I have, very recently, had the opportunity to address what “style” I am as a stage manager. It has taken me the better part of my twenty-seven years as a professional stage manager to realize it, but these truths I hold to be self-evident that all situations require a different hand and are by no means created equally. I am wholly imperfect and wholly accepting of it, so the rest of this writing is not going to be an attempt to sway you that I have come up with the stage manager silver bullet!
You may or may not wonder why it took me so long to figure this out? I think it’s because my career, which has been incredibly rich, has also been so incredibly varied. I have been hired as everything from the big picture technical assistant stage manager to a production stage manager for interesting niche projects. Okay, never so niche… but small and personality-driven, thank you, Everett Quinton, for that distinction. I have had no major preference for one type of project over the other, although I love a snappy tune for the long runs.
You see, in just the last two years I have worked on the very tempestuous but successful Motown The Musical, The star-powered laugh-a-lot hit Fish In The Dark and the sellout theatrical event Little Shop Of Horrors. Sorry, this is not going to be a tell-all-blog about Jake Gyllenhaal & Larry David; sadly for the gossip world, I found both of them to be incredibly talented men who took their jobs to heart in very different ways. Each of the shows I have mentioned were wildly different. I am constantly learning; I learn about myself, I learn about the business, I learn about stage-managing and I learn about humanity with every new challenge. So discovering a style in all that change is tricky because “my style” is not only dictated by the demands of the production it is also dictated by the people that surround me. I think this is why I am often a cleanup hitter in most job interviews. An example of this is a job interview I had for a big musical after Motown closed. I was very excited about the project and the prospect of being involved. There were so many great people working on the show. In the interview when the director asked about how I would deal with a particular group of the actors, let’s say kids (just for conversation sake), I responded that I would handle the kids however best suited his (the director) & the production’s needs. I didn’t have a magic formula for how I dealt with children in shows, although I had had a good handful of experience. I believe that my response to his question may have cost me the job since the director, whom I had a great interview with, went with a person who had a very specific experience with show kids. I don’t regret my answer; although I was pretty bummed I didn’t get the gig, I really do believe in my response. Fast forward to Little Shop Of Horrors, a job that I was given because of my previous work with Dick Scanlan, the show’s director. I had not worked with Dick as a director before; he was Motown’s script consultant, having had undeniable success as a book writer for Thoroughly Modern Millie. Dick and I met for brunch to discuss the show and touch base on each other. It was a great exchange of information and at the end, I asked Dick what he was looking for from me during the process, I mentioned that I try to stay adaptable to the needs and the tone of the director. Dick very simply and clearly said he wanted me to control the flow of the room so he could invest in the creative process without being a detail man (these are my words, trust me when I say Dick’s words were far more elegant), and we went our separate ways. I proceeded as planned and hired stage managers to work with who would be the nuts and bolts. It was a sublime experience and went just according to plan between Dick and I. In fact, it was Dick’s delight in the process that made me realize that the power of adaptability is my “style”. Look, it is not for everyone, in fact, many a day I look back on Stage Managers I’ve admired and had the pleasure of working for like: Beverly Randolph, Steven Zweigbaum and Clifford Schwartz, to name a few, who had their checklists, swagger & duties down to a tee. I have often wished my style could be as clearly defined as theirs, but it’s just not. Please, do not confuse “personality” with style… I certainly have a very specific personality and have my entire adult life! But when it comes to my work I’ll keep changing colors based on the room that the Production Stage Manager or the Director would like me to keep. I will continue to find my way through every day with the knowledge and faith that I am servicing the production the best I can.