This July 4th felt very different. This festive holiday honoring the USA came in the wake the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, taking away the nationwide right of women to choose. So the idea of celebrating our nation after this bombshell, with barbecues, picnics, and the usual, didn’t feel right this year. I found myself often ruminating on what leadership was like in 1776, what leadership looks like now, and the challenges of both. I’m a stage manager and we spend most of our days leading a diverse group of artists through the creation and maintenance of the most collaborative art form there is, a musical!
Seriously, every musical that gets put together is a miracle. It is brought into existence by thoughtful people expressing themselves with their unique talents, skills, and perspectives to serve one vision. When it works... wow! When it doesn’t? Well, shows close and fade into history and the memories of devoted fans. But democracy and government doesn’t have that luxury, we need to make it work every single day.
I want to take our elected officials and put them in a rehearsal studio and say, “ok, you have four weeks to figure out how we’re going to make ‘a more perfect union’ and that starts now! Your next 10 minute break is in 80 minutes.”
We stage managers understand compromise, give and take, compassion, empathy, listening… we’ve spent most of the pandemic shutdown leaning into numerous conversations about equity, racial justice, inclusion and how systemic racism is involved in our practice, in our industry, and in our country. For examples, check out the article Hold, Please by Miguel Flores, CMax, John Meredith, Alexander Murphy, Quinn O'Connor, Phyllis Smith, and Chris Waters...
as well as, the Narda E. Alcorn & Lisa Porter article, We Commit to Anti-Racist Stage Management Education, both on howlround.com
If only stage managers could walk into Congress and get that company in shape! Then I’d feel a whole lot better.
Perhaps a theatre degree should be required to run for office, or at least working backstage on a show, like a GE requirement in college. Then our elective officals would learn the value of collaboration, communication, and service, as they are woven into the fabric of our business and essential in the stage management profession. We stage managers have to find consensus, build engagement, and take care of the entire company, so everyone feels safe.
Even with my personal brand of cautious pessimism, I remain hopeful that we can pull ourselves out of this tailspin. In a way, it’s similar to a company pulling together after a horrible dress rehearsal only to have a wonderful opening night performance. It is possible. Meanwhile, in our rehearsal halls and theatres, we stage managers still need to find ways for our company to feel safe, risk, explore, fail, and trust. That is only made harder in the post Roe and post Jan. 6th world we are in. We have to stay open, hold and create space and use our abilities to listen and empathize. My heart especially goes out to theatre companies in certain parts of our country where abortion of any kind is now illegal. How will your cast and crew show up to work in that environment?
My thoughts also wonder how our theatre community can use our passions and skills to implement necessary changes to secure our rights. In 2020, Broadway for Biden became a strong voice, also Be An Arts Hero was created to advocate for artists and arts funding from our government. Our industry is a powerful force, both economic and inspirational, so how can we best leverage it?
SAG-AFTRA and IATSE have vowed to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose.
And Actors Equity Association has called the decision a ‘catastrophic step backwards.’
What specifically can these and other theatrical unions do to support their members in states where women no longer have the right to make their own decisions about their bodies? How can we raise our collective voices? What if you are on tour through states where abortion is now or will soon be completely illegal? Can we stop having theatre conferences like USITT and SETC in those states?
In his inaugural address, President Bill Clinton said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.”
We still have the right to raise our voices, decide where we spend our money, and chose who to support and vote for. So, I remain hopeful, but cautious, ready to create safe spaces for those I work with and ready to leverage our talents to serve our society.
It’s an interesting time for the upcoming Broadway revival of the musical 1776. This production features a cast of women, non-binary, and trans actors. I hope many people will see it, remember the great vision of America, acknowledge when it has fallen short of that promise for many and inspire us to continue working to fulfill that promise.
Senator Elizabeth Warren show the show at A.R.T a few weeks ago and shared her thoughts in a very sincere and almost prophetic quote:
"This is a tough time for our democracy. And there were moments in watching this play that I actually thought, oh my God, it's scary. We talk about democracy, and we think about who we are in lots of ways. We fight it on the floor of Congress, we talk about it through the media, but it is through art that it touches our hearts. And so when you put on a show like this, night after night, and people come in and get to feel it, not just to hear it, but to feel it, this is how we build our future. So, thank you all from the bottom of my heart."
I started this blog ruminating on leadership and how we stage managers have the blessed job of supporting the creation of art. We have a greater challenge now, as we and our company members face the loss of a vital right for women and the potential loss of others rights. Yet our community has a powerful voice and we can raise that voice and make change. That is what leaders do.