Hit By A Bus Rules: Symmetry and Sleep Deprivation

Hey Everybody! We’re debuting a new regular blogger today! Alandra Hileman will be alternating with Will Leschber and bringing us a much needed theater tech perspective once a month, while giving Will a little more time off to focus on his new family. Let us know what you think!

Alandra Hileman should have typed this introductory blog before working 14-straight days of tech. Oops.

Standby for Awkward 1st-Person Introductory Blog.

Blog GO.

Stage managing is weird. We often call it “herding cats,” a mental picture which is much more hilarious and fluffy than is the reality of trying to answer questions for 13 actors, 5 designers, 6 crew people and 2 frazzled directors at the same time while also setting props, plugging in a fog machine, spiking a giant dinner table, and offering a quick prayer to St. Gensius (patron of thespians, secretaries, and apparently lawyers?) that you’ll actually get to visit the bathroom BEFORE you have to call the start of the show. I once attempted to research the history of stage management, only to find that somebody didn’t do their paperwork, so it’s all pretty theoretical and hazy. (Oh good, the fog machine is working.)

This summer, I am up in the mysterious land of Davis, CA, stage managing the two shows of Davis Shakespeare Festival. During my first week of rehearsals up here, I was also asked if I was interested in joining the SF Theatre Pub blog team and bring in a little of the backstage tech-and-management angle to my column once a month. I thought this was a nice symmetry, since my first “professional” (paid, non-school) theatre job was stage managing one (out of two) shows for a local Shakespeare festival, during which I wrote one guest blog about stage management. So I’m still perpetually exhausted and broke, but at least I’m moving forward in my career.

Speaking of career, it should be noted that I fell into stage management accidentally. (Well, technically, I was pushed, but that’s a story for a layer blog…) I ended up there primarily as the result of combination type-A personality, good organizational skills, general-overview knowledge of every job in theatre, and deciding very quickly that I was not cut out to be an actor. Despite the fact that my heart is much more in writing and directing, I’ve stuck with stage management and other jobs of that ilk because there’s probably more security there than in any other theatrical field. If you are even remotely good at stage managing, you will get work. Or even if you just vaguely don’t suck depending on how desperate a company is, and with the sheer number of theatre companies in the Bay Area, there are a lot of desperate ones. I try to set my personal bar a little higher than that “doesn’t suck,” but I’m also inherently lazy and introverted, so at this point I’ve just managed to land nicely in the middle of “competent and doesn’t make actors cry,” which I can live with.

The trouble for me was that once I started being known as a stage manager, I couldn’t shake the title, even when it was no longer my primary focus. In another fascinating bit of symmetry, in the months since I started my M.F.A. program for Playwriting, I’ve also started getting a massive influx of stage management job offers again, reminiscent of the SM gigs I kept getting offered right after I finished my undergrad with B.A.s in Drama (emphasis in Play Development, i.e. writing) and English (emphasis in Literature, i.e. not even remotely related to running over 500 light, sound, spot, mic, and curtain cues in a musical). So I’m coming to accept that fact that I am going to be forever introduced or thought of as a stage manager first, and a playwright/photographer/director/board operator/anything else second. And I guess for as much as I gripe about it, it really does come down to my unconditional love of and support for theatre – otherwise I wouldn’t be living in a hotel room for the summer just for the opportunity of getting to work in some vague capacity on one of my all time favorite musicals while living off Black Cherry Mountain Dew Kickstarts and sleeping less than 5 hours a night. Right?

Alandra Hileman is a freelance stage manager/writer/photographer/bunch of other things who occasionally updates her website (ajhileman.com) and frequently cries herself to sleep at night thinking of all the shows she’ll never have the budget to do properly.

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