There is no one path to success in the performing arts. A guidebook does not exist and our industry is blanketed in generalizations like “it is about who you know” and “you have to be in the right place at the right time.” I’ve been working as a professional stage manager, director, and theatermaker for 13 years and one of the most frequent topics I get asked to discuss is advice for breaking into the business. A dozen of my colleagues would (and should!) answer this question a dozen different ways, but here some pieces of advice I personally think are paramount for early career stage managers and theatermakers. These are all derivative of lessons I’ve learned along the journey down my Yellow Brick Road.
The most successful stage managers and theatrical leaders remain calm during the storm. Practice riding the wave and not letting it knock you over. Think of crises as challenges, not catastrophes. Navigate complicated situations with a cool head. The stage manager is the company’s compass. Lead with ease and care.
2. Give Yourself a Break
Stage managers aren’t magicians or miracle workers. No one is perfect and from time to time, even the most meticulous individuals make typos and mistakes. Don’t hold yourself, or others, to an impossible and unattainable ideal. Strive for excellence, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Lead with realistic expectations.
I like to always think of myself as being in a constant state of “pre-production.” Stay ahead of the curve with planning, communication, and paperwork to avoid an endless to-do list and not enough hours to complete the tasks. Not feeling like you’re constantly under pressure will allow you to stay more present in each moment and that’s so important. Lead with a clear, focused mind.
4. Stand Tall
Confidence is key. Stage managers work in the room, not for the room. Know that you have a place at the table and on the creative and production teams. Communicate with finesse and exercise the art of diplomacy always. Address a room with energy and remember the important difference between speaking loudly and yelling. Lead with conviction.
5. Find a System
The methodologies and approaches to stage management are endless. Find techniques that work for you and use them to best serve the production. Make sure that part of your system includes delegating. Use your team and your colleagues; play to their strengths and learn from them. Stay malleable. Lead with a plan.
6. Fuel Yourself
Give attention to your health and self-care. The hours we work are long and our schedules are complicated. We all need sleep, hydration, well-balanced meals, and downtime. The most well-rounded theatermakers have a full life outside of the theater. Find the things that help you disconnect, unwind, and recharge. Make the time for them. Lead with a clear head and focused energy.
As cliché as it sounds, always show up and strive to be a light in the room. Whether you’re walking into a networking event, running a first rehearsal, or two years into the run, be the best version of you. People want to collaborate with people who they enjoy being in a room with. Operate from a place of “yes” and be a problem-solver. Lead with kindness.
As we continue to navigate the uncharted waters we’re in and we rediscover what it means to make theater for a living, I’m going to do my best to keep following my own advice. I’ve been able to dedicate some of my pandemic-time to making sure I’m practicing what I preach and setting myself up for success. I hope you can all do the same and that we come out of this better, stronger, more prepared, and ready to light the lights brighter than ever.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.