Greetings: Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rebekah Kanduth and I work at the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts. I know this is out of the blue, but I was wondering if you or any members of this forum would like to respond to a statement made to one of my stage management students that stage managers are not artists but rather only service persons who have no artistic value in the mounting of and calling of a show. The argument was that stage managers are told what to do and therefore have no artistic contributions to productions. They were told that the stage manager is not an artist and should not ever think of themselves as such. I would like to present them with a few different views on this subject and am hoping that you or some individuals in your organization may be able to assist me in responding to them. Thank you in advance for your time. Rebekah Kanduth email@example.com
Those kinds of statements make my blood boil a little. Whether a position is "artistic" or not can be argued back and forth. Is an actor less artistic because they read a script someone else has written, and the director tells them what to do? Is the director less artistic because they're just telling others what to do? Is the playwright less artistic because they're not dictating the way the play is performed?
IMHO, film and performing arts are collaborative art forms, where those kinds of condescending attitudes are immature and petty, not to mention destructive. In film, (and in my experience) positions like sound design or editing are labeled "crafts", rather than "arts". I don't think these distinctions matter at all because of the collaborative nature of the artform. You can tell a stage manager they're not part of the creative process all you want, but try running a play without one. It will fall apart like papier mache sculpture in the rain.
Interestingly, when you work with someone who's a master of their art (or craft?), they always seem to pay the appropriate respect to everyone they work with.
Rebekah, if you've ever worked through tech week with a really excellent stage manager to get timings right across all design disciplines, to find the groove where the SM reacts in real time to the actors' cues, and gives his/her cues to the ops just when they need to happen in order to make the show really soar, then you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the SM's job is as much a performance as the actors', and the SM is absolutely one of the artists on the show.
Truly, it depends on your definition of "artistic." I've worked professionally both as a stage manager and a designer, so I have seen both sides of this situation.
It is not the stage manager's place to exert creative influence over a production. Rather, it is their primary duty to make sure that the director and designer's concepts are executed effectively and consistently. With that in mind, it can be argued that the stage manager does not make an artistic contribution to the show. In an educational environment, it could be important to make that distinction clear in order to reinforce to the student stage managers that they should not make changes to the creative content of the show without the directive or at least the approval of the director and designers involved.
That distinction should not, however, serve to limit the importance of the SM's contribution to the show. It is indeed a performance in-and-of itself. A well-called show, where the cueing is tight, is a beauty to behold. Conversely, a poor stage manager can sink an otherwise well designed and implemented production. A keen sense of flow and timing is key, as is a cool head and a clear mind. The SM is the linchpin of the production; the pivot about which the story spins.
The SM's role is not to "create art" but to "facilitate art." That does not make them any less creative a person, or their contributions any less valuable. Even though we say that there is an "art" to good tight cueing, and that there is an "art" to managing the varying temperaments of designers, directors, and actors; in truth those are highly developed skills.
I have very limited stage experience, but I can definitely relate this to the film field. As I've begun working more and more in film, and meeting more people in the industry, I find myself being called a "technical" a lot. Same with visual fx people.
I guess what bothers me is that when they say that, it puts us on par, in my mind, with lab techs and engineers - bringing to mind connotations of a person that operates equipment and contributes nothing creatively.
Yet meanwhile, a producer (who very well could have been the one that only secured craft services) is considered a creative? And, correct me if I'm wrong here, but wouldn't they be receiving residuals?
That point I'm not certain of. But it has occurred to me that some actors I know had small parts on an episode or two of a popular series - and they occasionally receive checks in the mail. Good on them, of course, but they're receiving that stuff for one day's work. I'm not against being paid, but when you consider that the people in post and the "technicals" in production probably spent wayyy more hours...seems kind of backwards.