This post is connected with IPT 690, a graduate seminar course in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University.
This week in seminar, we were privileged to hear from Emily Castleton from the Theater and Media Arts Department. Emily, spoke about her experiences being a theatrical stage manager. She most recently finished a stint as the stage manager for BYU’s production of the Operetta Die Fledermaus. In her presentation, Emily took us through some of the systems that she has set up to automate the process of creating a perfectly executed stage production. She has a notebook that she maintains that is essentially her script to the technical aspects of the show. She refines this guide, night after night, all in the hope of making the show run as seamlessly as possible.
Dr. Gibbons was asking some questions of the IPT students to try to force some connections between Emily’s process and that of an instructional designer, and I think the parallels were plenty. We discussed whether the stage manager was the equivalent of the curriculum designer or the trainer. I think this was a tough one to call — and as Emily plays the Stage Manager she is doing a bit of both. As an instructional designer, our job (as seen by a certain portion of ID) is to create instructional systems that are consistent and effective. This is parallel to the process that Emily goes through as she scripts out the lighting cues, audio, props and other tasks that need to happen in order for the show to be executed flawlessly. In that sense, she is designing much of how the show is going to run. On the other hand, she is also responsible for executing her own design on a nightly basis. She creates a guide because she knows that she will need to reference it to achieve “perfection”. She can’t expect to just riff every night with the hope that everything will turn out okay. In this way she is also the “trainer” or the person that executes the design.
What I resisted toward was this idea that every instance of a play or curriculum should be perfectly executed. While its seems that perfection should be something that we should strive toward when we are building out a system that has a lot of moving parts, I’m just not so sure that is the system that we should always be striving for. I’m sure that Emily would agree. There are different levels of control that are exercised over an opera (which has orchestras, lighting cues, actors, etc.) than you would in an improvisation. Each has a different goal, and as such a different system of cues, rules, techniques, for achieving that goal.
I was once involved in the theater and I loved that world. Even though I’m sure there is something stressful about trying to execute your plan every night in front of a live audience, I’m sure that there is great rewards when your system actually works.