Social? Network!

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Green Room
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If you’re serious about stage managing, network, network, network!

You can schmooze with people after performances, go to the bar/ diner/ cast party or wherever with the cast and crew. Let them know you’re interested. Word spreads fast. Go see other people’s shows; you’ll meet more new people to hob knob with. Pretty soon you’ll be able to pick and choose which shows you want to do.

Yes, it is okay to ask if they pay or if there is a stipend, especially if the theatre is far away.

Yes, you can audition for a show, too. There are a lot of actor/techies out there in community theatre.

Yes, you can say “No”.

Robyn

The Awesome Stage Manager

 

 

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SM Kit

Posted: March 3, 2012 in Green Room
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Your SM kit is your Batman utility belt. It has everything you need in a pinch, but doesn’t weigh several dozen pounds. There are a few categories that should be covered in your Kit.

Let’s start with the container. Whatever you are comfortable carrying: backpack, canvas tote, tool box, those wheelie suitcase things, whatever works for you. It needs to be large enough to fit everything, but not give you back problems. This is the bag I use.

Inside: What you pack will depends on the theatre you’re working at. And don’t feel like you have to be fully stocked from the get-go. Remember, you’re volunteering, so add you’re supplies slowly, when you can.

Office:

Scotch tape, mini stapler, staples, mechanical pencils, erasers, mini post-its, scissors, glue sticks, rubber cement, ruler, 3-hole punch (they make a ruler 3-hole punch combo that you can put in your binder)

Medical:

Pain reliever: aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.  (A variety is good in case there are allergies)

Band-aids: Plastic, cloth, non-latex. (Ditto)

Anti-bacterial ointment, cough drops

Sewing:

A mini pre-made kit will work. Make sure there’re a lot of safety pins. Also, you should know how to use a needle and thread for reattaching buttons and fixing hems in the dark.

Clear nail polish: it stop runs in nylons.

Other:

Prompt book. Laptop. Tea, instant coffee.

This is just a basic list. Your kit will evolve over time as you add and pare things away.

Robyn

The Awesome Stage Manager

Blocking

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Prompt Book
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Blocking is keeping track of the actors’ movements across the stage. Now, this may look a bit intimidating, but I will show you how I write down blocking. It may not be the best method for you. You will have to scour the internets for samples and templates and examples until you find or amalgamate a system that works for you. The first thing you must know is left and right, down and up.

These directions are universal. Everyone at any theatre in the U.S. should understand UR is Up Stage Right, C is Center, DL is Down Stage Left, etc. Those are the easy ones.

You also need a short hand for the Characters. I usually take the first two letters (or consonants) and circle them. It distinguishes them from the other letter symbols. For Example, CH is a circle is Charles, VN in a circle is Vinnie, and so on.

Actors also do more than cross from one side of the stage to the other. They pick up props, sit in chairs, lean on desks, drink excessive amounts of alcohol (the fake kind! See my post “Whiskey and Other Liquor”). You will need a way to notate all those actions as well.

Here is my Blocking Key for Mrs. Warren’s Profession (George Bernard Shaw).  This shorthand works great for me because it’s quick (only a couple of strokes per character) and it looks like what it is. (I studied Japanese for a couple of years, so that may count as cheating.

So using what you’ve learned so far, let’s put it into practice. Write the following in blocking short hand:

Mrs. Warren crosses down stage left and sits at the chair.

Great, now scroll down and see if you’re correct!

Good job! Now do a few more.

One of the best websites I’ve found so far for SM paperwork has been: http://rmusitt.org/resources/stagemanagers/6-smpaperwork

They have a few other samples of how to do blocking notation, as well as some other great resources.

Here’s a sample of my blocking notes for “Life with Father”.

Notice how I have the text of the script on the left and the form I use to write blocking on the right. This is because I am right handed and it’s easiest for me. There is also a place to put the blueprint of the set in the top right corner, a place to write down descriptions of lighting or sound cues, and a place for notes and/or props that are needed. That form is here: Blocking Page

As an actor moves, I notate on what line they move, associate it with a number and write the blocking code at that number.

CHORUS: “Two households, both alike in dignity,|_________________(1)        1: (CH) raises hands

In fair Verona | where we lay our scene. |____________________(3) (5)      3: (CH) bows, R hand out

From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny,                                                5: (LM) Ent UL, XDR; (LC) Ent UR, XDL

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

I like to skip a few numbers in between because invariably, the director will go back and tweak things and add little extra movements here and there.

Important Tips: Write everything in PENCIL! A lot of blocking will change. In fact, invest in a large eraser. I also use a ruler to draw the lines. And make sure you keep a copy of your blocking key in your prompt book. Not just to remind you, but in case something happens, someone else will be able to read and understand your blocking notations. Once a show goes up, I keep my prompt book at the theatre. You never know.

