Saturday, November 3, 2012

Theatre For Thought, November 3, 2012

joel fishbane

A long time ago, while in university, I had the opportunity to produce the first play I had ever written. On the first day of rehearsals, I was approached by a girl who offered herself to me, and not in the way I might have liked. “Who’s your stage manager?” she asked. I laughed. “I don’t need a stage manager,” I replied. “They don’t do anything anyway.”

Ah. To be young and dumb.

I hired her anyway, thinking she’s be someone to bring me coffee. I don’t think she ever brought me a single cup of coffee. But she saved my life and I have never worked without a stage manager since. 
Just as writers do not trust directors, directors do not trust actors. Actors are absent minded. The moment they no longer need a prop, they forget about it. They finish their costume change and leave things scattered on the ground. After the curtain call, they leave to find their friends so people can tell them how great they were. And when they show up the next day, they expect their costumes to be clean and hung, their props to be pre-set and the stage to be swept and mopped. Directors know this (usually because they were once, or still are, actors themselves). That’s why they hire the stage manager. 

As a director (or actor) I have never felt more useless then during tech week.

If you ever want to know what a stage manager does, show up to a rehearsal during tech week. As a director (or actor) I have never felt more useless then during tech week. This is when the lights are hung and focused, the sound levels are checked, the cues are set...and the actors do nothing. The stage manager is in charge of all this. She knows what the director wants – that’s why she was at all those rehearsals.

During a performance of any play, the only people actually working are the actors who are on stage and the stage manager. Since few plays require actors to be on stage all the time, this means that even if you’re playing Hamlet, working a 9 - 5 job and raising two kids and a dog, your stage manager is still working harder than you. 

People do not think about stage managers. The general public does not have the vaguest idea what a stage manager does. The critics never mention them. And when was the last time anyone gave an award for Best Stage Management? This seems to be a gross miscarriage of justice. We applaud everything else that happens in the theatre: why would we not applaud this? 

All of which is to say, the next time you’re in a show, consider getting your stage manager a cup of coffee. Apologies to all the stage managers I never thanked. 

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