I fell into Stage Management, I was 22 years old with no plan, I had a degree that prepared you for nothing (back when you just needed a degree and didn’t have to worry about the debt). I was working little bit jobs, and not thinking about the future when a man I respected very much asked me to be an ASM and I remember thinking I have NO CLUE what that is but he thought I could do it and I trusted him. I thought at the very least it would kill 6 months; I ended up with a career.
I was right I didn’t have a clue, I learnt from many, many mistakes and from many, many patient people. I still don’t have a clue but I’ve got better at hiding it, plus I find smiling really helps.
Now 15 years later I’m falling out of it again. I’m down to my last week of shows, 9 performances, and I know that if I don’t write this now, I may not ever because I figure before the week is out I’ll be ugly crying and trying to take it all back because theatre is the most wonderful safety blanket, filled with the most wonderful people, many of whom, I count as my friends. I will be bereft but new adventures loom and it’s my time to go.
Being a stage manager is an odd thing to do, to want to do. In a nutshell we are the people who enable the people who work at inhabiting other people, in other worlds; we manage the story tellers, the dreamers and that is a hard line to tread.
You are introduced to a group of people on the first day of rehearsals and for the next month, 3 months, 6 months or year, they are your people, your family – sure you might not like them all but you’ll fight like hell to protect them.
As a breed we are are often perceived as officious or jobsworths, spoilers of the fun but I’d say 98% of us aren’t that way inclined. Stage Managers live and breath theatre, they care just as deeply about making a production work, they battle a hundred little wars to get to Press Night just the same as anyone else on the production. It’s just we work in the shadows, our job is not to be seen and so we’re a little strange.
But if you choose to work in this industry, at this time, I think you have to be a little strange. We are all misfit toys trying to make sense of this nonsensical world by story telling. That’s not something everyone chooses to do. You have to be tough to stick at it in a world that values money and power. In a world of cuts, where healthcare or schools or social housing or helping people across the globe has become the impossible either or situation; it takes brave, tough and pretty strange folk to stand up and say Art matters too, these stories matter and the way we tell them matter.
I feel I’m leaving my comrades at the worst possible time, there is less money but so much more need for theatre; whether as a distraction from the world or as a mirror to hold up to it. We theatre folk help to heal the rifts, shine a light on the the ugly, make things that are painful, beautiful or at least bearable and some times we just make you laugh until you think you might be sick. I am so sad to be leaving but I hope I’ll support those who remain in different ways.
I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times in theatres watching performances and working on them. I wrote my mother’s eulogy during a Dress Rehearsal, I had an Opening Night the day of her funeral, I worked up until my operation when I got cancer and I came back as quick as I could. Nobody made me do these things, I chose to because theatre has a funny way of saving your life. It’s never just been a job for me, it has been a heart and soul commitment; and it has been such an amazing ride but as such, it has meant other things have had to be sacrificed.
I had a lot of time to think about it a while back and for me, Stage Management is a younger persons game. I’m sure others wouldn’t get jaded or could make the work/life balance work but I am an all or nothing kinda gal and for now, for this moment at least, I need to step out of the shadows and peer at the world from a different angle.
But in this crazy, unpredictable world, in a year where it feels anything could happen (and only 45% percent of it good) my money is on the story tellers and the enablers of the story tellers because they are my people, my loves, my family and they do wonderful things.
Thank you to those who have made the last 15 years so very, very interesting; who have held my hand in the toughest of times and shared the happiest moments. I have so many amazing memories.
With Love Polly, stage manager no more.
Loop Massage, coming soon.