Hope that was helpful. Please comment if you have questions!!

Robyn

The Awesome Stage Manager

Share and Share Alike

Posted: February 28, 2012 in Prop Closet
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Sometimes you may need 3 or 4 dozen fake bananas or a china pug dog statue for your show. And you know someone who knows someone who thinks another theatre did that show a few years ago. So, you send an inquiry email, but they’re concerned the props might not get returned in good condition. So you send them this: Request for Loan of Props

Now you are responsible for the well-being of said obscure prop, and the other theatre feels better about lending things to you. Hey, maybe you’ll get another gig out of it if they see how professional and responsible you are.

Robyn

The Awesome Stage Manager

Some expectations that you might not be aware of:

DIRECTOR:

What they expect: Someone professional, organized, responsible. Open communication. A gal/guy Friday- you catch the things that they miss. Opening night, it is no longer their show. If anything goes wrong, you are responsible. If everything goes right, you are responsible.

What you should expect: Respect, open communication, camaraderie, trust. Timeliness, professionalism, flexibility. The general public will probably not know you exist, especially if you’ve done your job right, so expect the director (and producer) to get the credit for a show. It’s not their fault, just the way it is.

ACTORS:

What they expect: Professional, organized, responsible, the keeper of all knowledge, scheduler, confidant, friend, girl/boy scout (always prepared), patient, understanding, taskmaster. What their line is and where they are on stage at any given moment.

What you should expect: Professionalism, respect. You are not a second class citizen. They should learn their lines in a timely manner. They should be ready to rehearse when called. If they are running late they should call you. They should inform you of all scheduling conflicts ASAP. Call time is not a suggestion.

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER:

What they expect: You know all the answers. If new, train them how to be as awesome as you are! You will delegate appropriate tasks. Don’t forget to always say ‘Thank you’ everyday!

What you should expect: Someone ready, willing and able. Reliable, trustworthy. Remembers things when you forget. Able to do what is asked.

PRODUCER:

What they expect: You are the liaison between production team, tech crew and actors. Professionalism and reliability. You keep everyone on track and on time.

What you should expect: Professional and reliable. This is where the buck stops. If you are having problems that cannot be resolved by you and/or the director, take it to your producer. Ultimately in charge of budget, making sure things get done!

General TECH CREW:

What they expect: You should be telling them when things that are not working, props and sound effects that are still needed. Open communication!

What you should expect: Tasks are completed on schedule. Open communication!

HOUSE:

What they expect: You are the first one there to open the building/doors, etc. and the last one to leave, turning off the lights, checking thermostat, locking doors, etc. (Varies by theatre)

What you should expect: A clean lobby and house. To be able to signal/communicate with house manager when lobby is empty and audience is ready to start. A timely intermission.

While this is certainly not a complete list, there are some common themes that you should take notice of:

Communication: This means updating people regularly, not gossiping, or withholding information, expressing your ideas/opinions in an intelligent and professional way. No matter where you work or what you do, communication is always the most important aspect, but it is always the first thing to break down.

Professionalism: I define this as keeping a calm level head, not lowering yourself to gossip and rumors, getting your work done in a timely fashion. No he-said-she-said, but taking responsibility for your actions. Being respectful and sticking to the rules, however few there may be. I try to keep the ‘drama’ out of theatre.

Hope that is helpful! Please comment if you have more suggestions and/or expectations!

Robyn

The Awesome Stage Manager

Line, please!

Posted: February 25, 2012 in Prompt Book
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As actors are struggling to get off book, you (or your ASM) will have to be on book, available to prompt them. This can be a touchy subject. Here is what is supposed to happen:

Actor: ” Two household, both-” Line!

SM: “alike in dignity”

Actor: “Alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”

If they forget a line, you loudly and clearly give them the next 3 or 4 words and they continue on. If it’s been a rough rehearsal, and actors are getting frustrated, you’ll have to be vigilant. Here’s some scenarios:

Actor: ” Two household, both-” Agh! $%&#@% What’s the line?

SM: “alike in dignity”

Actor: “Alike in dignity, in fair Verona”. . . . . . . . (actor looks at you pleadingly)

SM: “where we lay”

Actor: I can’t believe I forgot that. “Where we lay our scene.” I feel so silly, etc.

What you should do, is at the next break, remind them to keep in character and just call “Line” when they need it. If you keep providing a line prompt whenever you hear a long pause, you might step on toes. The actor could be trying to remember the line or could be pausing for dramatic effect. Then they’ll get frustrated and you’ll feel sheepish.

