This July marked my fifth year in the industry, having graduated from drama school in 2014.
I am pretty proud of myself, as I’ve worked hard and met amazing people but, most importantly, I’ve managed to keep my head above water in those first founding, embryonic years while I figured out who I was as a stage manager.
Your early 20s are a bit of a mad scramble, whatever you’re doing with your life, but I was lucky to spend mine in a world full of love, excitement and opportunities.
A few weeks after this exhilarating anniversary, I started a new rehearsal process and was back working with a company manager – a friend of mine – who was creeping his way up to 35 years in the industry.
My achievement somewhat paled in comparison. But it made me think about my time so far, and more importantly, if I was making enough room for the people who graduated this July, will be graduating next July, and so on.
I am where I am in my career partly because of a lot of hard work and some unpleasant sacrifices, but mostly because the people above me weren’t pulling the ladder away. I was lucky to meet a few people who not only left the ladder safely within my reach, but were willing to foot it for me as I started my tentative climb.
I can trace my career back to a voicemail I received three and a half months after I graduated. It was a stage manager looking for an intern assistant stage manager for a two-week workshop of a new musical.
The stage manager was a complete stranger to me. How did she get my number? A friend from my year at drama school had been offered the job, but he was about to start a new contract and wasn’t available. He suggested my name.
She called me and I turned up on the first day to a room full of new faces. In that two-week workshop, I met producers and directors who I worked with again. Through those projects I met company managers who would bring me along on their next job. Suddenly I’m five years down the line, having worked with hundreds of people on dozens of shows in several countries.
And this all came from a friend at drama school giving my number to a stage manager I didn’t know.
So much pressure is put on recent graduates to network like crazy, to appear funny and hardworking, and leave a lasting impression without seeming too pushy. Show an interest in the other person’s work but don’t sound like you’ve been stalking their career history on LinkedIn.
However, I think it is equally important to put the onus on people who are established – the people who have the all-important connections and expertise.
We have a responsibility to the people who will one day replace us.
There’s plenty of room at the table, so the least we can do is make sure there are a few empty chairs.
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson