One of the central elements of stage management is communication. We are tasked with circulating information to everyone involved in a production. Oftentimes, we keep distribution lists, existing solely to organize which person gets what information. Everyone receives the daily call, the production team gets the rehearsal reports, line notes are sent individually, and so on. Efficient communication can make the difference between a well-organized process and one filled with contention.
Naturally, stage managers tend to be effective communicators. We send the information clearly, with ample notice, but we have no control over our team internalizing said information. People regularly claim that they did not receive a note, even when there is an obvious paper trail. It is extremely frustrating, as it makes stage managers feel that the hours they spend on scheduling and note-taking are unappreciated, and worse, fruitless.
Last year, I stage managed a reading at my local theatre. One short, simple exchange has stuck with me ever since. An actor arrived in the rehearsal room on the first day and immediately asked another actor, “How did you know where the rehearsal was?” The other actor replied, matter-of-factly, “I read the email.” That response was perfect. Those four words confirmed that I had done my job – sending the information. The actor’s confusion was not my fault.
Nevertheless, the actor did have a hard time and I never want that to be the case. I am always seeking ways to better my communication so that everyone obtains the necessary information.
My most effective strategy, although quite time consuming, is tailoring communication to each team member that struggles with my normal methods.
I always send the entire cast the next rehearsal’s call, but if I know that one actor does not check their email on a daily basis, I’ll remind them of their specific call time in person. If there is a sudden change, I may call or text that actor to make sure they know about the adjustment. While the majority of the production team will assimilate to my standard communications, there are always outliers that need extra help. Sometimes sending additional notes feels like rewarding or reinforcing bad behavior, but I do it for the entire group, not the specific person. In theatre, if someone is absent, it affects everyone.
As time goes on, communication continues to change. I recently mentored stage managers at a community college and found that they primarily contacted their cast via text message and social media. I suggested trying email, to boost formality and to save time, but after several attempts, the majority of the young cast was completely unwilling to adapt. Frustrating as it was, the stage managers reverted back to personal messages in order to ensure that everyone got the information they needed. With so many methods of communication, and such varying personalities, preferences, and access, a stage manager has to be familiar with a wide array of options.
No communication method should be instantly discounted – there is good and bad to all.
The stage manager’s task to communicate goes far beyond clicking ‘send’ once or twice a day. We work to ensure that information is not only sent, but properly received. This takes time, intuition, and, most importantly, the desire to learn and improve.