Working Through The Holidays? 5 Ways To Make It Special at Work
The holidays this year made me reflective. The holiday season is about peace & joy, light & hope and is when most “normal” people visit with their friends and family. Schools take extended breaks and businesses shut down early all to allow people the opportunity to enjoy the holidays with family. There is a reason the days around Thanksgiving and Christmas are literally the busiest travel days of the year.
However, if you work in the theatre, odds are that you are working through the holidays, providing entertainment for everyone else on vacation enjoying their break. We help create the shows that people love, as evidenced by the traditional recurring holiday favs; A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The theatre biz doesn’t allow us the luxury of down time during the holidays. In fact, it’s the opposite! Many Broadway shows don’t allow personal days or vacations during the holiday weeks, and we sometimes do an extra show as well! So now you’re working even more during the holidays!
We work in the theatre because we love it and are blessed to be doing what we love. In the business we know this feeling well, as the song “What I Did For Love” beautifully articulates. There are things that we can do as stage managers, however, to create that “holiday” feeling for our company and make it an enjoyable time.
#1 – Find a way to allow some time off
Instead of banning vacations or personal days to protect the show, if you can create adequate coverage, you can give someone some time off. On a long running show, once the Summer hits, think about the holidays. You can do a raffle or have a contest to see which company member can take the holiday week off. You can’t do it for everyone, but you could do it for one or two. This way, you embrace the feeling of giving, by giving the most precious gift of all, time.
#2 – Celebrate at work with your show family
Since we are with our theatre family more than our biological family, embrace the holidays at work too. Many actors, stage hands and stage managers get into the spirit this way. Decorating the callboard is a welcoming touch for everyone in the company. The stage managers at Come From Away even decorated their calling desk. The stage hands at the Van Wezel in Sarasota made a holiday display backstage with tree, Santa and all! Everyone can get into the act here from musicians in the pit to dressers and everyone in between. These little touches envelope the building in the holiday spirit.
#3 – Create special moments at the theatre
If you have performances on Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can do like they do at Radio City and have a meal brought in and invite company members’ families to join. Not able to be home to light the candles for Hannukah? At Phantom we “lit” a chalk menorah that was drawn on the back of the flats. I’ve even punted for Passover and the High Holidays before: we did a between shows Seder at Fiddler and I broke fast at the Edison Diner. When we were out of town with The Little Mermaid in Denver, Disney had a July 4th Barbeque for the company and families.
#4 – Contests, Fun and Games!
Secret Santas are a wonderful tradition that allows the whole company to get into the gift giving spirit. And those who don’t participate directly can be elves and help with the giving! The final gift exchange can be between shows and food too. During Halloween, The Lion King company decorates their dressing rooms and allows all show kids to come and trick or treat backstage. Some do an ugly holiday sweater contest or a holiday themed drink night or SNOB (Saturday Night On Broadway). It’s another way to ratchet up the joy quotient at work.
#5 – Keep up the Empathy
Especially as a stage manager, it’s more important than ever to be empathetic during this time of year. The holidays (and specifically, working during the holidays) can bring up lots of emotions for people, some good and some more challenging. By continuing to be aware of how holiday feelings manifest, we can manage the company in a compassionate, understanding and festive way all at the same time.
I hope you all enjoyed your holidays and that the new year is off to a great start. Next time around, remember that you can make the holidays special in many different and special ways and you, your company and the show will benefit!
That’s the wonderful added benefit, by putting in the effort, you are building company morale! And it’s not just during Christmas time that you can implement these things. How about a rose for moms for Mother’s day, shamrocks on the callboard for St. Patrick’s Day, gift exchange for Valentine’s Day, etc.. etc… all these touches create meaningful, joyous moments backstage and is what builds a sense of togetherness and a positive work experience, aka morale.
Building and maintaining morale is an important job of the stage manager. It’s not just calling cues and making schedules, it’s leading, and part of that is, as Sondheim wrote, “the little things you do together.”
Happy New Year and enjoy all your special moments!