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I Am “They”: Hallway Talk From Performers

By Mary Barnett

“Ugh, why are they making us rehearse this again?”

“I can’t believe I have to come in early to train this act, they’re just wasting my time.”

“Don’t they know that I don’t even do this in the show?”

Hearing these words filter from the hallway into my office forces me to remember the few mindfulness techniques I’ve learned – deep breath, then focus on the breath leaving my body.  Repeat.  I truly love my performers and crew, and much like the love I feel for my own 2 children – sometimes I want to strangle them.  So, I take another deep breath and focus on the breath leaving my body.

On any show, the schedule is paramount to enabling smooth operations.  Having stage managed both short and long-running shows, I can confidently say that the longer a show runs, the more important the schedule becomes.

There’s just more “stuff” to consider, beyond the immediacy of putting on a show that night.  Many people are involved in composing each schedule.  In my workplace, our weekly schedule meetings are attended by myself, 3 Dance/Acrobatic Coaches, 3 Artist Coaches, 1 Child Artist Coordinator, 1 Wardrobe Supervisor, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Essential input is also separately provided by Technical Heads, Performance Medicine, and our Artistic Director.  Two drafts are written, distributed, and edited.  When the finalized schedule gets emailed out to all of our performers and crew, it’s only my name in the “From” line.  When we post the paper copies of the schedule backstage, it’s me or another member of the stage management team.  Since we’re the final point in the distribution process, Stage Management becomes “They.”

The factors that go into a typical schedule for a long-running show are numerous and varied:

  • Rehearsals for new performers not yet in the show.
  • Rehearsals for performers already in the show.
  • Rehearsals that require show crew support can’t start before a certain time without incurring overtime.
  • The order of rehearsals often depends on the scenic and technical set-up, and the number of performers involved.
  • Rehearsals need to end at a certain time to allow the technical team to properly set up for shows that night.
  • Scheduling conflicts of the Coaches and Artistic Director often dictate what can be scheduled and when.
  • In addition to rehearsals on stage or in the training room/rehearsal studio, we also schedule costume fittings, harness fittings, meetings, PR events, and everything in between. All while trying (sometimes in vain) to not schedule somebody in 2 places at once.

It’s not the job of my performers to understand how the schedule is prepared, just like it’s not my job to fold my body in half and hang 20 feet in the air from a rope that I somehow cling to with my toes.

But context can go a long way.  So I’ll continue to assess if complaints about the schedule are a passing moment of venting frustration, or if context needs to be given to expand the bubble we all like to inhabit.

And I realize it’s pretty egotistical to think of only myself as “they,” since there are so many people that work together to create each schedule. But it is part of my job to field the (usually) valid questions and complaints, so I’ll take them while I breathe deeply, and focus on the breath leaving my body. Repeat.

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