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The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893


Why Can’t I Scream Back?

Thoughts for the Collegiate Stage Manager to Cope with those Difficult Situations

By Christopher Sadler
Assistant Professor of Stage Management, The University of Oklahoma

Part of the life of the stage manager is, oftentimes, being the scapegoat for artists’ frustrations, fears, insecurities, and egos. Unfortunately, being yelled at is as much a part of the job as constructing a run book or calling cues. What is done in response is the mark of a good or poor stage manager.

Respect should be the defining guideline for the stage manager: respect for the work, for the artists, for the process, for the crew, and for the production. Stage managers must lead by example, even if those around them don’t “deserve” respect. Always remember, even if you personally feel someone doesn’t warrant respect, their position does - from crew member to director, peer to professor.

The most difficult thing for a young stage manager is to determine how one handles being yelled at in those tense moments - public or private - when voices are raised and you become a sacrificial lamb. It takes a great deal of personal security and maturity to respond to an emotional, even hysterical, outburst with a calm, collected manner.

So, what do you do? You breathe. You listen to what is really being said. You are polite. You take the high road. If you feel that you have to yell back because of self-respect, then maybe stage management isn’t the career for you. Stage managers must have thick skins and realize that artists and technicians come in every conceivable personality type. Stage managers can’t be therapists and do their job at the same time (i.e. you can’t change a leopard’s spots).

Taking the high road shows others that you have self-respect; that you won’t create even more drama; that you know the stage manager’s job; and that you are a classy human being.

Frustrating? You bet. Unfair? Perhaps. But this world in which we work is, many times, frustrating and unfair. What better place to comprehend that but in school? If you use your educational years to develop skills and a style to deal with all personality types with maturity and class, the professional world will be a (relative) breeze.


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