With a Heap of Trust: The Voice Surrounding Service Leadership
- Author(s): Cooks, Topaz
- Advisor(s): Porter, Lisa
- et al.
A foundational concept I took away from my previous studies was that Stage Managers are seen, not heard. I used to be afraid of inserting my voice into a conversation and interrupting the creative process. My silence led to passive behaviors which I mistook for practices of service-leadership . As a service-leader, my primary goal is to improve others’ experiences and to be in service rather than in control of a process regardless of my position. In hindsight, I recognize occasions when I suppressed my instincts, and my intermittently unresponsive presence was detrimental to the production; what I was practicing was the act of service without the leadership. Throughout my graduate studies, I learned to trust my voice and my ability to facilitate, build relationships, and advocate authentically for the process I was both serving and leading.During previous productions, I shied away from opportunities to build relationships with collaborators. Given the physical separation of the company working on Heap, a new play produced on Zoom, it was important to establish a sense of community from the onset. Before the first rehearsal, I assembled and distributed care packages for each company member with a mug, tea, coffee, and a snack. These items would typically be found on a hospitality cart in a rehearsal room. The experience of each person enjoying the same drink during rehearsal was a way to unite the company while we were physically distanced. Additionally, Heap’s production calendar consisted of twenty-three days to rehearse and film. The time restrictions in this foreign environment allotted rare moments for learning curves and playful exploration. I recognized this obstacle and responded to my instincts and foresight; I budgeted rehearsal hours carefully, scheduling concurrent breakout rooms for rehearsal, costume fittings, and technical setups with actors and designers. I authentically facilitated weekly production meetings in which I asked questions utilizing the collective brainpower in the virtual room. While working on Heap, I asked for mutual transparency and confidence. Using a light sense of humor, I made space for imperfection and welcomed all voices to participate. At the same time, I publicly acknowledged my mistakes, navigated missing information, and embraced moments of vulnerability centered around the new experience of virtual theater. My genuine dedication to the people and the artistic vision further established trust within the production. As an emerging service-leader, these interdependent practices reinforce that I must be seen and heard to effectively support a production process.