Tag Archive: How to make a prompt book

Resources for Stage Managers

I can always tell when it is the beginning of a semester by the number of searches that I see leading to www.LoisBackstage.com that involve the phrases “How to make a prompt book” “color coded prompt books” “how to write blocking” “prompt book examples” and others in the same vein.  Welcome young stage managers! The posts you are most likely looking for here are:

Calling the Show: Three C’s to Conquer – An in depth look at the tool necessary to effectively call a show.

The SM Prompt Book: The Show Bible Part 1 & Part 2 – A look at what goes into a prompt book and how to organize it efficiently

The Vancouver SMArts Conference 2010 – SMArts is a Canadian stage management conference that occurs every year in Toronto and one other major Canadian city.  In 2010 it was in Vancouver and these are my notes from the sessions I took in.

The SM Kit – A look at my SM kit and a list of all the things that have gone into it, along with where to find the items.

Other resources around the internet:

SM Network is a forum for stage managers old and new.  It is full of resources in the form of old posts with questions and the solutions that other stage managers have suggested and has a large base of users that can answer questions you may have.  But before you post, do a search and make sure someone else hasn’t already asked your question.  Better to continue an existing thread than to make a second one.

Trish Causey is a resident blogger at TheatreFace and has written a series on the role of the stage manager.  Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4, Part 5

Stage Managers Do Make Coffee is an article written by Carissa Dollar that is often used as a text book for beginning stage managers and is free online.  It has a good mix of practical advice, anecdotes & questions to ask yourself to help prepare for the job at hand.

There are a number of great books that you can pick up at a local bookstore, read in a library, or order online.  A few of my favourites are:

The Art & Craft of Stage Management by Doris Schneider

The Backstage Guide to Stage Management: Traditional and New Methods for Running a Show from First Rehearsal to Last Performance by Thomas A. Kelly

Stage Managing the Arts in Canada by Winston Morgan

The SM Prompt Book: Show Bible Pt. 2

A collection of my old prompt scripts on the shelves of Pacific Theatre. There is another collection of them in off-site storage.

This post continues where The SM Prompt Book: Show Bible Pt. 1 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.)

5. Blocking

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.

If you look closely you can see that most of these are visual or timed cues with only one or two cues taken off words. (From The Woodsman – 2008 – Property of Pacific Theatre)

6. Cues

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.

A sample page from the calling script for the October 2011 production of Re:Union from Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre. This show was the most technologically difficult show I have ever worked on, with over 420 cues.

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.

7. Copies of all Rehearsal Reports

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.

The SM Prompt Book: Show Bible Pt. 1

 

A view of the tabs on the Prompt Script for “Holy Mo” at Pacific Theatre (March 2009).

A quick google search shows me that there isn’t a lot of information on prompt scripts online – the first things that pop up are the wikipedia articles on stage managementprompt scripts.  Both are informative but short & contain very little information on how to do the job or create the bookThis 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?

  1. Contact List
  2. Schedules
  3. Breakdowns (Scene breakdown, actor breakdown, etc)
  4. Script
  5. Blocking
  6. Cues
  7. Copies of all rehearsal reports
  8. Copies of all Light, Sound, Costume & Props paperwork
  9. Minutes from production meetings

    A Sample contact list for Guys & Dolls. All phone numbers & e-mails have been changed to protect privacy.

  10. 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.

2. Schedules

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.

3. Breakdowns

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.

 

The first page of the SM script for “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” before any blocking or cues were recorded.

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.