Tag Archive: Stage Managing

Five Tour Must-Haves

I’m now into month number three of the Ride the Cyclone tour. Add my five and a half weeks in Europe onto the front of that and that is a long time to be living out of one suitcase and one carry-on. There are some things you know that you are going to need like a computer, comfortable shoes, and enough clothes. But on top of all that, despite limited space, I’m so glad I have these things:

1. Portable Printer
This is the one item on this list that is fairly stage manager/production manager/producer specific, but having a portable printer with me on tour has saved me many hours and dollars. In every city there are new schedules, contact lists, copies of the script, and many other items that need to be printed. With my own printer, I print these things in my hotel room at 1am after Q2Q and don’t have to try to find a 24 hour Kinkos or wait until the next morning to go to staples and pay per page. I bought the HP Office Jet 100 color printer and couldn’t be happier. It takes up only a small amount of my suitcase (both in terms of physical space and weight) and when set to “draft” mode prints very quickly. I did not have my printer with me in Europe, and I wish now that I had. I spent many evenings fighting with the hotel’s printing stations, trying to get schedules to print. Doing it in my room is so much better! Also, having a color printer makes it very easy to make beautiful opening night cards.
2. Talisman

My on-the-road talisman is my ducky, Cue, who makes every theatre feel like my home base. But bring something with you that makes wherever you are feel like home: framed photos of friends, your own pillow, a teddy bear, fridge magnets, an action figure, etc. A figurine also makes a great travel companion/something to take photos of when you are in places that you can’t always get a good selfie.
3. Spices (in baggies!)
While it is easy to eat out all the time when touring, it is so much healthier and cheaper to do some of your own cooking. We have been really fortunate on this tour to mostly be in hotels where we have suites with kitchens. However, it is not possible to travel with a full kitchen cupboard in one little suitcase. To remedy this, I have four plastic baggies: garlic powder, chili powder, cinnamon, and basil. Between the four of them I can add some flavor to whatever I’m cooking, but it doesn’t take up much extra space.
4. A pleasure item or two
What brings you joy? Figure that out and then bring that with you. Whether its an e-reader stocked full of books, a video game console, an external hard drive full of your favourite movies and tv shows, or a relaxing bubble bath, there will be time off that will need to be filled and having the option to relax while doing something you love can be a welcome break from exploring.
5. Sleep Aids
For me, this is melatonin, but I know that everyone has a different sleep aid preference. On tour you switch beds more frequently than some people change their sheets. You may also find yourself changing time zones and the constant “Oh, I guess we’re back to tech week….again” gets old. I highly recommend having some sort of sleep aid, especially for the first night or two in

Who Stage Manages the Oscars?

Ever wondered who the folks are who stage manage the big TV events like the Oscars, Grammys, and other major awards shows?  I know that I have. I always watch to the end of the credits to count how many they have (for example, most episodes of American Idol credit anywhere from four to eight stage managers).

Well now I don’t have to wonder any more since the LA Times ran a great profile of Dency Nelson, the man who has stage managed the Oscars for the last 25 years (among a long list of credits).

“An anonymous but critical piece of the Hollywood awards season machinery, stage managers like Nelson control the chaos of the live TV broadcast — they deliver the correct winning envelopes, ensure that the pop-up microphone actually pops up and, most delicately, orchestrate the flow of talent through the stage wings….”It’s like air traffic control,” he said one recent afternoon at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center, where he was preparing for Sunday’s show. “Ninety percent of the people in the room don’t know my name, but when they round the corner and come into the wings there’s a smile, ‘Oh, that guy.'””

Read the Whole Thing

“Soft” Work Pays Off

A couple of months ago I got an out of the blue Facebook message from a friend of a friend.  She was producing a show and looking for an Equity SM and she figured I was probably busy but could I maybe help her come up with some names. I responded right away looking for more information: dates, responsibilities, etc.  I could certainly help come up with some names, but you never know – maybe it would work with my own schedule. Facebook turned to email and phone calls. Turns out I’d been recommended by a couple of cast members and she remembered my support of her show from a previous incarnation. Yesterday we confirmed things, and in December I’ll be joining the Atomic Vaudeville team as the Stage Manager for the national tour of Ride the Cyclone (please see the dates at the bottom of this post).

The cast of Ride the Cyclone at the Arts Club Review Stage, fall 2011.