Keeping Score

If you’re working with an older text, like something by George Bernard Shaw or Shakespeare, where the wording is very important, you may need to take line notes. There are a few ways to do it. You can fill out Line Note forms like these Line Notes Form and hand them to the actors at the end of rehearsal, or you can keep track in your prompt book, and review them with the actors at the end of rehearsal.

If you’re working with a very large cast on a very huge production, make an extra copy of your script. Put each double sided page into those sheet protector sleeves and then put each act into it’s own binder. Then, while you or your ASM are marking down line notes with erasable markers for one act, the cast can be reviewing the notes for the other acts.

When creating a rehearsal schedule, you will need:

  • All of the cast members’ conflicts
  • Scene breakdown
  • Production calendar

The production calendar includes not just the audition and performance dates, but when people are building the sets, when publicity photos will be taken, and any dark days the theatre has.

With your copy of the production calendar, add in everyone’s conflicts. It’s a time consuming task but will save you much frustration in the long run.

Now let’s work backwards. For most productions, the big tech day is the Sunday before the show opens. If your show opens on Friday then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday should be Full Dress Rehearsals, with costumes, props, lights and sound, as if it were the real thing. On tech Sunday, I suggest that the tech crew meet in the morning for a Dry Tech or Paper Tech, where they just go through the cues without the actors to make sure everything is functioning properly. Then call the actors for the afternoon and go through the whole show marrying actors with the tech.

This is when things start to get frustrating. There’s often a lot of “hurry up and wait”. People tend to get cranky when things aren’t going well. So it’s important for you to stay balanced and positive. Not just for your sanity, but for theirs. It also helps to feed them. Talk to your Producer about food and what your budget is. Pizza is almost always a great idea.

But I digress. Back to the schedule!

Tech Sunday is not the day the cast should be running the show from beginning to end for the first time. Ideally you’ll want to be running the show a few days before that. Which means that everyone should have their lines learned about a week before tech Sunday at the LATEST. If you have a three act play, I like to have Act 3 off-book (meaning the actors are no longer calling for lines) by the Monday before Tech Sunday. Act 2 the Monday before that, and Act 1 the Monday before that.

In the Beginning…

At your very first rehearsal, everyone should be there. Almost all directors like to have a table reading, which means that everyone sits around the table and reads the script. This is a good opportunity to get a rough estimate of how long the show will run as this will probably be the fastest the show goes until your full run-throughs. Some actors like to record the read-through so that they can use it to help them learn their lines. You should also be confirming everyone’s contact information and conflicts that they provided on their audition forms!!

Here’s where the scene breakdown sheet comes in handy.

The Schedule: Assuming 8 weeks for a 3 Act play

Week 1: Run all the scenes for Act 1 that you can, in as close to a chronological order that you can. But try not to have people sitting around waiting for their scenes.

Week 2: Any scenes you couldn’t do last week. Run all the scenes for Act 2 that you can.

Week 3: Any scenes you couldn’t do last week. Run all the scenes for Act 3 that you can.

Week 4: By this time, you and the director should have an understanding about which scenes need more work. Or if you have actor conflicts, this is a good time to review!

(This is a basic guideline and will have to be adjusted for every show. Some scenes may need more work than others, etc.)

Week 5: Monday: Off Book Act 1: Run through act 1 as many times as you can. Start running through acts 2 and 3 Thursday and Friday

Week 6: Monday: Off Book Act 2: Run through act 2 as many times as you can. Run acts 1 and 2, then 2 and 3

Week 7: Monday: Off Book act 3: Run through act 3 as many times as you can. Start running 1 through 3

Week 8: Tech Sunday; Full dress run-throughs Monday-Thursday; Open Friday!!!

Depending on the length of your run, you should have a pick-up rehearsal every week, to make sure the actors haven’t gotten rusty. You don’t need to do any tech, just a bare bones rehearsal.

Strike: This is when the set gets taken down. Some theatres ask the actors to help, some have their own tech crew to do it.

But Wait, There’s More….

You are also responsible for making sure everyone on the tech side is keeping to their schedule. You should try to have a production meeting before the first rehearsal and then at least 2 or 3 more, schedule permitting. These are your progress updates, where you can ask questions, and provide answers.

Some things you may have to schedule:

  • Publicity photo shoot(s)
  • due date for Program Bios from cast
  • costume fittings
  • Props due date
  • Costumes due date
  • Set due date
  • Lights & Sound due date

Here is a copy of the last few weeks of one of my schedules: SampleProductionCalendar

Hope that’s been helpful and not too difficult to follow. Please ask questions! I will answer!

Robyn

The Awesome stage Manager