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. In a response to this, I wrote “The SM Prompt Book: Show Bible Pt. 1“. This post continues where that one left off. (On a side note – I recently put together a new prompt script for a show that started rehearsals this week and it was fun to have this post on my mind as I was putting things together.)
Blocking is another one of those things that every stage manager does a bit differently. My personal style has evolved a lot over the past seven years. Most stage managers use some combination of written out blocking with drawings. I choose to create a page with lines down one half of it and miniature floor plans of the set on the other half. The image on the right is a scanned sheet out of the blocking from Refuge of Lies. As you can see it has three miniature floor plans down the right hand side of the page and lines on the left. This page only has a few notations on it. Each notation, for me, begins with a number – the number is assigned to a line of dialogue on the page opposite so that I can easily figure out where the action is to happen. I will then write the initials of the actors name, in this case DN & TK (David Nykl & Terrence Kelly) followed by the action. I use shorthand for writing blocking out. For instance, EXT = Exit, X = cross, etc. I use the floor plans to draw the crosses as often it is easier to draw the path they take than it is to write out specific notations. This is far from being the only way to write blocking. I know some stage managers who have a floor plan on the top half of the page with lines on the bottom. I know others who prefer to write notations directly onto the script pages. One reason that I prefer to not write directly on the script pages is so that if things change drastically I can just put a new blocking sheet in on top of the old one. Then, not only do I not have to erase it, but two days later when the director decides to go back to the old way, we still have the old blocking to go back to. Side note: I once had a floor plan for a show that was exceedingly cluttered and hard to see pencil marks on, so I tried drawing out the blocking with highlighter. (See Left) It was a show where the number of times that circles were made through the cluttered area was really important, but sadly this method didn’t work very well and I certainly don’t recommend it.
I joked last night that there is enough information on the subject of cues and cuing to be its own post. And the friend I joked to said, so why isn’t it? This is a brief overview of cuing and I will be posting a more detailed post in the weeks to come.
Like so many other element of stage management, the way you write in your cues is a very personal thing. The only necessity is that it be easily understood so that if someone else had to call your show. I am a fan of the post-it flag method, but other use dots, highlighters, lines and yet other ways of marking cues. The reason I like the post-it flags is that when you are in tech and cues are shifting, it is very easy to move the cue around the page without having to erase anything. I use a different color of post-it for Lights, Sound, Quick Changes, Projections, & Special FX. Each post it I write on with a sharpie pen the cue type and number (ie – LX6, SQ 4, Pro 17). I then write the cue word in PENCIL on the clear part of the post it and stick it in my book opposite that line of script. If there are multiple cues going at the same time I group them together. For my standby cues, I write out exactly what I want to say on a 1.5″ post it and stick it opposite where I want to call it.
Update (Dec 5, 2011) – When working with new plays or plays for which I have an electronic copy of the script, I love to input my cues on the computer. This allows me to write in visual cues mid page and easily group together clustered cues. My preferred way of creating a computer based calling script is in Microsoft Word (or Open Office) and using the callout option. For a step-by-step screen cast of creating callouts in Open Office, click here. While I know some stage managers create these electronic calling scripts and then call the show from the screen, I still prefer to print out the document and put it into my prompt book. This means that I now often have a separate calling script and blocking script as the page numbers and line numbers no longer match up once I input the visual cues.
A typical rehearsal report includes the following information:
What was covered in rehearsal
Who was present
Notes for each department (props, costumes, set, lighting, publicity)
Any alterations to the script
general notes for the production team (especially deadlines for getting things in or important dates)
I choose to use a tabled template that I adapted from the template given to me when I worked for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. I also choose to attach the file rather than including it in the body of the e-mail. I do this because I find the formatting I use to be helpful and in the body of the e-mail it just won’t show up.
8. Copies of all Lighting, Sound, Props & Costume paperwork
For lighting this will mean cue lists, magic sheets, dimmer hookups, & a copy of the plot. For sound this is track listings, cue lists, level sheets, & speaker placements/assignments (which can be created for you by a number of the sound design software programs currently available). For props this is a props list (plus running prop list), preset lists (with photos of any intricate presets), tracking paperwork & originals of any paper props (preferably tucked in an envelope or a page protector). When it comes to costumes you are looking at a costume breakdown, a laundry list, a quick change plot, quick change presets/breakdowns, design drawings, & tracking sheets. I’m not going to post samples of all of these because for the most part this is not paperwork that you are creating, it is simply paperwork that you are storing after being given it by the designers. Most likely the only things you will be required to create from this list are preset & tracking sheets for props & costumes. Possibly also the QC plot. If these are things that you would like to see an example of, please feel free to e-mail me and I will happily send you a PDF to look at.
9. Minutes from Production Meetings
Sometimes it is up to the SM to take the minutes at production meetings but often they are taken by the production manager and will be e-mailed out. It is important to keep copies of these minutes handy as they will contain deadlines, ideas, and questions that may still need answers. They also provide a reference point to turn to if something hasn’t been completed properly or on time, to say, “Look, here’s where it says that this is what it should be and that you were present for that conversations.” In addition, they make it easy to create an agenda for the next meeting, as you can see which things required follow up and put them on the agenda.
10. Anything else you might need
Often at the end of the run you have a CD with sound cues which should be kept for a remount. Or a disc with lighting cues. Or notes relating to how to turn off the building alarm system so that the smoke machine doesn’t set off the fire alarm. These are things that will come in handy to anyone else who has to do the show. And will prevent midnight phone calls from production managers frantically trying to remember the password for turning off the fire alarm. During rehearsals or the run of the show, this section might include extra copies of blocking sheets, or timing sheets.