How Do Stage Managers Market Their Skills Outside the Theatre Industry?
A career in the performing arts industry is difficult in the best of times, but these days it is exponentially scarier. Companies continue to cancel performances, some even the entirety of next season, lay off employees, and scramble to find alternative ways to reach audiences. If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to come up with a Plan B, C and D as the immediate future of our industry continues to be so perilous.
In attempting to come up with back up plans to my back up plans, one of the major roadblocks has been – how do I market myself to anyone outside of theatre? Even though I’ve been stage managing for almost ten years – I still find it difficult to explain what I do to people who have no exposure to or understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of a live performance.
As stage managers, our skills are ones not easily learned and highly sought after across all areas of the workforce – things like juggling multiple projects simultaneously, understanding and upholding contract regulations, adaptability and flexibility in constantly changing environments, emotional intelligence, relationship building, creativity, the ability to make quick, informed decisions, active listening skills, the ability to foresee problems and solve them preemptively – the list goes on.
But – how to best market and articulate these skills to potential employers who don’t understand our degrees and entire work histories?
To try and help answer this question, in addition to my own research and resumé-building, I reached out to some former stage managers who have successfully transitioned into other fields and asked their advice. First though, here is what Rachel Arditi said about making the transition:
“Making the leap to leave the industry was the scariest thing I have ever done. For starters, I had been in this incredibly creative bubble and network for so long that I did not really have any idea what existed beyond. Secondly, I did not know how to market myself and articulate my skillset to people outside of the industry as that common “vocabulary” and “understanding” were now gone.”
–Rachel Arditi, former stage manager and current Research Operations Manager for a biopharmaceutical company
So right off the bat – know that you are not alone in being terrified of making a career change if that’s something you’re thinking about. It is incredibly daunting.
When it comes to the tangible ways to market our skills, here are some things these former stage managers found helpful:
Tailoring your resumé or LinkedIn profile and using the correct vocabulary
One of the first things to figure out is who your audience is. To whom are you telling the story of your rich work history and experience? No matter who they are or what they’re looking for, there is a way to draw a direct correlation between the skills we’ve finessed over time as stage managers and what that person needs – but we have to speak their language while doing so.
Someone outside of the theatre industry may not understand what is entailed when we talk about attending rehearsals, tech week, creating run sheets, or calling a show. But they will likely understand things like managing a large-scale project and being the primary channel of communication between multiple departments – which requires time management, people management, organization, communication, and understanding how different pieces of a puzzle fit together to make a whole. We know that one seemingly small change in one department could drastically affect another, and we’re able to communicate that information and facilitate any further conversations that need to take place – all while meticulously documenting the process!
“First off, I would suggest that people spend some time looking at “normal” resumés. There is specific wording that is more often used in the corporate world than in theater. So, you want to adapt your resumé and start using that verbiage. I think we tend to think some of our skills aren’t relatable but they totally are! You want to talk about your soft skills vs. your hard skills. Theater really adapts both of these because you had to do so much hands on as well as people management. If you break your job down into hard and soft skills I think it gives you the words to discuss them better.”
–Clare Jaymes, former stage manager and current Development Events Manager
“I mostly focused on explaining the aspects of time management and organization that are integral to the field. These are especially useful skills to have for someone who is interested in working as an independent contractor or in any field that has strict deadlines. These were things specific to my lines of (new) work (i.e. transcription and proofreading), but I would also mention having a thorough knowledge of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, being able to creatively problem solve, and having a good ear for different accents and languages.”
–Carli Kerr, former stage manager and current freelance Transcriptionist and Proofreader
“Before leaving stage management, I spent significant time tailoring and formatting my resumé to look and read more like the business industry. I tried to tie my work as a stage manager to that of a project manager or coordinator using descriptors from those fields. I highlighted skills such as: supervising and managing teams, accounting and payroll tracking (when applicable), negotiation of contracts and unions costs (when applicable), handling confidential personnel and financial information, creating and managing project schedules and timelines, etc.”
Don’t be afraid to utilize career professionals and tools, or ask for help
When I spoke with Rachel, she told me about using a recruiter as well as a career coach when she made her career transition. I have since hired that same career coach, and am learning a lot about my strengths, skills, and values – all of which are helping me to have a more clear understanding of where I may want my career to go from here, as well as find that vocabulary to connect with potential employers. These kinds of tools and professionals will know how to help you find your target roles or employers and be a competitive applicant.
“I had many people outside of the arts industry look at my resumé and provide feedback; among which was a fabulous recruiter who helped me land my first post-industry job that I am still in today.”
Don’t underestimate your abilities or experience
I fall into this trap often – thinking that no one outside the performing arts will understand or appreciate my career and what I can bring to the table. However, the more I learn how to describe my skills without using theatre terms, the more I realize how incredibly valuable they are. Soft skills such as emotional intelligence, communication and relationship building are difficult to learn – but we as stage managers can do these things without thinking twice, and whatever hard skills are necessary for our career change can be easily learned.
“The other thing I would say to someone leaving the industry, is to not downplay this incredible career and experience you have had. It makes you unique, allows you to bring a different perspective to the table, and will help you to think creatively to find solutions. Surprisingly, every interview I ever had with someone had some connection with the arts or music industry that they were excited to share and talk about.”
“If nothing else, having a background in any sort of theatre position is always an interesting conversation starter.”