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Useful Things To Do in your Downtime as a Stage Manager

downtime as a stage manager
By Melissa Bondar

I feel a lot of stage managers are Type A folks. I know I am. I have a strong desire to go-go-go and I really like structure. Even at the end of a contract or gig where I feel totally burnt out – total burn out lasts approximately one to two weeks for me before I start getting antsy to do something. Often I want to do something useful in my downtime as a stage manager.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love that week or two of being a slug and just shuffling aimlessly around my house, binge watching TV and catching up with friends when they’re free, but eventually, I need a little more structure.

I also feel better about life when I’m working towards goals.

One thing I’ve found a little frustrating is that it can be hard to build useful skills in a concrete way during layoffs. I mean, if you look up “what skills will help you as a stage manager?” you get a lot of be organized, stay calm, have a keen eye for details, be patient.

Last time I checked, I couldn’t shell out $100 for a clear cut class on how to improve my patience in a way that helped me out as a stage manager (hmmmm, now that I think of it… future side hustle though, maybe?), but there are a lot of tangible skills you can invest in to help improve your SM game.

I also polled the awesome Stage Managers Facebook group and threw the question out on my Twitter account and got some great feedback from a lot of other stage managers.

First Aid Training


Hands down, top of the list, unanimously, the Facebook group, Twitter folk and I agree that if you don’t have CPR and First Aid training, that should be top of your list.

Over the years, I’ve done most of my training with the Red Cross; however, I did work for two different companies over the years who brought in trainers to certify/re-certify all of us too.

One awesome suggestion from one of the ladies in the Facebook group was to take Wilderness Classes through REI, these are two day training sessions where you actually practice all the skills that you just sit in a classroom and learn during the Red Cross trainings. I can’t vouch for them myself yet, but I now have it on my to-do list for this winter.

Fire Guard Certification


For NYC stage managers, you can study for a Fire Guard certification. There are two types of Fire Guard certifications commonly issued for folks working in theater. The F-03 is for permanent buildings (like theaters) and will print the theater you are certified to Fire Guard on your card. The F-04 is for temporary places of assembly and can be used throughout New York City. Both tests require a letter of recommendation to take the test from your employer, but there’s no reason your employer shouldn’t want to give you one – especially if you plan on paying the $25 fee yourself.


Certificate of Fitness for Flame Retardant Treatment


Additionally, if you are NYC based and planning to get your Fire Guard certification (or already have it), you can do a little extra studying and also take the test to be able to certify things as flame retardant. This also needs a letter of recommendation from your employer.

Pyrotechnics


As someone who has been super interested in getting into pyrotechnics for about ten years, this isn’t an easy certification to pick up (and considering the pile of safety concerns around pyrotechnics, it probably shouldn’t be). There are some groups like the Pyrotechnics Guild International, Entertainment Fireworks, Inc., Pyrotechnico, and Fireworks by Grucci that offer trainings sporadically throughout the year. Generally, the challenge is to find one anywhere near you that you are actually free to attend.

Defensive Driving Courses


A lot of touring jobs, especially when you’re starting out, will require some element of driving – whether it’s a fifteen passenger van, a box truck or any other number of vehicles on the company insurance, it doesn’t hurt to have a defensive driving class on your resume.

There are all sorts of defensive driving courses online and as an added bonus, you’ll be able to apply them to your own insurance as well. Personally, I’ve taken the idrivesafely course twice over the years and both times it knocked enough off my personal insurance rate to be worth the price of the course. Just double check with your state’s DMV to make sure you’re taking an approved course.

Additionally, if you live near a Penske rental office, they sometimes hold training classes for box truck driving and DOT related rules. If you stop by and ask, they may be able to tell you the next time they’re doing one. If you work for a company that leases Penske trucks, your lease includes partnership deals with Smith Systems, a driver training company that could be worth looking into.

OSHA Training


A perfect example of some training you can tackle during a layoff or in between contracts, you can do all your OSHA training online. A lot of larger companies will be happy to see you have an OSHA 10 card, which is 10 hours of safety and occupational hazard training. If you plan to be supervisor or department head, you may even want to commit to the OSHA 30 (which is probably the most boring thing I have ever done, but at least they don’t expire).

You may find, as a stage manager, that a lot of the training in the OSHA 30 is not relevant to you (hopefully you’re not doing a lot with machine guarding or designing safe working layouts of factories or welding in confined spaces) but there’s also a lot of topics that are including PPE, blood borne pathogens, electrical safety, lock out/tag out, and even ergonomics.

Reading Music


To be honest, I lucked out a little here by growing up in a house where I was forced to play an instrument. Fun fact though, if you don’t use skills, you do start to lose them. I always took for granted that I could read music “fluently” until I did an opera two years ago and nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to read the piano score on the first day. I hadn’t actually had to read much music in about eight years and that was definitely trial by fire. I made it through by spending the first few nights lurking down in the communal basement, plunking my way through the melody with the world’s worst piano playing skills.

That experience in sheer terror has provoked me to take some music lessons during my next few months off.

If you can already read music and you’re from the UK, there are some great certificates for SMs in Cueing to Music and Orchestral Stage Management. In the US, we don’t really have courses like that, but you can brush up on Music Theory at your local community college or take music lessons in your hometown.

Stage Combat


If you work on shows that often include stage combat (cough, cough Shakespeare), you can get an edge on the competition with some stage combat training. There is (an expensive) two week long program hosted by The Society of American Fight Directors that covers a wide array of stage combat training. There are also several cheaper options offered via workshops through local stage combat training companies like Swordplay, Jared Kirby, and the Academy of Theatrical Combat.

Psychology


While you probably don’t have time to get a psychology degree during a layoff, there are a lot of great books you can read that will help you get a better grip on the people you’re working with.

The top two I recommend are:

The Art of Speed Reading People by Paul D. Tieger
Please Understand Me by David Keirsey

Notary Public


One of the unexpected things I’ve done that I use a lot was becoming a notary. While I doubt anyone will hire because I am one, it has come in handy. The National Notary Association lists the requirements to become a notary in every state – they vary pretty widely.

California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania all require training before becoming a notary. I highly recommend you take a class before becoming a notary even if it’s not required. Your county clerk can often tell you when there will be a notary class or you can find training online. It doesn’t take long – three to six hours – but you really want to make sure you’re not messing up people’s legal documents before you start notarizing them.

What other training have you done as a Stage Manager that’s helped you?


Published in Collaboration with brokeGIRLrich

brokegirlrich TheatreArtLife

Also on by Melissa Bondar:

10 Things To Know Before Starting A Stage Management Career

Burnout in the Arts: A Millennial Perspective

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