Beyond “The Pillowman”

I approached The Pillowman rehearsal process hesitantly. I am an actor but was asked to be stage manager–a title with which I have no previous experience and, as Heads Up does not operate like a normal theatre company, I would not have the same responsibilities as a normal stage manager. I was left trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do. As it turns out, a Heads Up stage manager is more like an assistant director, stage manager and understudy for the actor when they can’t make rehearsal.

Heads Up holds weekly actor training sessions and, though it was not required that I attend, I went. After the first two days of rehearsal I felt like I was learning more about myself than I was about acting. I talked to the artistic director about this and he said, “that’s what Heads Up is all about.”

And this is what I discovered.

I am uncomfortable in a leadership position. This is something that I want to work on because only leaders get the glory.  And we all want glory.

I need to work on being open and connected to my partner, listening to them instead of waiting my turn to speak, knowing what I want from them and using everything in power to get it.

Two years ago, I participated in an exercise where the participants were asked to walk around in an imaginary bubble. You first travel through the space in the center of your bubble.  Eventually, you move to the periphery.  In the past, when I did the exercise, I was uncomfortable on the periphery because I felt open to attack.  We did this same exercise during a training session. This time, I felt well protected in the center but couldn’t see.  The walls of my bubble were opaque and it obscured my vision.  I was most comfortable on the periphery– I could see clearly and was happy to greet the other.  This is proof that I have grown; I’m more willing to put myself out there.

My biggest issue, however, is staying out of my head, not judging my own work. I find that passing judgment on my own creative work only serves to get in my way because it could never be good enough.

Aside from working with Heads Up, I’ve been reading Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone. The section on status has been most useful.  He suggests using status in place of objectives. I feel this can work some of but not all of the time. What I view as more important are the little moment-to-moment status transactions that take place, when one person changes status either up or down.

I have come to know myself a lot better since working with Heads Up and I continue to challenge myself daily both inside and outside of rehearsal.  Being young, I’m still not completely formed; I’m trying to mold myself into the ideal self.  When I perform I want to make a “true gift” of myself.

This is the light that I bring.

-Daniel Ward
Stage Manager


  1. […] Dan alluded to in his blog, an essential trait that separates a Heads Up Company Member from everyone else is a continual need […]


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