Posts Tagged ‘ stage managing ’

A tale of two theatre keys

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the hour of doing nothing, it was the hour of activity, it was the season of competence, it was the dawn of embarrassment.

It came to pass that the Singing Librarian, unable to sing in a particular show, took on the responsibility of stage managing.  He took his duties seriously, looking out for the safety of all involved and trying to ensure that the show was as smooth as it could possibly be.  He operated the tabs (knowing very well that the general public would call them curtains), he assisted with the lighting rig and he moved props around the theatre.  At the end of the short run, there came a day with two performances, a matinée and an evening showing.  The company dispersed to various watering holes to refuel, but the Singing Librarian was the keyholder, and so after a brief walk, he returned to the theatre to ensure that any member of cast, crew or band who returned would be able to get in.

Enjoying a few moments of quiet, he ate his packed dinner and buried his nose in a good book, sitting in the theatre’s bar area, dimly aware of the sounds of a cleaner, the only other person in the building, working in the auditorium.  As she finished her work, the cleaner passed through the bar, exchanged polite greetings with the Singing Librarian and made her way out of the building through the stage door.  After resuming his reading, the Singing Librarian heard noises from the direction of the stage door.  He shrugged, dismissing them as simply the sounds of someone struggling with the pass code, which they would no doubt remember shortly.  As the moments passed, however, the sounds did not stop.  Closing his book, the Singing Librarian made his way through the dressing room area to the door.

From outside, he could hear several voices, and the tone was not a happy one.  Wondering what could have caused the whole company to forget the code, he grasped the door handle and attempted to turn.  Nothing.  It refused to budge.  Those outside noticed this escape attempt immediately – “what are you up to in there, Singing Librarian?”  “Stop playing around and let us in!”  Another attempt to open the door, and another failure.

Slightly worried now, he could see that the door had been locked, even though he had left it needing only the code for entry.  Clearly, the cleaner had been on autopilot when she left and had locked the door behind her.  This was not a problem, as he had the key – needed the key to open the theatre each day.  He withdrew his keyring from his pocket and inserted the key into the lock.  Nothing.  It would not turn to either side.  “I can’t unlock it!” he called, a claim that was greeted with a mixture of amusement, disbelief and frustration.  Apparently, some cast members needed to powder their noses urgently.  However, an idea soon formed.  If they key would not work from inside, perhaps it simply needed to be used from the outside.  “I’ll throw the key down from the green room window!”  Or he would have done, if the window actually opened.  The toilet window proved equally immovable.

Outside the door, speculation grew about what the Singing Librarian might have been doing while everyone else was out?  Was he hurriedly hiding his harem away?  Did he need time to hide evidence of a prank?  Was he simply taking revenge on them for some unnoticed slight?  Eating cheese rolls and reading a German novel was clearly not an exciting enough way for the Singing Librarian of their imaginations to have spent the break.  Feeling increasingly foolish, each side tried their entry methods again – code and key failed once more.

But inspiration struck.  Earlier in the week, the Singing Librarian had been talking to the House Manager as she opened the door for the audience at the front of the theatre.  Concentrating hard, he remembered where she had hung the front door key and dashed through the theatre.  Finding the correct key, he unbolted and unlocked the heavy front door, and called out to the waiting cast and crew that the door was open.  After they had streamed in and headed for the dressing room, he dashed round to the stage door where they had been waiting and unlocked it on his first try.  Puzzled, he retraced his steps, closed up the front again, replaced the key and did his best to assure the rest of the company that this had not been a deliberate turn of events.

As he began his pre-show rituals, changing the batteries in the microphones and checking the location of the props, he could not help but ponder – why would you have a key that only worked from one side of the door?  It was a far, far stranger keyhole than he had ever known.


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.


Related posts :

The joy of techs revisited

For me, the last week in October was largely spent dressed in black, navigating with the aid of blue lights.  In other words, it was spent backstage, specifically as a stage manager for Herne Bay Operatic Society’s compilation show Thoroughly Modern Musicals, the first time I’ve performed that particular function for a show (though I have played the character of a stage manager before).  I thought this was a rather crazy move on the part of the Society’s committee, and was fearing I would manage to do something truly disastrous.  As it turned out, I  didn’t cause a calamity, but the day of the tech and the days afterwards were still remarkably scary and exhilarating.  After all, the stage manager is in charge once the show is up and running – the thought that it was all my responsibility was positively terrifying.

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