Monday, December 12, 2011

Stage Manager addenda

In an effort to publish my latest blog post quickly I forgot the most important parallel between stage managers and pilots.

When something beyond your control goes wrong, and it will, you need to come up with a solution. This may be required within a few minutes, or it may need to be resolved within seconds. Regardless of the time frame, you live or die (again, literally in the pilot's case but metaphorically in the stage manager's case) by the decision you make. A top pilot and a top stage manager will take such deviations from the expected in his or her stride. Again, perfection is the expected result, so getting it right will not bring praise, but making an incorrect decision will bring at the very least severe complaints, and will be on the record forever.

I would be remiss if I didn't illustrate by example. At our latest production the curtain mechanism failed. That meant that instead of being raised and lowered, it needed to be opened and closed from side to side. From my stage manager's point of view this changed the timing of the curtain movements because (for example) at the start of one act there was only one character on stage and she was way off to one side. With a vertically raised curtain it could start its movement three seconds before she started to move and she would still be seen. However with a side moving curtain I needed to guess (because we obviously hadn't rehearsed it) how many seconds to call the curtain call before she started to move.

I still need to review the DVD, but provisionally I am happy with the decisions I made. Whether others agree with my assessment remains to be seen.

[I also had an extreme example as a pilot. I was flying an unfamiliar aircraft type and messed up a landing on a fairly short country town runway. Once that happened I retracted the flaps and put on full power. I looked at my air speed indicator to see that I was flying below stall speed, meaning that it was only ground effect keeping me afloat. I was nearing the end of the runway with trees lurking beyond. I put my hand on the electric flap deployment switch and spent a few seconds trying to recall my physics and aerodynamics training to decide whether it would be better to lower the flaps or keep them retracted. Having made my decision I pushed down on the switch to lower the flaps, and still with full power I gradually gained altitude and cleared the trees. I belatedly achieved the required result and avoided the alternative, which would have been total blame for an accident.]

Perfection means nobody notices. Anything less means you have not achieved the required result.


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