When the stage manager sends in an understudy

Already Calm I'm The Stage ManagerSo I recently injured my back in a way which is not too serious (I hope) but it means I can’t really take any chances with it for a while either. Which means not really lifting anything and not camping on anything which isn’t as smooth as Anne Hathaway’s tummy.

Which meant I had to turn down a long-standing booking to stage manage some artistes including the Mediæval Bæbes at a summer jousting event lasting four days in all. It would have meant camping (on a rough forest floor) and lifting stuff on and off stage repeatedly. It’s an annual gig that I’ve worked before and I’m always delighted to be asked back.

But this year the sensible thing to do was to pass, rather than turn up and be useless, or worse, not be useless right up until the point that I was injured and then be a real nuisance.

I figured it was best that I give the organisers a brief run-down on what I actually do there so that they could draft someone in and give then a fighting chance.

It also occurred to me that Catherine was going to this event. She is normally next to the stage selling merchandise for the artistes, but when she’s not at this annual jousting event (or doing her actual proper job) she does know her way around a stage and is familiar with most of what I do when I’m SMing. Plus she has crewed on stage so is no stranger to the environment. So maybe, just maybe I should just send her in my place (I figured they could easily get someone else to sell DVDs and T-shirts).

She was convinced it was a difficult job. Until I gave her the briefing. This is the gist of it, see what you think:

What does the Woodland Stage stage manager do:

  1. The most important task is keeping everything running to time. This usually means rounding up the artistes in plenty of time, making sure the stage is set according to their needs (and swept) and getting them on on the dot of their allotted start time.
  2. It also means ensuring that they understand the importance of finishing their slot on time and being prepared to ask them to stop if they try and overrun.
  3. Timing is essential since large numbers of audience will want to move from the Woodland Stage area to the Jousting area and the timings allow for this, only if they are stringently adhered to.
  4. Preparing the stage can mean anything from just clearing everything off it and sweeping it, to a full set up for the Bæbes. With the Bæbes it is important to know what the differing requirements are for their two different sets (if doing 2). For instance different instruments in different positions. They will advise and help.
  5. Ensuring that the public and all those not associated with stage performances do not come back-stage. There is a dressing room in which artistes need to feel comfortable getting changed.
  6. The dressing room also need a certain amount of cleaning. It is particularly important to remove any leftover food or plates, drinks etc. to reduce the impact posed by wasps.
  7. Ensure that the dressing room is well stocked with water bottles which can be requested from control.
  8. Ensure the safety of performers whilst on or back stage. Pointing out trip hazards, making or requesting repairs when necessary.
  9. Be calm and soothe anxious performers. Help them resolve any problems as efficiently and as drama-free as possible.
  10. Ensure that all performers are thanked on leaving the stage and congratulated, praised etc. Performers egos can be delicate and your reassurance will be appreciated.

What does the stage manager need to have:

  1. If nothing else, they need a large easily visible accurate clock. I have one the prefect stage-manager’s clock which I sent with Catherine (or they can be picked from Argus for £20).
  2. A broom which can be supplied from the site crew. (Once acquired, never relinquish. The broom is power!)
  3. An up to date version of the running order, preferably written or typed out in large print and displayed near to the above-mentioned clock backstage.
  4. Notepad and pens. Things change. Messages will be left. Signs will need to be created on the fly. So have a portable stationery kit with lots of A4 paper and Sharpies.
  5. But most importantly the stage manager has to have an air of calm.

As soon as the event is over, I’ll add a note of how she did, but the first day has gone well, so I might well be out of a job!


About Words of Little Relevance

Freelance stage manager; software and web tester; Excel and map geek; Tweeter; Blogger and Cake Eater. Often back-stage in and around Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire where I move scenes, or play with lights or sound.
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2 Responses to When the stage manager sends in an understudy

  1. Paws says:

    I really don’t think I’ve ever been so possessive of a broom before.
    But it’s your stage, I’m just keeping it warm for you (so to speak).

  2. Pingback: Me, The Stage Manager? | Creative Geekery

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