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January 10, 2014

Networking. The ugly word that haunts everyone with a career in theatre. The art of selling yourself is, well, an art. You can spend years honing your talents at school, college, an internship and an apprenticeship. The fact remains: you may want a career in theatre, but so do many, many other keen beans. In Britain, it can be agonising for us Stage Managers to peel ourselves away from the latest episode of Downton Abbey and venture out to that social event/ career fair/ bar-after-a-show and sell ourselves. Boasting is not in keeping with traditional British modesty. Plus you always run the chance of making yourself look like a knob-head.  The British SM is an easy spot at a networking event, quietly introducing ourselves and slowly sliding our portfolio across desks (yes, an SM portfolio is a thing, yes, people deserve to see what your paperwork looks like, and yes, I encourage you to make one). Small talk, positivity and bragging make up a painfully polite yet necessary process.

Can you therefore imagine my horror, when arriving stateside, at having to undertake this mortifying practice in front of 10 other people. Not even just people. Potential candidates. For the same job that I wanted. That I was perfect for. All I had to do was meet the Production Manager and let them know that I would be great for their show. The only problem was that I had joined a line behind ten other Stage Managers who were just as qualified as me, some much more so. Being left in a predicament by all of these quality applications (and possibly feeling slightly torturous) the Production Manager decided to host a group interview.

I arrived, like the other ten applicants, 15 minutes early and clutching my sample paperwork (Stage Management Portfolio). Everyone politely introduced themselves and we all took a seat in the room we were to be interviewed in. Together. All at once. At the same time. There was the usual small talk and then a following deadly silence. I can’t say anyone was sizing up the competition, the silence was the result of eleven Stage Managers practicing their usual interview responses in their head.

The door opened and the PM and the Director entered. They asked the first question, and I sank under a sea of clever, articulate answers. I completely froze at my American peers’ ability to speak openly, to a crowded room, about how great a Stage Manager they were. Even my go-to charm, my accent, was lost under the loud and confident responses of everyone in the room.

They then decided to give everyone a chance and go around the circle one-by-one, asking everyone the same question, “why are you a good Stage Manager?” Easy! I knew that one! And finally they would hear me speak! In a Scottish accent! How perfect, how amazing! Until I heard my answer come from across the room in a charming Southern Texas accent. Someone else had given my perfect answer. Everyone laughed, as I knew they would.

Suddenly, I was 10, sitting in a circle at Ross McDonald’s birthday party, my abnormally-huge-for-a-ten-year-old head crammed underneath the pinch of a tiny birthday hat. The party clown had just turned on the music and a parcel was being passed towards me. One thin layer of wrapping paper barely covering the box of Legos that everyone, after 6 rounds of intense parcel passing, now knew was underneath. I loved Legos. I was great at Legos. I needed the Legos. The music swelled, a group of ten-year-olds high on sugar were silent for the first time that afternoon. The parcel reached the spot two places away from me— the sweet, sweet Legos were nearly mine—one place and—the music stopped. Cally Borland opened the Legos and threw them at her Mum.

Cally had not meant to ruin that birthday party for me, just like my Texan peer had not meant to ruin my interview. Regardless, when it came to my turn I was left Lego-less, meaning, I had nothing to say. I fumbled an answer, throwing out the usual “I’m really organised” and “I can communicate well” and the Director moved on.

I think there are two key lessons that I can share with you from this torturous experience.

1)     Don’t be afraid of a crowded room. That’s not to say become the loudest and most obnoxious voice in the group. There are ways to be heard that don’t involve being rude. If you need practice, sit with your family and friends.  If you have no family and friends, make some out of Legos.

2)     Always bargain that someone else will get to unwrap the parcel. In a group interview someone probably will get your perfect response in before you. So always make sure you enter loaded with a bank of insightful, professional quips about yourself.

What are your torturous networking experiences? Do you have a bank of go-to answers? Are Americans the Gods of the Group Interview? Let me know!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2014 11:20 am

    Reblogged this on Victoria Barclay: Transatlantic Stage Manager and commented:
    That time I went to a group interview.

  2. Branden Scott Stewart permalink
    January 11, 2014 3:15 am

    Great tips! Networking is one of the harder art forms to master in our craft.


  1. Networking: Keep the Pizza in the Oven | Branden Scott Stewart

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