The stage manager is one of the few members of the production team for a play that you might actually have heard of. But what does managing the stage actually involve? Well, for most productions you are in charge of sourcing all the props for the play before the run actually starts. At this stage you are a minor member of the team, a dogsbody to perform whatever the director or producer ask you to. Depending on the scale of the production this can be a little or a lot – on one show I shared the stage managing and production managing roles with another girl, and we spent an increasingly mad afternoon dashing around all the charity shops in Oxford trying to find suitable pieces to dress a very realistic stately-home type set. Having been to five charity shops with little luck, we went crazy upon finding a shop with what we needed in it, and bought every piece of art or china we could find, including a celery vase that we thought was the best thing ever, but caused everyone else on the production to keep their distance from us for the entire run. Such a set requires a lot of scene changing, but I am getting ahead of myself here…
Once in the theatre everything changes and everyone has to listen to you! Finally, you feel important (no, just me?) First comes the get-in, where all the set pieces, costumes etc are moved into the theatre, the lights are rigged, and the stage set up. Then the technical rehearsal, running light and sound cues. This may be the first time, as stage manager, you have ever seen the actors performing any of their lines, and is spent frantically marking entrances and exits on a script, as well as coordinating scene changes and drawing up a list of these. Finally the dress rehearsal: the stage manager is responsible for making sure everything and everyone is off- and on-stage at the right time, so this is where you get to see how, er, punctual your actors will be, or whether you will need to drag them out of their dressing rooms for their scenes every night… The production with the realist set that I mentioned above had scene changes involving a real stuffed raven and a stag skull (shot by a member of the cast, of course), and wallpaper being changed. Never do this. Trying to hang wallpaper in the semi-darkness while the whole audience watches you and wonders what on earth you are doing is a singularly difficult and frustrating exercise. Rather than learning from my mistakes, I had to hang boards covered in film posters for another production, with possibly more awkward results.
This term I am stage managing two plays, Gormenghast and Twelfth Night. The latter is being done is traverse, which I imagine will bring a whole raft of new challenges… but that’s half the fun. Doing similar plays all the time would be boring. Hey, there will be problems like the wallpaper, but that’s what helps you build up such great friendships with the rest of the team.
Olivia Upchurch – stage manager
Twelfth Night on at the Keble O’Reilly Wednesday- Saturday 3rd week, 7.30pm, tickets £7/£5; Gormenghast on the Corpus Auditorium in 6th week.