicting pain on her two siblings) and raging and school refusal that has resulted in home schooling and her attendance in an outpatient program that provides daily counseling, group therapy and med management. It was quite a year that involved several trips to the emergency room to seek help from crisis counselors and finding what combination of meds would help us keep ahead of this disease. The disease was relentless in Olivia’s pre-teen body and with natural pre-pubecent chemistry changes. The future looked impossible and scary.
Just last week Olivia turned eleven years old. She took cupcakes in for her 5th grade classmates, last night she had a sleep over with a few close friends. She has an amazing group of teachers that are working with us to see that she gets the most out of Fifth grade in order to prep her for middle school. Doreen continues to be a driving force in keeping her treatment in order. We no longer look at the long ball with Olivia, we look to the day to day and thank God that we can do that when so many people have lost precious people young and old to this disease and so many undetected mental illnesses. My daily lack of understanding about what is best for my angel is overwhelming, but I know one thing for sure, I am devoted to seeing her taken care of one day at a time.