Stage-Managing The Bacchae
Stage management has been a role in creation that I’ve been interested in since my sophomore year at NYU Abu Dhabi. However, I was never able to find the time or the right production to stage manage. When Ethan, Jiun, and I began to discuss the Bacchae, I did not initially see myself stage-managing the piece either. However, things came together. After we conducted our creative team interviews, our stage manager options fell through, leaving a vacancy in the lineup, for which I volunteered. This marked the first time that I stepped back from a creative role in a production.
As I have little experience in logistical roles, taking a step back from being a leading creator formed a light tension. I’ve worked as a director and choreographer before with collaborators who stage-managed for me. As the director, I placed immense value and respect for the work of my stage manager. If I was asked, did my stage manager help create this piece? The answer would undoubtedly be: this piece could not have happened without their work and effort. However, on the other side of the coin, throughout the process of putting together The Bacchae, I had trouble taking ownership of the piece and being comfortable affirming that I was, in fact, integral to the creation of The Bacchae. I knew that Ethan, Jiun, and the rest of the cast and creative team all viewed me in the same way that I had considered my previous stage managers. In their minds, there was no doubt that I helped make the piece happen. Therefore, these insecurities I had came entirely from how I viewed creation in my mind. It is a mental block that I’ve been pushing myself away from since highschool; each production I’ve been a part of has helped me grow, and these spurts of growth are slowly but surely elevating me out of this pit.
My initial perception of the role of a stage manager is one that the audience never sees. The immediate thought I then jumped to was that because I gave little creative input, The Bacchae would not be mine. However, as we worked through the production, I felt more comfortable in my position. I’m not close to being an experienced stage manager; everything I know about stage management has been experience-based. Having the opportunity to work closely with Sooji and Lily has given me a fantastic model to follow when it comes to putting together documents and managing rehearsal. Being able to flip through old emails from Tegan for past mainstage productions gave me a strong sense of how to communicate with the cast and creative team. I could breathe a sigh of relief because, as a virtual production, I did not have to figure out how to write a blocking script, which looked daunting and did not have to do live cue-calling.
My tasks as a stage manager were enjoyable and manageable. Scheduling, emails, information forms — everything went by so quickly and smoothly. The entire team was on top of their game in terms of communication, and it was a very stress-free environment for me. So much so that at the end of it all, I felt like I had almost too easy of a job and hadn’t done enough for the production. When I led productions as a director or choreographer, there was never the feeling of a production being “too easy.” In a conversation with a mentor, Joanna Settle, following the premiere of my dance production, Vitae, she remarked that “we always want one more week.” The free-flowing nature of creation means that there are always moments and details that can continue to be honed and improved near-endlessly.
On the other hand, it felt that stage management had a much more attainable goal: to make sure rehearsals run smoothly. However, in reflection, this perspective I had been holding is incorrect. Instead of being satisfied with “ah, that rehearsal went smoothly, I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing”, I should have continued to look for ways to develop the warmth and sense of community we experience in an in-person rehearsal in the virtual environment. This is the actual underlying reason I was not entirely comfortable with marking myself as integral to the production. An example of something I took for granted was the concept of an ‘icing on a cake’ section in the rehearsal report, which contained either a funny quote or a picture of rehearsal as a way to poke some fun. This idea that I’d been exposed to by Tegan was well-received by the cast. It’s simple and easy to do but adds something that humanizes all of us as we work in a virtual environment, in turn, building warmth between screens. Moving to a virtual environment, I had every opportunity to innovate or experiment with small gestures like the ‘icing on a cake,’ but I did not think to try.
I’m proud of myself for giving stage management a shot. Adding a new perspective to create work from will only continue to improve me as both creator and performer. While I feel I could have done better, I’m excited to have lifted off from square one with stage management and hoping that I can bring a more robust version of my stage-management-self to the table at the next production I stage-manage.