September 13, 2010

Event Management and Me

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:29 pm

My Weekend

I had been awake for about 10 minutes on Friday morning when I got a call from a friend. A stage manager he’s worked with needed to find a replacement to do a festival over the weekend. Everything about that sentence was unpleasant to me, especially when I’ve just woken up.

But as soon as I could wipe the sand out of my eyes and take some more sips of my energy drink, I called said stage manager and learned what the deal was. Actually it was a bit different than I pictured.

When you stage manage a show as part of a festival, it almost always means the pay is absolute crap. I’ve done shows early in my career that paid less than a dollar an hour. I don’t care who’s doing those kind of shows, I just don’t do them anymore. Higher-end festival shows might make it a little more worth your while, but are still too low on the work vs. pay scale to be something you really look forward to having to do. Generally you do it out of absolute financial desperation, or getting to work with well-known actors or directors, or doing a show that you have somehow deluded yourself might go somewhere — more accurately, you may not believe it will go somewhere, but enough people are saying it will that you would feel stupid if you turned it down and a year later it’s on Broadway.

Anyway, as it turned out, this job had nothing to do with that kind of experience. It was not a festival of shows, but an outdoor festival of poetry, performance art, music and just a tiny bit of musical theatre. And I wasn’t managing a show. I wasn’t even managing one of the two stages at the festival. I was managing the festival. So it wasn’t stage management at all, it was event management.

My feelings on Event Management

I’m not one of those stage managers who really does event management. I know some people who have fallen in with the right crowd, and do so many high-quality events that they hardly ever do shows. The point of event management is that you can make inconceivable amounts of money in a very short period of time. Whether it’s actually “less work” is debatable, but I would guess at the very least, it allows you more free time because you do tons of work over the span of a few days, and then you’re done and can leisurely roll around in all your money for the rest of the month before you pay your entire rent with it.

For example I have a friend who went to Costa Rica for something-or-other for like a week, and in addition to getting a trip to Costa Rica, was paid very well for the experience. Another friend once worked an NBA event. He’s probably 5’10” and incredibly skinny, and at one point had to hold the players in a certain area. His claim to fame is that when Shaq wanted to go somewhere, he very gently lifted my friend up in the air and deposited him somewhere else so he could get by. Anyway, a number of my friends really like doing events because sometimes they’re easy, and often take you to interesting places or among interesting people, and pretty much always pay very well.

I’m not on anybody’s list to get called for really amazing events, nor have I ever particularly tried to be when I’ve had the chance. I like money. I like money a lot. If you click on any of the tech- or computer-related topics here you’ll see I have a thing for expensive electronics and software. Money would allow me to enjoy my hobby more. But I also have a thing for theatre, particularly musical theatre, and if I knew I could pay the bills either way, I would take an average-paying show over a paid trip to Costa Rica.

I have been thinking about this since Friday, and I think what it comes down to is that in my mind, an event is work. You do work, you receive money. It’s like what most people think of as work: not necessarily fun or pleasant, but you get through it and at the end of the day you have money, so it’s worth doing. And I realized that as much as I think that I think of stage management as work, as in “Aw, why do I have to go to rehearsal? Can’t I just sit in my pajamas and play MMOs all day?” it actually is something different in my mind from real work. I have this expectation that a job should be something exciting and inspiring, in addition to being someplace you go solely for the purpose of coming out with money at the end.

The entire theatre industry is also constructed to beat into you that you’re an artist and should expect sub-par pay for your skills because the producer is doing you a favor by giving you an opportunity to practice your art. This is why we have unions, by the way — to say “No, actually it’s also a job, and you have to pay people.” Stagehands generally fall in the other category — of people who are there to do work and get money. Somehow producers understand this in a way that they don’t understand it about actors and stage managers. Which is why it’s not unheard of for the guy running the light board to make more than the PSM.

