Ever since I wrote the post about the SMArts Conference calling a show/prompt book session, my blog has taken a number of hits from people searching “how to call a show” “writing sound & light cues” “prompt book” “calling lighting cues” “how to make a prompt book” and other similar searches. To me that suggests two things: first of all that this is information people are looking for and second that there is not a lot of information available about it online. A quick google search shows me that the first things that pop up are the wikipedia articles on stage management & prompt scripts. Both are informative but short & contain very little information on how to do the job or create the book. In an effort to supplement the information that does exist online I am writing a couple of posts on the subject. This post will be the first of two that take a look at the SM Prompt Book (affectionately referred to as the “show bible”).
Right off the top let me say that this post is NOT an exhaustive reference on the subject of prompt scripts. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time stage managing it is that every stage manager has their own style & that the prompt script tends to reflect that. Every prompt script I’ve ever looked at while being similar to each other are still different. Even my own prompt scripts have changed over time as my style changes & I find things that better serve the way I’m working.
What is a prompt book?
A prompt book documents everything about the production and could be used as a blueprint to remount the production if a company desires. Created by the stage manager over the entire course of the production (from prep to closing), it is the property of the production company. There is no “official” way to create or maintain a prompt script. It is one of the elements of stage managements that shows the most personality, as every stage manager has a slightly different style. Usually a prompt book is contained in a 3 ring binder and uses tabbed dividers to separate out the different sections. I am a big fan of the Avery Heavy Duty 3″ D-ring binder with presentation view (I usually buy the black one, but that’s just personal preference. I know other SM’s who choose to buy bright coloured binders just to keep something bright in their lives). Using a presentation view binder allows you to put a cut-down copy of the poster in the front to allow for easy show identification later on. On the spine of the binder I put the show title, director, dates, company, & stage manager. Others I know list the entire production team. Once more, it’s just a matter of personal preference.
What is contained in a prompt book?
- Contact List
- Breakdowns (Scene breakdown, actor breakdown, etc)
- THE SCRIPT
- Copies of all rehearsal reports
- Copies of all Light, Sound, Costume & Props paperwork
- Minutes from production meetings
- Anything else that might come in handy
1. Contact List
The contact list for your show should have the name, job/role, phone number(s), & e-mail address of everyone involved. It should be near the front of the book so that when someone is missing and you need to get ahold of them you can quickly get the contact info you need. It is important to make sure that all the information on the contact sheet is accurate, so be prepared to make changes to your initial file once you’ve had the first rehearsal.
You are going to end up with a lot of different schedules for the show. Likely you will have one in a calendar format which will have the rehearsal & show hours on it for the duration of the project, but you will also have daily schedules which you will want to keep on file. In addition to rehearsal schedules there will be tech schedules, fitting schedules, building schedules, and so on. The best advice I can give is to keep them all organized so that you can find what you need, when you need it.
For any of you who aren’t sure what a breakdown is, it is a way to capture the script in a page or two and know who is onstage when, who sings & dances in which numbers, how long each scene is, etc. I usually do a scene/actor breakdown for every show that I do, and then additional breakdowns depend on the production. This piece of paperwork means that as you are making a schedule and need to know who to call in to work scene three, rather than having to go through the script, all you need to do is flip to your breakdown and see who is in scene three. Some plays don’t actually have scene breaks written into them, so this scene breakdown will also help you, the director & the cast & crew to all be on the same page – when one person says scene three, you all know which scene is being referred to.
4. The Script
What you are looking at here is not just a photocopy of the script, but a copy of the script that is formatted with wide margins for writing notes in. I usually hole punch mine on the right hand side (opposite of what a “normal” hole punch would be) so that I have a blank page next to the script for blocking. If I’m working on a new script, I just play with the formatting in MS Word before I print it, but it is important to make sure that by playing with the formatting you don’t end up with different page numbers than whatever the cast, crew & director have. If I’m working with an established script for which we have bought acting editions from Samuel French or Dramatists, I photocopy the script page so that it is in the middle with white margins all around. It can take some trial & error to get right, but it’s worth it when it comes time to write in cues and take down the blocking.