It’s that time of year when we look back at the past before we look forward to the future. We have five years of Symposiums in the rear view mirror and planning year number six, so as we are planning the 2020 Symposium, let’s take a look back…
Let’s pick out the ten best panels from the last five years of Symposiums. Each year there are 12 panels, so over five years that’s 60 panels to choose from.
1. Julia Jones, The Tao of Stage Managing – 2018
Julia kicked off our 5th year by pushing all the chairs aside, getting us on our feet, and personally interacting with each and every attendee. She literally and figuratively changed the way the whole room worked. Her philosophy on stage managing was personal, insightful and refreshing. She calls this approach the Tao of Stage Managing. With her session, she gave us a physical reminder of the greatest joy we have in stage managing, connecting with people. As she went around the room, shaking each person’s hand, she created an intimate moment of connection with every person and demonstrated how powerful that can be.
2. Bonnie Panson, Emotional Intelligence – 2017
Bonnie brought to life the concept of Emotional Intelligence for us. She discussed how we need to self-reflect, know ourselves, be keen observers, and cultivate empathy. By understanding ourselves better, it helps us understand others better and get to the real issues and concerns that people sometimes can’t verbalize. This important soft skill, sometimes called EQ, is big in the world of business, and helps us stage managers better connect and communicate with our company.
3. Karen Carpenter, Servant Leadership – 2015
Another great concept illuminated by the former head of the stage management program at Yale, stage manager turned director, Karen Carpenter. The idea that we stage managers lead from behind and that by serving the process, the director, the actors, we lead our company was eye opening. We aren’t “in charge,” but we do lead the charge. These philosophical approaches do so much to inspire us and adjust our perspective in exciting new ways.
4. Tech & Automation – 2015
Two of the stage managers from Spider-Man and their automation carpenter, Geoff Vaughn discussed safety concerns and protocol with flying and automation systems. This session makes the list for the honest and emotional way Geoff spoke about his care and concern for the actors. He showed us the heart inside the rough exterior of stage hands. With this knowledge, it changes how we approach technically challenging moments onstage. Our crew are our collaborators too, not just button pushers and set builders.
5. Fiscal Health for Stage Managers – 2019
This panel was about the parts of show biz that no one really teaches: incorporating, contracts, banking, insurance, investments, retirement, invoicing, side hustles, debt management… All so important to a successful career. There were so many insightful takeaways from our panelist, Evan Kindsbury from the Actors Federal Credit Union, Sandra Karas, treasurer of AEA, lawyer, and head of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, and Financial blogger & stage manager, Melissa Bondar.
6. Physical Health for Stage Managers – 2017
Broadway stage managers schedule the physical therapy for the actors. However, we should be getting some physical therapy ourselves. Standing or sitting for way too many hours, wearing heavy belt packs, carrying clipboards all day, etc… All these actions have the potential to mess us up physically, so this session with Broadway physical therapist, Jennifer Green, gave us strategies to help alleviate our aches and pains and hopefully avoid some altogether. We all learned some simple, yet effective stretches to do and became more aware of how to take care of our bodies.
7. Stage Manager Moms – 2018
It was amazing to have seven amazing stage managers, all mothers with kids from toddlers to college, talk about the joys and challenges of being a mom and a Broadway stage manager at the same time! We all wrestle with work/life balance. Hearing the process and strategies that these ladies developed gave us a realistic view of how it can be done. You can have a family and a career as a stage manager. It certainly isn’t easy, but the insights and straight talk these women provided helped better prepare us all.
8. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – 2018
Our industry has become more aware of the need to address EDI in our business. As stage managers, we need to address this issue in our profession. With Broadway stage managers from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, we discussed why it was important to address diversity and the benefits of having a team from various backgrounds and experiences. This important conversation helped us talk honestly about this issue, discuss concerns, develop understanding, and find strategies we can implement to improve EDI in our stage management.
9. Show Stops – 2019
This panel had nearly a combined 100 years of Broadway stage management experience and have had to stop many Broadway shows! Ira Mont shared some great footage of a show stop that demonstrated just how important calling stop can be and that calling a stop is not the catastrophe some may make it out to be. In fact, you can often avoid the real catastrophe by calling a stop. We discussed why and how to stop, demystifying and simplifying the process. By sharing numerous stories of show stops, this panel revealed how a little preparation and leadership is effective in easily and safely, stopping and restarting a show.
10. Spider-Man Calling Session – 2016
We mentioned Spider-Man before, but it was such a technically challenging show, that it’s worth mentioning again. Every year the Symposium has had a panel about show calling. For this one, three members of the 7 person stage management team broke down one of the most challenging sequences on Broadway ever, Spidey’s New York Debut. It was mind blowing watching the sequence and hearing the calls. An intricate dance or automated scenery, flying, lighting, with calls from numerous people all having to align. It was a master class in how organized and focused a sequence like this needs to be.
11. BONUS…. What’s a top 10 list without a number eleven, right? In preparing this list, I couldn’t forget this one…
Being A Production Assistant on Broadway – 2016
Beverley & Rico, had us laughing hard and thinking hard as they revealed what Broadway stage managers really need from their production assistants. We train stage managers, but no one trains you for being a PA, like what the actual tasks are and how to be exceptionally effective in that role. Since being a PA is a key step to becoming a Broadway stage manager, the insights they shared (and the hilarious anecdotes) were both informative and important. And no one who attended this year will forget the pencils or friend chicken stories!
After reviewing all these great sessions, I can’t wait to share with you what is cooking up for this year. Stage Management is such a complex, unique, and multifaceted profession, there are so many great topics for us to keep diving in to.
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