Yup.  That Ride the Cyclone. The one I listed in my 2011 Year in Review: Theatrical Excellence post as “The Best Show that Everyone Agrees is the Best.” The one that Kelly Nestruck at The Globe and Mail called, “probably the most uproarious and outrageous piece of musical theatre Canada has ever produced” One of the things that excites me about this contract is that I will have the privilege of seeing this amazing show eight times a week for four months.

This is just the latest in a series of gigs that have come not from job postings or even resumes that I’ve sent cold to companies but rather from the network of relationships that I’ve spent the last seven years building. And to be honest, it’s a beautiful place to be. I’m booked from now until next spring with really cool gigs, have couple projects up my sleeve for fall 2013 and even a reservation on my calendar for spring of 2014. And I am starting think that this is really how it should work: it shouldn’t always have to be a struggle. And it is so gratifying to see all the “soft” work pay off.

Ride the Cyclone will be playing the following cities/dates in 2013:

Calgary, T.B.A. Jan 9-12
Vancouver, PUSH Festival/Arts Club, Jan 17-Feb 16
Edmonton, Citadel Theatre, Feb 22-Mar 10
Winnipeg, MTC Warehouse, Mar 21-Apr 6
Saskatoon, Persephone Theatre, Apr 17-21

Hope to see you at the show!

10 Tips for Stage Managing a New Play

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

Monday night was the first public reading of Us and Everything We Own following a three day workshopping of the script.

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.

Lois’ Guide to Office Supply Shopping for the Addicted

A good portion of my personal office supply collection spread out on my bed. Notice that my weakness is things in fun colours. Even the staples are colourful!

You know the scenario – you’re printing a script and run out of paper or you go to use your favourite extra fine felt-tipped pen and find its out of ink or, heaven forbid!, your industrial strength hole punch breaks mid project. You need to finish the project which means a trip to the office supply store is in your immediate future. If you’re anything like me this is both exciting and awful.

I LOVE office supply stores. I also have a problem with buying far more than I need. In fact, my tiny apartment currently has four drawers plus a large tub of office supplies (and that’s not counting specialty items for scrapbooking and card-making).

So when faced with a need to go office supply shopping, how do you go in to the store without buying a new 24 pack of sharpies (you will NEVER use the seafoam sharpie. Just don’t buy it!) or another box of 200 paperclips (even if they are blue/green/purple/pink sparkley ones)? Here are a few rules:

  1. Make a list.
  2. Stick to your list.
  3. Walk around the store twice. Once to pick up all the items that look appealing and once to put back all the things you really can’t justify. I promise you DO NOT need that pack of Spiderman pencils, even if they are on sale for $0.97. You have more pencils at home.
  4. Make a budget for when you go over your list.
  5. Stick to your budget.
  6. If you’ve picked up an item that costs more than $20 and it wasn’t on the list, put it back. NOW. Items over $20 at an office supply store are too big of purchases to be impulse buys!
  7. You do not NEED the jumbo pack. Yes, it is usually cheaper per item to buy your favourite pens in the 24 pack instead of the four pack, but by the time you need pen number 24 you probably will have lost it anyway. Buy the four pack. Use them until they’re dead. Then buy four more. I don’t care how good your system for saving pens is. You never need the 24 pack.
  8. The exception to rule 7 is when your favourite pen is going out of production. Just like all products, pen suppliers sometimes stop producing a specific style. If your favourite pen is going out of production please by all means buy the 24 pack. Finding a new favourite pen is hard.
  9. The Sharpie permanent pencil is not worth your money. I’ve bought it, tried it, and now you don’t have to.
  10. Never ever assume you know the state of your collection without checking it. That’s how I ended up with over 200 writing implements. 

A breakdown of some of my office supplies.

The Yearly Kit Update & Inventory

Now that I have a stage management kit that I love, the trick is keeping it full and updated, so every August I take inventory.  Why August? Rehearsals for the upcoming season usually start in September, so the goal is to have the kit ready to go before then.  Also, back to school sales.  Because most of the things that I go through in a year are pens, pencils, erasers, bulldog clips, etc.  Basically, it’s all the things that go on sale for back to school.

This year I’m adding a couple of new things to my kit.

First, a USB drive that lives in my kit so that I am always able to transfer files, no matter the circumstance.

