Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Advice I Don't Agree with

Occasionally I get bored an do some google searches on stage management.  Sometimes I learn new things, some times I don't, but reading what other people have to say is fascinating for me.  However, in my most recent search, there were two things that kept popping up that really bothered me.

1.  The advice to never admit that you don't know something.  This obviously extends beyond stage management and into our general culture.  We're taught as children to "fake it till you make it", be "independent", and not to ask "silly questions".  With all this conditioning, it's not really a wonder why people have trouble admitting that they don't know something.  This is particularly troubling with people in authority, because they're told it's a sign of weakness.

 But here's the thing.  Sometimes you don't know something.  Particularly in regard to stage management, you have so much information thrown at you constantly, that sometimes you just don't know.  And saying so shouldn't be a sign of weakness.  It's a sign of humanity.  I am not a robot and giving the appearance of being one is going to get me into trouble when people assume too much of me.  So yes, I do say: "I'm sorry.  I don't know."  That statement however is almost (possibly without exception, but I can't be positive) always followed by: "But I'll find out" or "Let me get back to you about that."  or "Let me connect you with someone (usually a designer) who might know better".  Saying any of those things is infinitely better than just making something up and being wrong.

On that note.  I've also seen advice about not admitting you're wrong, which paradoxically is often paired with the advice of taking responsibility.  If there is a mishap, mistake, or miscommunication, just say that you messed up.  Just admit you were wrong, and that you're very sorry, and that it shouldn't happen again, but that you were wrong.  People seem to take an odd sort of comfort in these words and I've often said them, even when it really truly wasn't my fault.  They cost you nothing but pride and in all honesty, if you're serious about stage managing, you can't afford a ton of pride in being perfect/never wrong.

One more thing before I move on.  But saying "I don't know" or "I was wrong"  has not once lost me respect from anyone I've worked with.  Maybe I've been lucky, but in my experience, people appreciate you just being another person and not some untouchable demigod.  Like I said, I could be completely mistaken, but I'm less than a year out of college and have been hired for nine shows, so I must be doing something right.

2.  The other piece of advice I saw constantly was to wear appropriate clothing.  Is this really actually a problem?  I mean that question seriously.  I've met quite a few stage managers and have never once run into this problem.  I mean, theatre is more of a casual atmosphere to begin with, so wearing something that scandalizes people and that might be considered inappropriate seems highly unlikely.

The other thing is this piece of advice was always in relation to women.  No low cut shirts.  No exposed midriffs.  No short skirts.  No too-tight pants.  Men were only mentioned once and, frankly, in a  completely absurd manner.  The advice said that men shouldn't go shirtless.  Again, would that actually be a problem ever?  i just don't understand.  Also (and this is always my problem with dress restrictions) what qualifies as too tight, too low, too short? Is that definition based on a conservative man's?  A conservative woman's?  A liberal woman's? A liberal man's? Etc etc.

I would also like to say that if I was working under a stage manager that wore tight jeans, short skirts, and bare midriffs I wouldn't have a problem respecting them if they were competent and commanded authority with a calm, collected personality.  I don't really understand why conservative clothing should be a requirement.  Maybe in order for the director, designers, and actors to respect the stage manager.  But in my experience, those people respond most to competence and attitude, not pieces of cloth.

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