Actors & Stage Managers : The Great Us-and-Them Myth

LJ Emmett

The Stage Newspaper published an article last year about how actors can "ingratiate" themselves with stage managers. The whole article was unnecessary and should never have been printed in the first place. It has received widespread criticism from the stage management community here in the UK and further afield.

So why was it so offensive?

Well firstly whenever you take part in a production you become part of a team, you all work together to make the production happen. Sure you all have different roles and responsibilities, you all have your own jobs to do - the actors have lines to learn, blocking to remember and an audience to perform to. Likewise those of us working behind the scenes have a different set of skills to ensure that the production happens and runs smoothly and safely.

The performances wouldn't happen at all if it weren't for all the members of the production working together and it seems ludicrous to try and promote the idea that there is this massive divide between us. Generally, crew and actors get along well. Occasionally there is a clash of personalities, but that's a human thing and not about the roles that people perform.

One actor, referred to as "Albert" commented; "...they wouldn't have a job if there was no stage and actors to manage." Where to start on this one... Firstly what a completely pointless thing to say. That would be like me turning around and saying "Albert, dear, without the production team you'd just be a naked person, speechless, standing alone in the dark on an empty stage." (Which, just to be clear, I would never say - I have too much respect for actors to do that!). It just did not need to be said. We all could not exist without the others being there and similarly, none of us would exist if the audience didn't come to see the show. It's all part of the being in the big theatre family. All of the cogs come together and if you're lucky the production runs like a smoothly oiled machine.

I often get asked how it feels that the actors get all the credit, the limelight and the glory and that the crew doesn't appear to get any - just a pale complexion, bags under our eyes and a seemingly endless supply of black clothing. To answer the argument is easy - we don't see it that way at all. The applause at the end of the evening is as much for us as anyone else. If people don't realize we are there then I take that as a huge compliment that we are doing our jobs properly. That's the nature of the beast and the career we have chosen to do. Our reward is that the show ran smoothly and we take pride in the fact that we can play a part in making that happen. I personally dislike getting mentioned in reviews - if all the reviewer can talk about was how lovely the set was and the lighting then something is massively wrong with the production. Of course, we like getting thanked (doesn't everyone?), but our thanks is the fact that we did our jobs well.

One of my favorite actors to work with was the late Chris Harris, panto dame extraordinaire. He is one of the few actors/directors who completely got the balance of how to treat the crew/cast correctly. By treating them all as equals. There are very few others I've worked with who have ever gained the total respect of everyone as Chris did. Upon arrival each day he would wander around the stage whilst the crew were setting up for the next show, approach every single one of them and wish them good morning by name and check to make sure they were okay. He made the effort to learn the names of every single person involved with the production and made them all feel completely welcome and part of the family. He didn't have to do this but because he did, it promoted an air of openness and a friendliness that filtered down through the entire team making it a brilliant atmosphere to work in. We could all learn a lot from him.

We just have to remember that we're all in this together. None of us would exist without the others. If we learn anything from this whole debacle I hope that it highlights the fact that we have much more in common than we do differences. I'd love to see us all take a leaf out of Chris' book - lets get all the small things right and hopefully the big things will look after themselves.