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Stage Managers: How To Deal With Stress

By Broadway Stage Management Symposium

We are already aware that as a stage manager, stress comes with the job. Everyone in the creative & production process is relying on you to know and communicate everyone’s needs and notes. You are the person responsible for everything, but have control over nothing. Read on for 7 ways we stage managers can deal with this stress.

Are the design deadlines met? Are the actors on time? Did the props arrive for rehearsal? Did someone forget their fitting? Does the costume not fit? Is the lighting designer not moving fast enough? Do the actors not know their lines? Did the sound person miss a pick up?

And what do you do with all that stress and pressure? Stay up all night typing notes and sending reminder emails, pulling your hair out, yelling at the PAs, being grumpy throughout tech, skipping meals to update paperwork?

A better you is a better stage manager for the show, so let’s remind ourselves of some simple ways we can de-stress with an eye towards how these tips can work for stage managers.

1. Sleep

Easy to say, but not so easy to do, right? After rehearsals, it’s clean up, type up reports and respond to the million emails. You have to stop at some point. AEA rules say that stage managers needs at least an eight hour rest period. That is time spent NOT working. If you need to, set an away message on your email and go to sleep! You’ll be worse off the next day or the next, if you deprive yourself of needed rest. You can also try to take a nap on a break. I’ve actually spent time napping under my desk in the stage management office when a few winks were needed during really long days.

2. Exercise

You don’t need to spend hours at the gym, who has time for that, but taking the stairs instead of the elevator works or a quick jog around the theatre will do wonders to elevate your mood and give you an endorphin boost. You can do a few push ups in the wings (I’ve built whole workouts into my backstage track before) or plie’s at the call desk. Resistance bands can be used for strengthening too and a good stretch is also helpful. Just bending down and touching your toes for a minute between calling cues is beneficial. A few minutes well spent will help you remain calm and focused. Taking care of your body is taking care of your mind.

3. Relax

Taking a long slow breath and gently releasing it is the simplest and best thing you can sometimes do. Oxygen is needed for your brain and this minute “pause” is a simple technique that can help you reset and be able to tackle a new or challenging task. However, if you like meditation or yoga, those things are wonderful, but they take time. Can you do a couple “sun salutations” first thing in the morning, great! But if not, even a few minutes of chilling on the couch listening to your favorite song, can provide a needed respite. For me personally, I like a hot bath, so I try to take one when especially stressed. I can even read, listen to the news or chat on the phone at the same time if needed. A stage manager knows how to multitask!

4. Be social

We are social beings, so it’s okay to go out and have a drink, grab lunch with a friend or talk on the phone with a buddy. It has the added bonus of giving you someone to talk about your stresses and sometimes, just getting them out helps. Caution: don’t fall down the rabbit hole of Facebook for hours or letting that one drink grow into multiples. Give yourself a designated time and stick to it. That leads us right into….

5. Time management

There are only so many hours in the day, you can’t and won’t be able to get to everything. Therefore, it’s about prioritizing. What is most important, do that first. Now what is most important, do that second, etc, etc… You will get to it all, but in time. In the end, it’s better to do all these things properly, than have to do them all again. The trick here is to keep expectations realistic, for you and the people who need all these tasks done. Let people know that “I’ll get to it as soon as I can.” And ask “When exactly does this task have to be completed?” Those are the things that will help you manage your time and others’ expectations of them.

6. Write it down

But you already do that… you’re a stage manager! But not just taking notes and keeping lists, which is very important. I’m talking about writing down your feelings and stresses on you. Like talking to a good friend, this gets those feelings out in a healthy, productive way. Just two minutes before bed writing down your personal thoughts, can clear your head for a more restful sleep and less stressed you.

7. Ask for help

As a stage manager, learning to delegate is a huge asset. You can’t and shouldn’t have to do it all. Use your assistants, let them help you, they want to! Really! I’ve been an ASM and PSM on Broadway, so from both sides of that relationship it’s important to distribute tasks effectively. It makes you more productive, effective and less stressed. You are a team, so be a team! If there is still too much to do, maybe you need another team member?

Talk to the producers about getting another temporary ASM or PA. There are plenty of stage managers who need work. If there is no money for that, still reach out. We are a community and a day or a few hours is not too much to ask of a colleague to help during tech or taping a floor, etc…. Perhaps an intern would be good or someone who wants to break into the business. Bartering may also work… “I’ll help you put your spikes down for your show, if you help me on mine, ok?” Don’t be afraid to reach out and sound the alarm bell when needed.

In the end, stress is a killer, literally and figuratively. It affects your mind and body making you less productive and hurting you and your show.

Find the ways that help you de-stress and implement them into your rehearsal, tech and run of show process and ultimately into your lives. A relaxed stage manager is cool, calm, clear headed, can handle any challenge and inspires the same in their company.

Stage Managers, read also:

6 Reasons Stage Managers Don’t Get A Tony Award

Let’s Talk: World Mental Health Day

Published in cooperation with the Broadway Stage Management Symposium
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