My point being, that event management is the way that stage managers get to be a part of that “I’m not doing that unless you pay me what I’m worth” thing that most of the world inherently understands. But to me, it uses the same skills of organizing people, solving problems, being diplomatic, and keeping things on schedule, but without the “let’s put on a show!” payoff at the end. You’re always putting on a show of some sort, whether it be a wedding, a concert, a sales presentation, or an NBA halftime show, but it doesn’t strike a nerve with me in the same way as the legitimate theatre. I’m sure somebody who does rock concerts, like Nicky, who was my stage manager on the mainstage at this festival, would be bored out of his mind stage managing a production of Romeo and Juliet. I get that. I may, perhaps, in a theatre with a very quiet stage right, have once called the entire balcony scene while lying on the floor, just for a change of perspective. But you will also note that I am about to remount that production and take it out for another seven months, and I wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t rewarding in other ways besides money.

Being on the Outside

I don’t do a whole lot else besides stage management. Honestly, I could probably name on one hand the number of jobs I’ve done in the last 5 years that were not stage managing legit theatre productions.

I was the production coordinator for Bingo in Florida, and did a little bit of preproduction on the Chicago premiere as well. That was sort of a hybrid of long-distance stage management and company management. It was immensely educational to sit in a general management office that was busy producing several shows, to see what goes on on that side of things during production. After two months, I was more certain than before that unlike some stage managers, I have absolutely zero interest in ever being a company manager or GM. It was also the first and only time I’ve ever worked in an office. It was kind of like playing “grown-up” for the first month, then it started to get old. It should be noted that the reason I was asked to do the job was that I had been ASM of the Off-Broadway production (and had also called the show many times). I was even offered PSM of the Chicago production when they had somebody back out during pre-pro — and I would have gladly taken it, but they couldn’t provide housing for me.

I subbed on followspot (by which I mean a Source Four with handles on it) for the Off-Broadway production of My Secret Garden for a day or two, before later replacing the PSM (I had been the ASM for an earlier workshop, so my main association with the show was stage managerial). I have always liked running spots. I haven’t run a real spot since I was in high school, with the exception of a photo shoot for a production on which I was PSM, because the spot ops weren’t called for the photo call, and I really wanted to.

A friend was the ASM on the Off-Broadway play Substitution, and his crew person bailed on the first day of tech. He called me desperate for a warm body wearing black to appear at his theatre by the end of their dinner break. As I had nothing to do for the rest of the day, and welcomed the opportunity to hang out backstage with my friend, I changed into blacks and got down there as fast as I could. I worked the show through tech and first preview, until a new crew person was hired and trained. During that time, the PSM got another gig and would have to leave the production in the middle of the final week. Since I already had at least a crew member’s familiarity with the play, the fastest way to cover that situation was for me to learn to call the show, since I would only need to watch it once. I was technically just an ASM sub, but I got to be the calling SM for the end of the run. I also got to work with the amazing Jan Maxwell, so that was a fun experience.

Same friend, same situation: crew member quit. We were both PSM-ing shows at the NYMF Festival, both in the same venue at the same time. He lost his crew person, and I filled in for the last week of the run, since I was sort of already there, and had no conflicts since our shows were on the same stage.

And… that’s all that’s coming to mind as far as non-stage-management jobs, and as you can see most of them came out of or ended up resulting in real stage management jobs anyway. My career has always been pretty narrowly focused on stage management. Some of that is personal preference, and some of it is just the way it’s happened.


The nice thing about doing events is that they take place in a very short period of time, and don’t really require you to clear your schedule much. I lost most of the day Friday (going down to the park to be shown around by the outgoing production manager), and all day Saturday and Sunday, but now I’ll most likely be starting the tour with my debt already paid off. Yay!

I missed a whole lot of football over the weekend, I didn’t get any preproduction done for the tour, my favorite vest is covered in soggy dirt, and I can barely walk from standing on uneven pavement for 12 hours a day, but now it’s over and it would have taken me months on tour to save up that money.

Events are good things to have access to when you need them. I’m glad that I have steady employment as a stage manager coming up, but this is a great example of how you can throw a few days of work in between your “real” commitments and supplement your earnings. Also, in this crazy business, sometimes you have to lose money to make money — taking a lesser-paying job in the hopes that it will lead to a greater-paying job. Any money you can save gives you more flexibility to take a chance when faced with those situations. Or you can buy an iPhone every year, or find out what the hell a $50 mouse pad feels like.