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The Easy Choice

Previously on this blog I have advocated for the consideration of stage managers as theatre artists, citing our creative sensibilities in communicating notes from the rehearsal room, and the influence we can have on the execution of the design elements in a production. I truly believe this, and recognize in myself my own capacity for artistry. (Duh, that’s why I ended up in art school after all.)

Yet there have been moments this semester, specifically when discussing The State Of The American Theatre (a topic that is usually on the table in my Dramaturgy and Scene Design classes), when I have shied away from the categorization of artist and instead subliminally relegated myself to the safety and simplicity of being a technician. After all, I have always been able to find something I truly love, respect, and enjoy about each of the various shows I have worked on. And while I have stage managed theatre, opera, and dance, I currently can’t say I prefer one (or even two) of those styles above others. If I could theoretically enjoy something about, and learn something from, working anywhere, why should I bother worrying about the betterment of the American theatre?

Obviously to navigate and exist within the system is the safe and easy option. But I recognize that it is also naive, and not to mention, irresponsible. Because the issues that we have been discussing this semester in classes – most notably the role of money in the theatre, the impact of the commercial realm, the challenges faced by playwrights in new play production, and the question of why our work matters to our audiences now – transcend the categorization of roles and departments in theatre and challenge our very ability to continue doing the work we love.

As an example, in Dramaturgy we read Outrageous Fortune by Todd London and Ben Pesner. One of the most distressing parts of the report was the second chapter, which detailed how near-impossible it is for playwrights to make a living writing plays. As a stage manager, I personally do not know any unmarried SMs working in Boston who make their living just with their current show. Most have full time or day jobs, and others supplement with part time hourly work. I myself halfheartedly fear I’ll be a Starbucks slave for the rest of my life – I’ve told my mom several times that my only dream when I grow up is to work one job at a time. The issues we discussed in Outrageous Fortune are not playwrights’ issues, they are theatre issues. Not being able to survive doing our work is a problem we must address as a community.

More broadly, the necessity and relevance of our work is an essential interrogation for all of us working in theatre – stage manager, electrician, director, actor. As many of us have continually discussed on this blog, if we do not create messages that matter to our community, why are we even here? And practically, if our work doesn’t matter, no one will attend no money will come in, and it will be literally impossible for us to have a career in the theatre.

I think the most important realization is not that I am an artist versus a technician, but rather that I am an active member of this community. The choices made about the American theatre directly affect me, and I have the power to directly affect those choices – if I choose to engage in the conversation. This is my official self-charge to stop indulging the impossible notion, “But I’m a stage manager. I could make a career anywhere.” I am committed to a career in the theatre and therefore I am committed to the future of the theatre.

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