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Katie Jackson: Applying the art of diplomacy is all part and parcel of a stage manager’s job

Photo: Vladimir Gramagin/Shutterstock
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As a deputy stage manager, you often have to play diplomat. You are the contact point between everyone inside the rehearsal room and all other elements of the production, both creative and practical, outside the room. The job often requires tact and an unbiased approach to problem-solving. So what happens when tensions exist between  the cast and the director?

If you’re lucky enough to have a  four-week rehearsal process, which is becoming increasingly rare in the current economic climate, then you are dedicated to nearly a month of working intimately with a group of people in one small room. Usually,  this isn’t a problem – most people have the sense to leave their egos at the door and  focus on the work at hand. But sometimes,  the process isn’t as simple as that.

Personalities clash. You have to be quite a specific type of person to work in theatre, but there are always variations on the theme. You can’t expect to seamlessly co-exist with everyone you work with over the course of your career. But as the deputy stage manager, your function in the rehearsal room is fairly mechanical. You’re there to serve a purpose and support the production, not add to the creative integrity of the piece, so you can  stay emotionally detached from the project more easily.

However, occasionally you will be put in  the position of playing intermediary. It feels  like being between a rock and a hard place, as you want to support the emotional needs of your actors while staying impartial and professional in your approach towards  your director.

I have worked with directors who have sometimes failed to treat me as a respected professional, and instead as their personal valet

Of course, this is not always easy. I have worked with directors who have sometimes failed to treat me as a respected professional, and instead as their personal valet.

I don’t mind getting you a sandwich from Sainsbury’s if I’m going there myself, but I’m not hired to be your errand girl. Unfortunately, that’s not a distinction all directors make. I have been put in positions that have made me feel more than a little underappreciated. And when you are working with a director who doesn’t always value their stage manager, it’s likely that they don’t value their actors very much either.

What do you do when a cast member comes to you in floods of tears saying that  they don’t feel the director is providing them with what they need to do a good job? Or, an actor says that they’re worried about their scene because the director hasn’t given enough time to it and they feel deeply insecure and not confident in their ability to perform?  Or maybe they feel that the director just doesn’t like them?

Regardless of your own relationship with the director, you are not there to take sides or make friends. You must comfort your actor and reassure them as far as you feel it is appropriate to, but the bottom line is, it is their discussion to have with the director, and you must not show an alliance either way.

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