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Stage Manage Your World

Stage Manage Your World
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    All the world’s a stage, and we but players on it…

    I moonlight as a stage manager for local theatre productions in my town, and most recently I oversaw the production of the “47th Annual Madfest”, a juggling variety show. Acts come in from all over the world to the festival, and in the space of 5 hours in an afternoon it is my job to turn them into an evening’s worth of entertainment for the sold-out 1300 seat theatre. This presents unusual challenges particular to this event: there is no real rehearsal, and often acts are being added or cut from the lineup right up until showtime. It’s a microcosmic perfect storm of pressure, stress and (even worse for a performer like myself) the threat of public humiliation.

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    Yet every year the show gets better, and attracts bigger crowds. How? As Geoffrey Rush said in Shakespeare in Love, “… a miracle occurs.” The best miracles, though, seem to occur with some advance planning, and I found myself this year reflecting on how some of the strategies that stage managers use to make this kind of magic could be useful on the larger stage of our lives.

    1. Stay Calm. The best stage managers never raise their voice. Even when the lighting has failed, the ingenue just broke her ankle backstage and the lemmings have broken out of their cages, it is the steady voice over the headsets that brings the crew together. It’s not even that the stress is just being hidden; it really isn’t there– yet. The skill lies in subsuming the panic until after the crisis. Then you can go hit your head against the wall. Or the lemming. Or whatever. But in the middle of a crisis? Tell yourself you can run in circles, scream and shout–but later.

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    2. Plan flexibility. Of course, the stage manager has a cue sheet with everything written on it that will occur on the stage, and when, and what should happen next. It’s a very useful document, but as Mark Twain said, “the map ain’t the territory.” It bears only a passing resemblance to what will actually occur on the stage, and the good stage manager is aware of this and has the ability to rearrange cues, change the timing of directions , and sometimes skip or add events based on the needs of the show. Having your GTD plan is all well and good, and I find my schedule immensely useful, but if reality determines that you are snowed in, the flights are cancelled, or the tire is flat and you’re in the middle of the desert, the ability to re-format that schedule and that to-do list can do wonders for your peace of mind and productivity.

    3. Anticipate. Any stage direction given during a show consists of at least two parts: a Ready and a Go. For example, the stage manager would see the dancer about to go into a routine on stage left, and would say something like “ready, light cue 9.5 and sound cue 10…that should be track 7, right, Allison?” This would happen about a minute before the event, but it’s that minute that gives Allison time to double check where the CD is cued and respond with a “Track 7, sound cue 10, standing by!” It’s a way for everybody involved to realize that something’s going to happen, and that they are all ready for it. Cultivating this habit would do wonders for my own family. “The play is tonight, Dad, but I know you have your writer’s group later on–I’ll catch a ride home with my friend Allison, ok?” “I’m going to be loading in with the dance company next thursday night, dear, can we make sure we have dinner wednesday together so that I don’t miss you too much?” Merlin Mann and David Allen talk about this in the 43 Folders/GTD podcast about teams, but in the microcosm of the stage this tactic is essential.

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    4. Communicate. That ready warning would be pretty useless if I wasn’t wearing a headset, connected to the light board operator, the backstage crew, the spot operator, the sound board op, and whoever else is running the mechanics of the theatre. There is no more essential tool to the theatre, in my opinion, than a good ClearCom system backstage connecting people. It seems to me that the matter of “headset etiquette”–not having too much chatter during the show, making sure you don’t cough with your mic on, and above all, never taking off your headset without letting people know–also has some allegorical usefulness. With all the attention paid to “staying connected”, I don’t know many people who will actually take the time to let others know when they need to be away (“I need to write this article for Lifehack, hon, I’ll be off chat for a bit.”) I’m not sure how this would work for the multiple lines of communication–I communicate with one of my adult daughters primarily via phone, and another via email, and two others are still in the nest. Maintaining and keeping these communication lines free and strong is something I’d love to hear suggestions about in the comments.

    5. Be aware of the moment. It’s a peculiar kind of multitasking, not only anticipating but also being aware of the state of the theatre during a show–sometimes through video monitors showing the green room, the stage, and the audience, and sometimes simply through asking over the headset “Is the house full?” as you stare at your moleskine full of notes from your tiny desk backstage. Whatever kind of network you use, be aware of your surroundings, and make sure you have reliable information. My own particular area needing improvement is in my finances. Are there areas where you are letting your awareness slip, where you don’t know what’s going on? Anticipation is great, but only if things go where you expect them to.

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    6. Go. Remember the second part of the “ready” warning? Anticipation, awareness, communication, planning, it’s all great…but if the moment comes, and you don’t give the “Go!”signal, nothing happens in the end. It’s a precarious moment, when you don’t know for sure if that cue will work, if the props will be in their place, when you don’t know if the PowerPoint that you are playing off of your iPod because LifeHack said it would be cool will actually work, or if instead you’re going to show your board members an Invader Zim cartoon. But you have to press that button, start that conversation, to tip that first domino in the chain of events you’ve planned for your life.

    And then relax…and let the miracle occur. It’s your life–and it’s the greatest show on earth.

    Gray Miller is a performance technologist in Madison, WI who loves playing with expensive toys and figuring out how to make them work in the fine arts. Aside from working with diverse troupes, he also writes at satorimedia.typepad.com about technology and the arts and also snipes at the theatrical world in general at FameorFamine.com. Other than that, he’s just your average juggling former Marine with a dance degree, four daughters, and a lapstalking cat. When he grows up, he wants to be Chris Brogan.

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    1 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 4 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 5 How to Find Time for Yourself

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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