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Stage management workshop offers important lessons for the professional workplace

By Michelle Kim

Section: Arts

February 14, 2014

Most of us aren’t stage managers. Some of us have never even attended a theater production. However, almost everyone is going to end up working in the professional world. It’s frightening, but inevitable.

Leslie Chiu, director of production in the Department of Theater Arts, held a seminar called “Stage Management: The Art of Taking Care of Everything,” which is part of a series at Brandeis.

Unsurprisingly, all students in attendance were theater arts students and involved in stage management. Although Chiu gave a presentation, the seminar was casual. Chiu is an extremely personable yet professional woman who has many stage management credits. She has worked on both small- and large-scale projects, including the Blue Man Group Boston and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, and therefore has had more than enough experiences to share.

Chiu began her presentation with an introduction to stage management, which is a job in which one coordinates theater productions. Stage managers do exactly what their name implies: manage. If the people were to be ranked based on organizational skills, stage managers would easily top the list. They do most, if not all, of the behind-the-scenes work. They’re the ones who make the phone calls, send the emails, create the lists, evaluate the team, inspire their coworkers and even ease tension.

Although most of the people already had an understanding of what the job of a stage manager entails, there was new information presented at the seminar. Most of Chiu’s points were applicable to real life. Chiu put significant emphasis on communication. “Communication is important because in the absence of information, people fill in the gaps, usually with erroneous assumptions,” she said, “Being on top of things instills confidence in not only you, but also the people you work with.”

She went on to approach a prevalent issue in the professional workplace: diffusing conflict and drama. Stage managers have another job unknown to the general public. Working with such dynamic people has many positives, but many of them are also large personalities. As with any collaborative project, there are differences in opinions.

“A lot of the time, we just want someone to listen to our problems and validate them,” she said. “Learning when to separate [people] and when to let things play out is important. Fair doesn’t mean everyone is happy. You need to know what’s best for the show, that moment and the people involved.” Her approach to working with people likely made a deep impression with the audience.

Chiu would ask attendees to tell stories about their own experiences, and she proceeded to share tales of her previous stage management work.

Regarding managing a group, Chiu said, “Being a manager isn’t about controlling a situation or people. It’s about inspiring confidence and being calm so that things run smoothly.” She stressed balancing, sticking up for oneself and learning to submit to instructions.

Everything she said was applicable to almost every situation. Her lecture shared three critical pieces of information. First, whether it be relationships, work or school, communication is key. Things left unsaid will eventually build up and lead to more serious problems. Second, precision and organization are everyone’s best allies. Finally, it’s important to maintain a sense of neutrality. Focus on resolutions by separating yourself from personalities, and choose a fair decision based on the needs of the show.

Even a student who is not a stage manager can still benefit from Chiu’s leadership seminar. Students should be encouraged to attend similar lectures or conferences.

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