Building SM/Actor Relationships
Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Actors are our friends, not food🦈
I think it's time we give actors a little more credit.
They're busting their butt off and often get the short end of the stick.
But here's the thing- I think actors are incredible.
And while there are a lot of stage managers who adore actors, there are plenty of SM's out there who don't like actors.
And not in the sense of- oh this actor is a terrible person- therefore I don't like them.
They just don't like them at all.
And while I know this isn't most of you, if it is please DM me on Insta so we can discuss.
Because frankly if you don't like actors, why are you doing it?
Okay rant over.
I believe the stage manager/actor relationship is one of the most important relationships to build, especially as an assistant stage manager backstage.
Also this should go out without saying, but when I use the word relationship I'm talking strictly professional. Please don't date your actors when you are working on a show with them. K thanks.
You want actors to trust you and to not be afraid to come to you when something is wrong. You want to build a rapport with them so that neither of your jobs are miserable for the X amount of time you have to spend together.
I personally think my ability to build relationships with actors is one of my strongest attributes as a stage manager. But I promise you, it did not start out this way. So I'm breaking down four qualities I think are crucial for stage managers to focus on when building relationships with actors (but tbh could be applied to most theatrical relationships)
Four Qualities to Building SM /Actor Relationships
I mentioned in last week's post how I believe your style as a stage manager directly impacts your relationship with actors. For example: you are more likely to be considered approachable if you were wearing a jumpsuit to rehearsal as opposed to if you were wearing slacks.
Well not only does your style have to make you approachable, but so does your body language. Being able to put a smile on your face and not cross your arms over your chest are 2 easy ways to make you seem more approachable as a stage manager. Another tip is to limit your use of the phrases "hold on" and "can you wait a second".
Obviously there are instances where you are in the middle of something important and you need them to wait until you are free. However, if you use this phrase too often, it comes off as you being unavailable. Actors will stop coming to you with things the second they see you as to busy for them.
2. Listen & accommodate
Actors have a lot of needs.
But I have a lot of needs to and I'm sure you do to so stop complaining.
You have to hear them out regardless of how silly the request may seem.
Because all of their requests- no matter how silly- are valid to them. Especially when it comes to safety. And - most times - all they want is someone to hear them out or help them problem solve. So stop invalidating their requests right off the bat and just listen. And accommodate as needed.
3. Instinctual /Intuitive
Similar to what we discussed in this week's Tipsy Tuesday Talk with Cameron Clarke, actors respect it when you are smarter than them.
And I don't mean in a show-off kind of way.
I mean giving the actor a prop for a scene before the director brings it up (because you've been in pre-pro and know what's called for). Or doing L spike tapes instead of X's because in a fast rehearsal process they have a million and one things to remember and the exact angle of the chair should not have to be one of them.
Now a lot of people might disagree with me on this (which is totally okay), but I truly believe in making the actor jobs as easy as possible. You are a team trying to make this the best show possible. You look out for them- and they in turn will look after you.
(You all I'm talking about getting to a place with your actors where they can make eye contact with you offstage and know that a prop dropped and pick it up at their next available moment because your brains are so in sync.)
Accountability is HUGE. When forming relationships with actors, you still have to maintain your role as a stage manager. While you may have a favorite cast member or stronger relationship with some, you can't play favorites or let them get away with things. I personally believe that you can be friends with actors (/it's not much different than being friends with crew) , but not if interferes with how they interact with you during work hours/when you are in the position of authority.
(note this is my opinion as a relatively young human who is primarily ASM'ing and I reserve the right to change my mind)
Some extra pointers-
Do your job well. Because when you do your job well, the show goes well. And actors - like everyone- like it when the show goes well. If you do your job well, you will earn an actor’s respect. And respect is key to forming strong relationships.
Get it out of your head that actors are so cool and you have to change who you are to fit in (they are cool but so are you so breathe you got this).
My best pointer for this is to test the waters. Be yourself and don't try to get them to like you. GENERALLY ensemble members are more likely to warm up to you first because they tend to have a lot more interactions with you right off the back. But I've worked with so many wonderful ensemble members and leads so open your heart up to everyone.
Don't be afraid to socialize with the cast. I know plenty of SM's who are like nope not going to the bar with the cast. However, I have found that socializing with the team outside of work has only strengthened relationships. If an actor extends an olive branch, take it. And be sure to invite them places to! Some of my best summer stock memories involve trips to the state fair and bonfires with actors & crew alike.
While building relationships with actors is something you get better with over time, I hope this list will give you some insight on ways to start.
Some of my very close friends are actors and I treasure these friendships with my whole heart. I can't tell you how many of them gave me advice on moving to the city, on dating, or just always managed to put me in a good mood backstage.
And here's the thing- chances are - you will work with them again. (No joke I have honestly worked with actors again more than SM teams/crew). So get over this idea that actors are the worst and start forming genuine connections with them.
You may be surprised with how much you like them.