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Interdisciplinary Theatre, Within the Theatre

It has long been established in my mind that Stage Managers are interdisciplinary artists. (This is the reason why it’s so difficult to explain in a sentence what we do.)

The Boston University curriculum for Stage Management (at least from 2011 onward, since I have been a student) encompasses very few technical Stage Management classes. By the time I graduate, I will have taken four SM Skills classes total. The rest of our curriculum consists of acting and Theatre Ensemble classes, voice and speech, directing, stage combat, design classes, production management class, and more. In general, Stage Managers at BU learn as much as we possibly can about what our collaborators are doing – from actors to directors, designers, production staff, choreographers, and so on.

In order to see and understand all the moving parts as well as the big-picture of the production as a whole, Stage Managers think about and plan for all of these other departments. What I had not realized (or perhaps, forgotten) is that the other departments do as well. They must!

This week in Scenic Design 1, we presented models we had made in groups that featured a found space in Boston where we would want to produce The Second Shepherd’s Play. Dutifully and dramaturgically, our group’s primary focus was the audience that would be receiving that play. Who would see it? What makeup of races, classes, genders, and ages would they be? Why might our message be important to them? We discussed these factors when presenting our model to the group. But our professor kept challenging us, what does your space have to offer the play? It’s not just a pretty backdrop. How would the play start? Where would you place the key moments? How would you stage this scene?

Our class only has one Scenic Design major in it, and is therefore, Design and Production-wise, largely comprised of very self-identified Costume and Lighting Designers, Stage Managers, and Technical Directors. And all of us were extremely resistent to the idea of puzzling out the staging of scenes in our found space. Without realizing it, we had indeed expected to give a director a pretty backdrop with some possibilities for interesting moments, and then walk away. We did not expect to have a voice in the composition of the staging of those moments. We were embarrassed to admit it, but the primary response in the room (myself included) was confusion and the question – “Isn’t that the director’s job?”

From the discussion that happened in response, I came to understand that Jim Noone (our professor) is all about eliminating the entire attitude of “not my job.” He firmly believes that all theatre collaborators have something valuable to offer that may not be within the specific “boundaries” (I imagine he may scoff even at the word) of their departments. He encouraged each of us to think of ourselves as holistic artists, who may have special skills and understanding in one department, but can instead of being trapped by them in our “area”, use those skills to illuminate possibilities of production and solve the play collaboratively.

Courtney, our TA, also informed us that it is just plain part of the scenic designer’s job to go through the physical beats of the script and come up with stage pictures. This was something none of us had even realized.

The attitude of “not my job” can sometimes be liberating. By knowing clearly where our responsibilities end and another person’s begins, we are free to focus on the tasks we have at hand and not stress that there is something being left unfinished. But often, when asked to perform a duty that lies outside of these perceived demarcations of “my job”, we are quick to respond with frustration and bitterness, or complain about being overworked or picking up another’s slack, without understanding why such involvement may be important. Through the “not my job” mentality we can quickly become, as Noone describes, cynical theatre slaves who execute a craft, but do not participate in the creation of art.By refusing to participate in other departments, I believe we lose sight of why we are working in the theatre in the first place (is there anything we love about the play we are doing?). We might all be much happier if we wholeheartedly embrace (and even enjoy) the parts of our jobs that seem outside of our jobs. Theatre is a collaboration, and therefore every role in the process is interdepartmental and interdisciplinary. This is essential to the creation of a cohesive production and a cohesive art.

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