August 2016

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August 2016

News & Notices

A Book Conceived at USITT

Cary Gillett and Jay Sheehan are production managers who live and work on opposite coasts, Gillett in the Washington, D.C. area and Sheehan in San Diego. When they met at USITT 2012 in Long Beach, CA, they were strangers in a common field. Today, they’re co-authors whose book, The Production Managers Toolkit, is just out from Routledge/Focal Press.

“As [USITT] does for many, it connected the two of us based on common interests,” they wrote in the book’s introduction. “We realized we have similar jobs at similar institutions and that we both had recently started teaching production management. We swapped syllabi, discussed teaching techniques, and then asked the age-old question, ‘What book do you use?’”

They continued their griping about the lack of texts for teaching production management a year later at USITT 2013 in Milwaukee. “We must have been pretty vocal … because one colleague told us to stop complaining and write the book ourselves,” they wrote. So they sketched out a table of contents, brought it to the Stage Expo floor, and pitched it to Focal Press.

The book is part of the Focal Press Toolkit Series which includes The Assistant Lighting Designers Toolkit by Anne E. McMills, The Stagehand’s Toolkit by Kristi Ross-Clausen, and The Stage Manager’s Toolkit by Laurie Kincman – all USITT members.

The new PM book fills a void about the field, whose practitioners usually come to it from stage management or technical direction without “starting out wanting to do this.” The authors define production management as, among other things, “the ability to make sure a project happens on time, on budget, safely, and in the end everyone is still speaking to each other.”

Their research included interviews with PMs “from all walks of life and all aspects of the performing arts.” Key advisors were USITT Board Member David Stewart, production manager at the Guthrie Theater, and USITT VP-Commissions Carolyn Satter, PM and facilities manager at the San Diego Theatres.

“My favorite part of the process was the interviews,” said Gillett, PM at the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. “We interviewed 53 people for this book. With each interview, I felt more connected to the amazing network of production managers in this country, and I felt like I became a better production manager because of their insight and wisdom.”

To collaborate across the country, they wrote the book in two parts – Hard and Soft Skills and Connecting It to the Work – and divvied up the chapters in each. Gillett started with the fifth chapter, Meetings, because “I knew exactly what I wanted to say and it took me about two hours to write.” Then she tackled Communication, and realized she needed to do research. “Each chapter took me longer to write … there were so many things that I did not know enough about initially, so I had to do research,” she said.

Sheehan, PM at the School of Theatre, Television and Film at San Diego State University, had the opposite experience, struggling at first to find the flow. “My first attempts were tangential and a little rough,” he said. “It was my husband that finally got me headed in the right direction, and the writing got better as we moved forward.”

“My favorite chapters to write were the Rock and Roll chapter and the Relationships chapter,” he said. “There are no books on rock and roll production management, so all my friends were eager and willing to be interviewed, and that’s a great feeling to have.”

Asked what’s in the book he didn’t learn in school, Sheehan said no one taught him about “life/school/work balance’” – the last chapter. “I also learned that I really began my relationship-building process while I was in college,” he said. “Some of my closest working vendors and clients today are from relationships begun 25 years ago.”

Gillett said nothing she learned in school made it into the book. “That’s kind of the reason we wrote it. No one taught us how to do this job. We hope this book can provide tools, tips, and inspiration for future production managers.”