Making a movie or television show in the style of a mockumentary can be very challenging. It takes the right combination of a sharp script, talent behind the camera, an editor who knows exactly what they’re doing, and pinpoint precision in comedic timing from the actors on camera. All of these mechanisms have to be working in unison. And, even if all these systems are running as they should, some audience members are simply not on the same wavelength as the show. Written and directed by Guy Noland, Stage Managed is a mockumentary series depicting a community theatre group’s attempt to produce an off-brand version of My Fair Lady. I have only seen the pilot episode, so providing a complete evaluation of the nuances of the series as a whole is not possible at the moment. However, the narrative foundations laid here may be enough to pique the interest of certain viewers, although mileage will vary.
Right away, it is obvious that Stage Managed leans heavily into its satire and parody of the theatre community. Admittedly, I have very little personal experience in interacting with people in this corner of the art world, but I have seen them portrayed as the butt of the joke time and time again in many instances of storytelling across media. Based on the series debut of Stage Managed, the stereotypes of the theater community continue to be caricatured. I am not at liberty to judge how accurate or overly exaggerated these portraits are, but I think it is safe to say they are overextended beyond the territory of accurate representation, intentionally so. This trope may have played itself out over the years for some, but if this series finds a way to deconstruct the surface-level personalities of its characters, there may be potential for a handful of intriguing character arcs later in the season.
The characters in question are: The flamboyant director of the My Fair Lady production, Sterling (Carter Thomas); his sprightly assistant, Brittany (Rebecca Thomas); the awkward, self-conscious actress from out of town, Kate (Kate Ponzio); the washed-up, former big shot actor David (Derrel Maury); and the shameless, larger-than-life personality of Flashdance Flo (Nancy Lantis). And occasionally, Clint Howard appears, playing himself, which obviously opens the door for plenty of meta jokes and self-referential quips. Indeed, these characters mingling about in the same space leads to some interesting interactions. The actors look to be having a lot of fun in their portrayals of the characters, with an enthusiasm that may go a long way in winning over on-the-fence viewers. The pilot episode efficiently gives us an overview of the primary players who will be explored over the course of the season, and teases a few plot points to be further expanded upon.
As for the cinematography and editing, there is nothing that sets Stage Managed apart from any other film or show produced in this style, which is not exactly surprising, but is still somewhat disappointing. There was a great opportunity here to experiment with creative camera movements and editing beats to accentuate the absurdity of the comedy, but unfortunately, nothing ventured outside the box of standards for the mockumentary approach that has been popularized by The Office and Parks and Recreation. I hope that this trend does not continue later in the season, and that we actually see them go against the grain to set Stage Managed apart from other shows of a similar style, at least from a visual standpoint. When it comes to comedy on film and television, the technical side of the equation is just as significant as the writing in the script and delivery from the talent.
I can say that I enjoyed enough about the pilot of Stage Managed that I will make an effort to return back for new episodes in the season as they release. The groundwork has been established for this narrative to examine the theatre community and its inhabitants with a reflective eye, and I remain curious as to how this show will tackle this critique. The ultimate role of a debut episode is to get the viewer curious as to what may come next, and that’s exactly what happened with this pilot.
Screening during the 2021 Dances With Films Festival.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.