Open Forum

Conflict Resolution for Student Stage Managers

  • 1.  Conflict Resolution for Student Stage Managers

    Posted 11-30-2018 09:25

    Hello SchoolTheatre Open Forum!

    I've been teaching a workshop at some of the state conferences and the ITF over the past year called "Stage Management for the Actor." In it, I share what I learned about stage management from my time graduating with a BFA in Acting and transitioning into a director/stage manager. The response has been great overall but one question I get and I would love teacher input on this is regarding conflict resolution.

    As I was a stage manager for a professional theatre, there was already established respect for my position and the work I needed to do. A lot of students ask what to do when their peers do not respect them as stage manager or attempt to undercut their authority. At this time in my workshop, I open it up to discussion with more established student stage managers in the room and they give very helpful answers.

    My recommendation to the students is to approach the people in question one-on-one and be as empathetic as possible. I also recommend that any recurring problems they should put in the rehearsal report so that they can have a written record of events. Finally, I say that they should ask their teacher/director to help with conflict resolution if all else fails. But I wanted to see what recommendations that you all have.

    Thank you!

    Nate Netzley
    Teaching Artist
    New York NY

  • 2.  RE: Conflict Resolution for Student Stage Managers

    Posted 11-30-2018 09:51
    I see this all the time in areas outside of theatre, and it boils down to making assumptions due to lack of information, or to different expectations due to lack of direction.

    What I've seen work for a long long time is to write things down: job description, responsibilities, and so forth. In the case of a school, there will always be a few who cause problems, but having (in this case) the SM's job description and duties written down, and disseminated or taught as part of a class, will at least provide a place to start.

    An old but to-the-point joke was to the effect that the only purpose for a published train schedule was so people would know how late the train was.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 3.  RE: Conflict Resolution for Student Stage Managers

    Posted 11-30-2018 10:57
    This is something that my student stage managers have struggled with in the past. It is very difficult for students to be in a position where they have to have authority over their friends and peers. I've seen it cause problems, and even end friendships. What I learned to do, as a director, is try to nip it in the bud from the very beginning. In the very first rehearsal, I lay out a specific set of expectations and responsibilities for the student actors and the student stage managers. Clearly defined roles are crucial. I explain to the student actors that the stage manager is second to me (or vocal director or assistant director if their is one) and that I have empowered them to be my voice when I am not present. They are to treat them with the same respect and authority they would give to me, but that if there are problems, they can come to me about it. When it comes to the student stage managers themselves I like to remind them that it is often not easy for students to take orders from other students, especially their friends. I tell them to be patient but firm, try not to get too frustrated, and remain calm (easier said than done, I know). During rehearsal or performances, they wear their stage manager hat, so to speak. Afterwards, they can take it off and return to the role of peer or friend.

    Christopher Hamilton
    Drama Teacher
    Kennewick WA

  • 4.  RE: Conflict Resolution for Student Stage Managers

    Posted 11-30-2018 12:02
    The whole concept of authority and taking orders can be (fairly) easily lightened up by thinking of it -- and explaining it -- in terms of job description instead of rank, which is where writing things down can help. The actors have a specific job description, the director has one, the choreographer, the designers, and so on.

    I've been reminded of this many times in lots of different fields. For instance, I joined a local Civil Air Patrol squadron some months ago and have been working my way through a ton of material you have to study in order to qualify for the various positions available. Although we use the military rank levels, they are considered "grades" instead of "ranks," and they are totally dependent on your job description, your ratings, and your length of service. So it's not unusual, like in my squadron, to have a captain be in command and have higher-grade people report to him. This is because the captain's rating is in Command and some of the higher-grade people's ratings are in aviation, i.e., pilots who've been there longer. It's about job descriptions and being part of a team, not about rank and barking orders. And it works very well.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 5.  RE: Conflict Resolution for Student Stage Managers

    Posted 12-01-2018 14:06
    Hey, Nate.
    It is a strange beast to deal with.  In my 42 years in the classroom and working with a multitude of stage managers and student directors, I found much of how these kids were seen by their peers depended on how I established the position with the cast and crew from the very beginning.  Some examples:

    If a student came to me with a problem that could be handled by the stage manager, I sent the student there for help first.

    My stage manager always took blocking and line notes and delivered them to the cast.

    By establishing the student leader as a leader, it demonstrated that I had put my trust in them and the rest of the company should as well.  If there was a complaint from either side of the table, my first response was "Have you talked to them about this?"  If not, that's where they were sent.  If they had, then we would sit down and discuss the problem and the solutions available.

    Hope this helps.

    Terry McGonigle
    Operations Manager
    John Legend Theater
    700 S. Limestone, Suite A
    Springfield, OH  45505
    937-505-2944  (office)
    479-430-4878  (cell)
    District Website:

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