Managing the stage, watching the champagne


Just as I did last year, I spent the last week of October stage managing for Herne Bay Operatic Society on another relatively small-scale compilation show.  This time around was easier than the previous year for various reasons.  Firstly, I had more of an idea of what I was supposed to be doing, which always helps with both confidence and competence.  Secondly, we had less issues concerning sound, so the constant relay of hand-held mics was avoided – two mics were in use, but infrequently and they only needed to be passed from cast member to cast member on stage once.  Thirdly, I had some help backstage, in the form of a very experienced props mistress, who has been backstage for many of the shows I’ve performed in.  She really knows her stuff and remains calm and controlled at all times.

Unlike last year, I didn’t end up providing off-stage narration, which was quite a relief, but I was required to make a cameo appearance.  I couldn’t quite work out why one of the real cast members couldn’t have done it, but I was required to appear, sweeping the stage, only to be distracted by a rendition of ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’.  I was told that my appearance and reactions to the song made me look like Vic Reeves or a young Eric Morecambe.  I think I shall take that as a positive!

In terms of furniture and props, there wasn’t too much to keep track of – two tables, three chairs and a collection of stools, mostly.  However, the two of us backstage derived much interest and amusement from watching what happened with some drinks served on stage.  Two of the sections were set up to be a Parisian cafe and a sophisticated party.  In the first, a waitress passed out glasses of red wine and champagne (aka different flavours of Schloer) and in the second, the cast came on with glasses of the same ‘champagne’.  There were enough glasses for each member of the cast, and the distribution of the glasses in the second section was important as one man collected his (brought on by someone else) from a table part way through, and any that were left would be cleared by two other cast members in a bit of comic business.  Somehow, though, things often did not quite work out.  I watched in amusement when one cast member exchanged his red wine for champagne, explaining to the waitress that he didn’t like the red Schloer, and I watched in horror on the last night when the same cast member found himself without a glass and instead of managing without (there was no essential ‘business’ with the glasses for him), proceeded to mime having a glass.  In full view of the audience, he would inspect the fluid level, take sips and so forth, all from an invisible glass.  And of course, because he was miming, his movements were larger and more noticeable than those made by people with real glasses.  In another performance, the spare glass disappeared after being taken on to the stage, and I had to creep as close to the action as possible without being spotted by the audience, and mime to another cast member that they needed to put their glass down on the table so that it would be retrievable by the one man who actually needed a champagne class for the scene.  It took a while – I will clearly never be a champion Charades player.  At other times, people somehow managed to mix their drinks, creating all sorts of interesting new colours of liquid on the stage.  I would stand in the wings with the props mistress and watch the champagne with great fascination each night, never sure what I was going to see.

I am still certainly  not experienced enough to tackle stage management on a larger scale, partly for reasons which cross over with my reluctance to move into any management-type role in my career.  I don’t have the confidence to intervene forcefully in some situations.  Although the stage manager is supposed to be in charge, I was very aware that some of the others involved are much more experienced in backstage and technical matters than I am, so being in charge seemed somehow wrong.  I also like to be in control of the things I am supposed to achieve, and with a larger backstage crew, I would be worrying about whether everyone would be ready for each scene change and so forth.  With just a few trusted people to be thinking about back stage and in the lighting/sound control room, this was not an issue.  I did feel more in charge than last year, and was able to exert my authority when it came to matters which I considered to involve the health and safety of those involved with the show, so perhaps this will come.

During the week, several people asked whether I’d ever be interested in directing a show.  This is an idea that both excites and terrifies me (it involves making so very many decisions and probably upsetting quite a few people), and it looks likely that it will happen in the relatively near future.

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Related posts :

    • Trish
    • November 6th, 2010

    I think you will know if you are ready to direct a show. If in a relaxed, unobtrusive way you can lead people then you are ready. If you have to be bossy you’re not. That’s my theory anyhow!

  1. I’d quite like to think that of all the adjectives in the world, ‘bossy’ is rather low down on the list if ordered by ‘most descriptive of the Singing Librarian’.

  1. November 29th, 2010
  2. December 1st, 2010

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