In July I will (if I ever write the dissertation I'm currently procrastinating from) graduate with a BA(Hons) in Stage Management and Technical Theatre. In the three years I have spent training I have learnt, and grown up, a lot. I wanted to take a moment in my procrastination to reflect and share some of the lessons that will stick with me.
"Trust the design" – I credit this one to my housemate. I started the course with zero confidence in my creativity or skills (see my blog from a year ago). I was terrified throughout most of my time on shows – scared of doing things wrong technically, making a bad design, people just not liking me… but I'm just about beginning to take the stifling terror and turn it into trust in myself and my abilities. Looking to lighting specifically, I now understand the process: you gather your reference images, talk about concepts, colour pallets, cue points, what story you want to help tell. You put in the groundwork. For me though, there was still this absolute doubt that no matter how prepared I was, I was going into tech not knowing if I could achieve what was in my head, and if what was in my head would even serve the show and compliment other's creative interpretations. When I confided this to my housemate he simply told me "trust the design". This has since become a mantra. And a very effective one. Be as prepared as you can be and then be flexible to change, but always trust the design.
"The impossible may not be impossible. Limitations lead to innovation." – Exhibit one: "Your task for this production is to project onto a clear perspex revolving cube for a traverse audience", "How am I going to do that?" "We have no idea, but good luck". Exhibit two: "Light this production with a roof, in traverse, naturalistically but with elements of abstract... And include some neon, which you definitely won't be able to afford", "How am I… okay I'll give it my best shot." "Yes, good luck with that". Both of these were real production briefs I worked to over the past year and both of these briefs I satisfied. Every single show at college is challenging for each person working on it in one way or another: these two were my most demanding, but they were also the most rewarding.
"The show you're working on is the best show you will ever work on" - give it the effort and commitment it deserves. Maybe it's low budget, maybe it's not the next award winning script, maybe it's just not your style, but that doesn't matter. The story matters to someone, and that alone makes it matter to me. If you can't love the story, love your team and do the best you can do because you don't want to let them down. Value the performers because it might be 'a college show' but it's definitely not 'just a college show'. I remember a third year actor telling me once how important the first production he did at college was to him. It may have been an internal show with virtually no budget, and in relative terms, little risk, but it was the moment he realised he could do it, and deserved his place performing amongst his peers. The show always matters, so take pride in what you do.
Serve the story - This is something I strongly believe. Throwing high tech kit at a show because "it looks cool" isn't something I've ever wanted to do. Audiences are smart and can see through a thick technical fog to a bad story, and they get confused if the lighting is from one 'world', the sound another, and the actors' performances are aiming for something else. Theatre is a form of collaborative storytelling and it's everyone working on a productions responsibility to work together to tell that story.
Make friends - Theatre is a team game. You have more fun if you get to know the people you're working with. Not only that though, get to know the people you're not working with. Get to know other stage managers, get to know designers, get to know composers and musicians, and people who study non-arts degrees. Not only will you become a more interesting person by being interested in others, but you never know when you might need to call upon someone else's specialist skills… or borrow their hipflask for a prop… No one knows everything, and everyone can teach you something.
Have fun – we're not in it for the money after all so you really have to love it. I still, after 3 years at drama school and 6 years playing in backstage theatre, cannot imagine wanting to do anything else. I hope that never changes.
So to summarise, although I could go on: Talk to people, work hard, aim high, and more important than anything, be a nice human.