At last! Some news which might be very welcome at a time when Covid-19 is restricting the movement of almost everyone. How about training in stage management by distance learning?
Antonia Collins is a highly experienced stage manager. And she’s passionate about helping others towards similarly successful careers. So she has launched a distance learning scheme in which she shares her expertise – and it could be a very useful starting point for anyone stage managing in amateur companies, wanting to do it better or maybe leaning towards doing it professionally.
She calls it Bamboo Manager Project. “An American student of mine said we stage managers should be like bamboo: strong, flexible and sustainable,” Antonia explains. “Unfortunately the domain name ‘Be Like Bamboo’ was already taken so I decided on ‘Bamboo Manager Project’.”
But surely stage management is a practical subject? Can you really master it by distance learning? “I believe you can, although of course not everyone agrees with me,” answers Antonia, who has a Masters degree in digital education. “We offer what an SM student would learn in the first year at drama school but it costs only £800 so it saves the students huge amounts of money. You can do it in a couple of months using online and Skype,” says Antonia who will be launching a second course soon and who also runs a short taster course so you can decide whether or not this would work for you.
Having trained at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Antonia set out as an assistant stage manager at Theatre Clywd in 1991. She found the work quite lonely although she has very happy memories of working with Barbara Eifler as Production Manager.
She relished the times when she met other SMs which enabled them to ask each other questions and share information. “Bamboo Manager Project began as a collaborative Facebook page,” she recalls. “I was simply trying to find a way to enable stage managers to talk to each other. The idea for running training as part of that came later when my circumstances changed.”
As well as working extensively as a stage manager, Antonia also taught for many years at her alma mater, RWCMD where she set up the MA in Stage Management and ensured that her students graduated with the job’s “essential skills.”
Then in 2010 came a job offer at the Academy for Performing Arts in Hong Kong. “My husband, Andy, who’s a sound designer, was already working at Disney-land HK so it fitted in quite well. I took a two-year contract. Our younger son came with us. He chose to attend a Chinese rather than an international school and he’s now fluent in Mandarin.” She tells me that she found the HK students ‘amazing’ and the facilities ‘incredible’.
Jobless again in 2017 she returned to freelance stage management in the UK and began an MSc in Digital Education at University of Edinburgh.
“Then I attended a conference at Fort Lauderdale in Florida. It led to a nine-month job offer at Florida State University because someone had died,” she says telling me that she rebuilt the undergraduate pathway there.” This time she went alone without her family and did a lot flying backwards and forwards. “My MSc was ongoing and I was thinking a lot about virtual learning environments and recalling how virtual learning had helped my Chinese students get round language problems. I wrote my dissertation on this.”
Antonia came back to the UK in May 2019, stage managed a production of City of Angels at Royal Academy of Music and decided she wanted “to pull all the bits together.”
Her elder son, meanwhile, had done a stage management degree at LAMDA so she was well aware of both London living costs and the fees involved. “We were able to support him but what happens to young people whose parents aren’t in that position?” Antonia asks, pointing out that there aren’t many scholarships for stage management.
She stresses: “I’d never say ‘Don’t go to drama school’ but Bamboo Project Manager works from a different angle in the hope of providing an affordable alternative.”
Students on the first course, which she calls Stage 101, are each found a shadowing opportunity and, starting with just eight in the first cohort, Antonia will mentor each student herself. The plan is that on the forthcoming second, follow-on course there will also be a work placement for each participant. “And we have group Skype sessions for discussions – sticky notes on a paddleboard work well. And everyone blogs.”
Antonia recommends doing the course over ten weeks, with one session per week because you have to make time for the required blogs too. “You could do it in less but it’s probably better to pace yourself.” She recalls with a grin that she wrote most of the course while stage managing shows at the Royal Court and the National Theatre of Wales. “I don’t want hundreds of students,” she says “This is a case of quality not quantity. I want to be personally accessible to everyone involved”.
Meanwhile Antonia continues to work as a stage manager herself so her expertise is totally current. She was due to work on Hail Cremation at National Theatre of Wales for its two-week run at the end of March. But unfortunately the Coronavirus (or Covid-19) of course put paid to that. “Soon I shall probably be back at Royal Academy of Music for their one-year musical theatre course show,” she tells me – with her fingers crossed.
You can contact Antonia for more information through hers personal website: andycsnd.wixsite.com/antonia-collins/projects
The Bamboo Manager Project website: www.thebamboomanagerproject.org
Twitter: @AntoniaECollins | Facebook: TheBambooManager