Second, I finally got a leatherman so that will now be living in my kit.  I have the Juice CS4 and am always glad that I got one with a corkscrew on it because inevitably I need a corkscrew during every run, if only to open wine in the green room on opening night.

The third new thing that I’m adding this year is an iPhone charger.  Both for my own use and the use of those I’m working with.  Because in this world, we are all so attached to our phones and when they go down, bad things happen.

I’ve updated my official SM Kit blog post to reflect these changes to my kit, but here’s what I’m wondering: Are there any other new technology based items that I should be adding?  A few years ago iPhone chargers & USB drives weren’t on my radar at all, and now I can’t imaging SMing without them.  What new technology will be like that next?

Job Posting: Stage Manager for Site Specific Fringe Show

I got the following email from Nita Bowerman, one of my Onsite artists, today looking for a stage manager for her show, wreckage.

I’m doing a Fringe show under a wharf on Granville Island.  I’m making a homemade raft to float on the water and I’ve begun a conversation with a diver who may be interested in coming on board to animate the water for the show.  Regardless of how that develops it is time for me to bring a stage manager into the fold.  I’m looking for someone reliable and hearty.  It’s a 50 minute show, but I will need assistance with set up and strike every night (I’m cognizant about keeping it as minimal as possible).  Dates of engagement would be possibly late August and definitely early September through the run which is from Sept 8-18.  The show is at 9pm.

I’m offering a 33% split of the box with a minimum guarantee of $500.  It is the same offer I am extending to the diver.  The remaining 33% goes toward paying down the production costs and any other contingencies (like an audience shepherd or other crew).  The Stage Manager will be responsible for audience safety (required to be ready with a life preserver as they will be on a floating dock) and will run minimal lights and probably some sound.  If all goes well I can also extend the offer that should the production be remounted with a bigger budget, I will the ask the SM to do the remount with a properly paid salary.

Interested? Email me at Lois@LoisBackstage.com and I will put you in touch.

What is the Biggest Catastrophe You’ve Had on Stage?

Yesterday I had the privilege of guest lecturing on stage management at Trinity Western University, my alma matter. I spent about an hour and a half with the tech theatre students, talking with them about my history and a rough outline of the stage manager’s job from pre-production through to closing night. The class was, for the most part, interested and attentive (I don’t think it’s possible to engage them all – if they’d rather text, I’d rather focus on their classmates who care), but one of the questions that I was asked was, “What is the biggest catastrophe you’ve ever had on stage?”

I thought about it for a bit, and then shared a story about a power outage that occurred 20 minutes into a TYA show, with 400 small children sitting in the theatre, and our inability to get full power restored to the building, and so continuing under fluorescent work lights and how magic that was for the students and teachers who were present.

After the class, I was on the phone with a friend, telling them about the question that had been asked and my friend started listing off things that could be considered catastrophes: windstorms/thunder and lightning during outdoor shows, an organ being played directly above the theatre in the middle of a show, the heel breaking off an actress’s shoe, and her hobbling around the stage for the rest of the show, props breaking, gel frames falling on stage, a set that fell down, musical theatre performers losing their voices, and so on. And as she listed back to me the things that she considered to have been “catastrophes” I had dealt with in my career I was surprised that I had been unable to remember any of them in the moment the question was asked. I said as much, and she (being ever so smart) responded, “Well, maybe that’s because if you considered them catastrophes in the moment you wouldn’t be able to do your job. Your job is to not see them as catastrophes, but to figure out what comes next.”

And isn’t that the truth of it. When these things happen, the job isn’t to say, “Oh my god, it’s such a catastrophe!” The job is to calmly see what happens and ask yourself “What needs to be done to remedy this? and then make it happen.

Ken Davenport Interviews Broadway Stage Manager, Pat Sosnow

Ken Davenport, author of The Producer’s Perspective and producer of the upcoming Godspell revival, has a series on his blog where he interviews “Broadway Pros.” Today he interviewed Broadway SM Pat Sosnow who worked on A Steady Rain and is getting ready for How to Succeed in Business...  Pat talks about the job, the path to getting the job, and why theatre is important.  My favourite question is the final one:

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

Don’t even consider working in the theater unless you are absolutely sure you cannot live without it.

The whole interview is available here. And is definitely worth a read!