On Stage management - Part 3: Running the Show

As I was sitting backstage at work today  I remembered that I was supposed to finish this series of posts about stage management almost a year ago. And I never did! So, let's remedy that, shall we?

You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Running the show is when you really get to settle into a groove and (you hope) exhale and relax a little bit - especially if you end up working on a long-running show.

A normal week for me currently, running "Rock of Ages" (which is in its fifth year) looks like this: 8 shows - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday nights and two shows on Saturday, two on Sunday. Wednesdays are my day off (the day off can vary depending on the show, but you have to have at least one day off a week). I have to be at the theater an hour and a half before show time, so for an 8:00p show, my call time is 6:30p. "Rock of Ages" runs about two and a half hours. I usually walk out of the theater close to 11:00p after an 8:00p show. On Saturdays I am at the theater at 12:30p and leave at 11:00p. On Sundays, noon-10:30p. Two show days are long days.


In addition to show calls, we can also work twelve hours of rehearsal each week. We usually have 1-2 understudy rehearsals per month which run about four hours each. If we are putting someone new into the show, we generally rehearse every weekday (except the day off). So the work load is between 40-50 hours a week, depending on rehearsals.

The callboard.

On an ordinary day, when we first arrive at the theater, the first thing we do is the "in/out". This is a little slip of paper delivered to hair, wardrobe, sound, electrics, props, the conductor and the callboard, that says who is "out" of the show that night (due to sickness, vacation, personal day or swing out) and which understudy is on. Because our band is on stage during the show, and in costume, we also list who is playing that night.

After distributing the in/out  we also adjust the "slider board". This is a board in the lobby that lists any understudies that might be performing that night.

Once the in/out and sliders are done, we usually have a bit of down time to check emails and do "office-y" type things for a bit. Or eat dinner :)

We "open the house" at half hour before curtain, so prior to that, one of us walks around backstage with a checklist of all the props and makes sure that everything is set and in place for the performance. We may do a few little rehearsals of lifts or bits of choreography before opening the house if an understudy is on. We make sure that cough drops, kleenex and ice packs are all stocked backstage.

Props for "Rock of Ages".

At half an hour before show time, one of the stage managers will make the "half hour call" - an announcement over the backstage PA system informing everyone that it is half hour to show time. One of us makes sure that the crew has put us in the first light cue and that the preshow music is rolling, and then we hand over the house to the house manager to start letting the audience in. One of the other stage managers goes and checks the actors' sign-in sheet to make sure they have all arrived (and then starts making phone calls if they haven't).

Calling the show.

During the half hour leading up to curtain, sometimes the head stage manager may give notes to various actors about staging or acting moments. We make calls over the PA at 15 minutes before curtain, 5 minutes before, and then we call Places.

During the show, one stage manager "calls" the show, which means they sit at a desk with a bank of video monitors and give all the lighting cues over headset, and scenic/sound cues by flipping cue lights. Learning to call the show takes some skill and a lot of practice. Its a lot of counting to the beat! You can see a video clip of me calling "Spamalot" here.  While one person calls, another stage manager "runs the deck", which means they oversee all the backstage action - they make sure the actors are ready for entrances and that the crew completes are all their cues, from moving scenery, to costume changes, to prop hand offs. The deck stage manager also looks out for the safety of the actors. They are the first one to respond to any injuries that might occur.  The third stage manager either watches the show and takes notes (the head stage manager is expected to maintain the show the way the director left it by noting the show often). The third stage manager may also do work in the office.

Call script.

Even once the show is open and running, there is still a lot of paperwork that we are expected to do. We do show reports every night with timings of each act, who was in the cast that night, any technical issues that might have come up, and a general review of how we thought the performance went. This report is sent to all the creatives and producers who are no longer at the show on a regular basis.

We also keep track of payroll, create weekly schedules, help coordinate publicity and marketing events with the staffs  from those departments, keep track of cast members' vacations and personal days and schedule vacation swings to come in to cover those absences. The head stage manager may deal with casting if we are replacing an actor, we make sure that office supplies and first aid are stocked, we take care of ordering cakes for birthdays and happy trails, we are in charge of filing all the C-2s for accidents and injuries, we keep cue sheets updated as well as actor tracking sheets. We make sure that the playbill is kept up to date, and we create stuffers for the playbill if we have any cast changes that haven't made it into the current printed version.

On a Broadway show, we also do a lot of work throughout the year for the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. We do two 6 week fundraising drives each year as well as the Broadway Flea Market. There is often work to do pertaining to this fundraising - whether it be getting posters signed or counting money from the previous night's collection. BC/EFA duties are actually a pretty big part of a Broadway stage manager's workload.

In the wings with Dame Edna.

In short, the stage managers are command central. Once a show is open, the director and designers leave to go and work on their next project. Producers visit every once in a while, but they, too, move on to other projects. It is the stage management team that takes the helm at this point in the process and acts as the leaders of the production.

Running the show is when you are able to get into a routine. You have most of your daytime hours free (unless you are rehearsing). You get to know your job so well that it becomes second nature. We have a lot of fun at work.  A lot of laughs.

The down side is that it can get boring - doing the same thing over and over again. I think there comes a point for everyone (on a long running show) when you know that you are done and that its time to move on.  But that can be years down the road! If you are lucky enough to work on a good show with good people, why leave?

I hope this gives a little insight as to what we do on a daily basis. In Part 4 (which hopefully will not take me another year to write!), I'll tell you about some of the eccentricities of working in outdoor theater and also what it is like to tour.