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"There comes a time of change" : Engaging Vulnerable Leadership in The Grapes of Wrath

  • Author(s): Sprowls, Megan
  • Advisor(s): Porter, Lisa
  • et al.

In The Grapes of Wrath, the character of Ma exemplifies many traits I incorporate into my work as a stage manager. Ma keeps the family moving forward by carrying the weight of the family's journey on her back while holding space for challenges along the way. She is the stage manager of the family and her unique fusion of authority with vulnerability is something I have incorporated into my work.

As both a leader and a collaborator, stage managers have the freedom to balance formal and informal authority. While formal authority can be inherently granted--like Ma's authority as a mother--informal authority must be cultivated. The collaborative nature of the theatrical process affords stage managers the flexibility to integrate various styles of informal authority. Stage managers can become more open, wholehearted, and courageously engaged leaders by putting aside protective armor and practicing vulnerability. Like Ma, who sings as her family disintegrates, I discovered that being vulnerable strengthened my bond with my own theatrical family and positioned me as a trusted authority.

One of the oldest sayings in theatre is "the show must go on." I realized, like Ma did, that the show only goes on when the people behind it keep driving forward. By embracing vulnerability, I found my place in the driver's seat, motivating the company to keep moving forward while creating a fluid collaborative rhythm. The show does go on because, in the words of Ma, "we're the people--we go on."

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