Johns Hopkins University Press
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  • Stage Management Theory as a Guide to Practice: Cultivating a Creative Approach by Lisa Porter and Narda E. Alcorn
  • Tom Humes He/Him
Stage Management Theory as a Guide to Practice: Cultivating a Creative Approach. Lisa Porter and Narda E. Alcorn. New York: Routledge, 2020; pp. 133.

Stage Management Theory as a Guide to Practice has been on my reading list since it became available for preorder in late 2019. I was drawn to it by recommendations from my colleagues and practitioner friends. This book stands apart from other textbooks due to the authors' focus on more subtle nuances of stage management, such as navigating systems of communication that may be culturally different than those to which the stage manager is accustomed. Other stage management textbooks scratch the surface when it comes to conflict, but they do not dig deep to discover the roots of why the conflict may arise, let alone explore a series of tools to resolve it.

Porter and Alcorn divide the book into eight chapters that investigate factors that influence a stage manager's leadership: Theory, Practice, Environment, Communication, Orchestration, Culture, Ethics, and Purpose. These chapters focus on person-centered management, not only of the collaborators on the various teams with which the stage manager interacts but also of the stage manager themself. Person-centered management takes into account factors that may be influencing a person's viewpoint or process rather than focusing on a single metric such as productivity or output. Anecdotal examples of the authors' experience in various art forms ranging from Broadway to opera to circus provide the reader an understanding of situations in which they've triumphed or have learned the hard way to adapt. At the end of each chapter, Porter and Alcorn urge the reader to examine each factor from their own perspective with the sections "In Theory and Practice," which leads the reader through some guided exercises to implement strategies from the chapter, and "Think Like a Stage Manager," which provides thoughtful questions to reinforce continued critical thinking about and examination of the reader's current and future processes.

Porter and Alcorn have done a great job of discussing these factors without getting too mired in the explanation of how to stage manage. Readers looking for more instructive or introductive texts might turn to Larry Fazio's Stage Manager: The Professional Experience or Thomas Kelly's The Back Stage Guide to Stage Management. In contrast, Stage Management Theory as a Guide to Practice can serve as a resource for an advanced stage management course for junior or senior undergraduate students or a graduate student course. This book will help stage managers who have plenty of experience with traditional theatre structures but find themselves working in shows/theatres/genres that are unfamiliar and may need to adapt to new ways of thinking. For example, in the "Ethics" chapter, there is a subsection about intimacy and ways that stage managers can and should advocate for safe practices within their rehearsal spaces. Intimacy coordination and direction are newer responses to some of the more harmful practices that have taken place in the rehearsal room, and if participants are informed about these methods, harm can be actively reduced. However, when the stage manager finds themself without a coordinator in a process that delves into physical or cultural intimacy, they can learn the basic building blocks of creating and advocating for a respectful space in Porter and Alcorn's book.

The stage manager sets the tone for a respectful rehearsal space, and usually they are seen as the person who may need to step up and speak out when someone crosses a line. A moment within this book that resonates with me is Alcorn's firsthand account of a time within a process where a white collaborator spoke the "N-word," referencing a line within the play text. She writes: "I called a break and privately explained that his language was inappropriate. I expected an apology, but he told me he had used it in other productions where it had appeared in the script and no one had seemed upset" (101). I have wrestled with situations of a similar nature in some of my rehearsal processes and have had a few interactions with team members where this same type of dismissal occurs (usually within the context of, "Well, I've always done it this way."). Reading about Alcorn's experience makes me feel closer to the coauthor, a bit less alone, and perhaps a bit braver to confront that ideology the next time it happens.

Porter and Alcorn are inspiring in their ability to share their personal stories and research within this approachable guide to the lesser-discussed aspects of stage management. I had the great fortune of attending a workshop they led in April 2022 titled "The Stage Manager's Role in Building an Equitable and Compassionate Production Culture," hosted by Broadway & Beyond. Observing their working relationship with each other as they co-led this webinar (which is up for viewing as of this writing on broadwaybeyondaccess.com) kept me engaged, and it was very clear by their repartee, preparedness, and grace that they have been the closest of friends for years and will be for many more. I can say with confidence that this book should be on the shelf of any stage manager, production manager, or theatre manager. [End Page 55]

Tom Humes He/Him
Kent State University

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