- The Stage Manager’s Toolkit: Templates and Communication Techniques to Guide Your Theatre Production from First Meeting to Final Performance by Laurie Kincman
In her new introductory stage-management book The Stage Manager’s Toolkit: Templates and Communication Techniques to Guide Your Theatre Production from First Meeting to Final Performance, Laurie Kincman provides an articulate and detailed guide through the stage management of a traditional theatrical production, complete with useful paperwork samples and up-to-date considerations of technology. The Stage Manager’s Toolkit is a welcome addition to the small cannon of stage-management texts, building on previous works while providing a unique focus on the early career experience and the systematic development of strong communication skills. The book avoids anecdotes and never prescriptively promotes traditional or commercial theatre methodologies, instead encouraging young stage managers to assess the unique needs of their productions.
Kincman identifies “communication” in her introduction as “the most important characteristic of a successful stage manager.” Drawing on the work of speech pathologist Carol Fleming, she distinguishes self-expression, a self-centered performance of one’s thoughts delivered in whatever way feels natural, from communication, which requires a focus on the experience and needs of the listeners. In this model, communicating is not about displaying “power” (a word Kincman explicitly avoids), nor is it about blindly following rules or emotional impulses. Successful communication requires excellent listening and observational skills, a consideration of context, and good judgment. At every step of the way, Kincman encourages the developing stage manager to question choices based on these principles, be it a decision about document layout or when to stop a performance. She repeatedly reminds stage managers to consider for whom the information is intended and what the best way might be to present it given the specific circumstances. This is essential, because no two projects will ever call for identical approaches.
Insisting on the trainability of these skills connects stage-management education to that of the other theatrical arts. Although less often thought of as an artistic pursuit, good stage management is more than crafting spreadsheets and studying rulebooks. Learning to think like a stage manager means honing the same instincts that actors use, but in a complementary way: if many schools of acting challenge actors to “live truthfully” and to break down the internal barriers of self-censorship, stage managers work to cultivate a space of perspective, consideration, and good judgment. We are partners in this art. This does not mean that stage managers should plod or perseverate; the goal of practicing this good judgment is to reach the point where it becomes instinctive. This is vital, as theatre often leaves no time to systematically consider alternatives. Perhaps during the rehearsal process one can pause to consider the proper way to deliver notes that a fellow collaborator does not want to hear, but the stage manager calling a show is giving a live performance and must be able to quickly adjust to unexpected situations. [End Page 222]
Structurally, the book is divided into eight chapters, each containing numerous subsections. The first two chapters provide the framework for Kincman’s methodology by focusing directly on principles of communication and document design, including consideration of recent technological advances that allow for the use of online callboards and downloadable document libraries of production paperwork. The remaining six chapters follow the primary phases of production: preproduction, the prompt book, rehearsals, technical rehearsals, performances, and next steps. Each chapter begins by clearly identifying and discussing the stage manager’s goals and exploring which forms of communication are the most effective in that moment. All standard production paperwork is discussed in detail, and full-page examples and color photos from actual productions are used generously throughout the book. An appendix provides additional information, including an overview of Actors’ Equity Association, a list of professional theatres, a selection of emergency announcements to use in the theatre, and a suggested reading list. While much of the information presented is...