The Green Room: What’s your experience of the other side of the curtain?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Velma My first job in the industry was at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, operating lights for Durham University French Society’s version of The Misanthrope. I had an easy life of it as the tech was very simple, but the thought of being responsible for that side of things now fills me with fear.
Albert When I was at drama school – in the days of gas lighting and good service on British Airways – we had to tech and crew the third-year shows. It gave us experience of just how vital stage management and crew are to a show – particularly when I did wardrobe and burnt the leading man’s shirt while ironing it.
Beryl I think having to prop shop and paint boxes (both of which I enjoyed doing) as an acting assistant stage manager to get my Equity card was useful.
Peter My first two jobs – in the 1960s – were as an acting ASM in rep. This was a very common means of entry into the profession in those days, when every rep had two Equity cards to give away.
John With the demise of acting ASM roles I think there is less of a crossover. I think it’s a shame that actors don’t experience a bit more from the stage management side.
Peter The acting ASM seems to have disappeared from subsidised theatre, but is still common in commercial theatre – particularly on tours. On a recent tour I did, the company stage manager and acting ASM understudied several roles. Only the deputy stage manager had no performance duties.
Jon I started out as an acting ASM too – in the 1990s – but as an understudy in town, rather than in rep. I always wondered what that was like.
Peter You were in some – but not all – of the shows. You put up sets, did get-ins, sourced and made props, did sound, made tea, did dressing room calls – all while getting into costume and make-up for your own part.
John I think maybe breaking down the barriers between actors and stage management would be a good thing. It can feel a bit too much like ‘them and us’ at times.
Beryl Yes, I also did some out-of-season wardrobe-maintenance work for a well-known London theatrical venue. All experience is good for insight and gives you an appreciation of what everyone does.
Albert I have no problem thinking of stage management, crew and staff as vital support services. They are no less important than actors and are often real creative solution finders. It’s brilliant when you get a stage manager you trust. They can be the linchpin for the whole company.
Peter I think professional stage managers rightly resent being saddled with acting ASMs who don’t know how to do the job.
Eoghan Seeing a design team work – especially during tech – is inspiring. They’re so calm and in control, doing their job with immense skill and seeming ease. We can often forget that it is the amazing team around us that make us look good.
Peter I became an expert at bouncing the tabs for curtain calls and acting as a flyman. Most sets were made of flats and I learned how to weight a brace. I was even allowed on the book, which was the job I enjoyed most. Loading the van was my least favourite thing – along with moving pianos (they are very heavy).
Eoghan In one show I did, I had to learn – on the fly – how to rig some floor lamps and run the desk as the stage manager focused them. The people who do this day in and day out are magicians, I tell you. I don’t think I could ever survive, especially when problems arise. They solved them in no time. Left to my own devices, I’d have been sunk.
Ros I did a lot of amdram, school productions and school music concerts as a performer when I was younger. I was chronically shy but loved theatre and I think my parents and teachers thought acting would bring me outof my shell. Which it did eventually, but it took years.
John I think it’s great for stage management, crew and sound to experience the exposure of being on stage.
Ros I loved learning lines – highlighting a script was just too exciting. I also enjoyed the costumes and make-up, but hated being on stage, because I got terrible stage fright.
John One of the non-acting jobs I do is working as a member of crew, which has given me an invaluable appreciation of that side of the industry. Really experiencing what a get-in can be like in an old, run-down theatre and having to get the set up in time for the lighting plot and a show that night reduces the chances of me flouncing in and screaming: “Where is my set? I have to act tonight!” for something else I might be working on.
Ros I have the utmost respect for actors. Not only for the amount of work they put in, but for the soul-baring aspect of the job. Despite playing a character on stage I could never get over the fact that I was in front of a load of people watching me.
John Actors can sometimes blow their top if a prop isn’t set exactly how they want it, but then wouldn’t think twice about dropping a line or missing an entrance. It all matters – and all doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. It’s also interesting to hear what is said over comms about the actors when working as crew.
Peter As a result of my experience, I treat stage management well, but I also know when they’re not doing a good job. This is infrequent, though; stage management is much more professional these days.
John I would say to every actor: “If you get a chance to do some stage management – go for it. It will make you a better actor.”
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