The hardest thing about stage managing a new play is that it is like trying to hit a moving target. Paperwork tracking characters and scenes becomes outdated as soon as it can be created and weekly schedules go out the window when the script is undergoing serious revisions. All of this movement is exactly why the role of the stage manager is important: you have to be prepared to guide everyone else so they can hit the new target with all their energy. It always requires you to be a step ahead. It’s a challenge, but here are a few tips to make it easier
1. Set a hard deadline for changes to the script. I recommend no later than two days before tech starts. You don’t want lines to keep changing as you are setting cues, plus that gives the actors a chance to settle into the final script for a bit before opening.
2. Expect changes to come up after your deadline. But these changes should be small: replacing a word, cutting a line here or there. No new scenes.
3. Remember that the process of rehearsing a new play is more stressful for everyone than rehearsing an established script. Be gracious to others and to yourself.
4. Stay on top of the paperwork. All of it. Include the draft number on each draft of the paperwork for quick reference. It will be a lot of work, but will save everyone a lot of time.
5. Develop a good short hand with the playwright and a system for communicating notes back and forth in a way that won’t eat your rehearsal time. My advice? Treat requests for changes based on rehearsal as exactly that: requests. “We would like to change…” or “Would it be possible to change…”
6. Listen. Listen more. Especially when the director and playwright are talking to each other.
7. Print fresh pages for everyone. Some actor will always want to write in the changes, but inevitably this leads to bigger problems later. Keep everyone on the same page. Physically.
8. Whenever possible, participate in the development process.
9. Initiate the conversation about who gets to make the final decisions: playwright or director. Make sure both parties are clear on that.
10. Over communicate – especially with designers. They are on the biggest time crunch of all, and you never know which small piece of information will be a BIG problem for them not to have a week from now.
In this past theatre season I had the privilege of stage managing two world premiere productions as well as beginning the workshop process on another. As I look to next season, it looks like three world premieres are on the table. It’s exciting and I can’t wait.