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Jess Gow: Nothing prepares you for the loneliness of stage management

The work of stage managers is often unseen by the public. Photo: Vladimir Gramagin/Shutterstock Photo: Vladimir Gramagin/Shutterstock
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When I graduated from drama school I realised there were many things I simply wasn’t prepared for, such as the importance of keeping all your receipts in order. Or the existence of 22-year-old trustafarian ‘producers’ who have no understanding of the fact that it is almost impossible to live on the astounding £300-a-week wage they are offering you, as they are funded purely by their parents.

You learn these things as you go along, and within a few years you develop a filing system for your finances that is slightly more advanced than a Lidl shopping bag.

Likewise, you stop responding to adverts that use the words “exciting”, “opportunity” or “would suit a recent graduate”. Why a job that requires someone to do the work of five people when they barely have any experience in doing the job of one is beyond me.

The main thing that nobody prepared me for is the loneliness of being a stage manager. Whether you are working on a large-scale production, or being a one-person team, you can be sure that you will find yourself in moments of solitude and silence.

Sometimes you are grateful for the peace and serenity and not hearing your own name being parroted over and over again. But sometimes it’s just a bit crap.

The times when I have felt the loneliest are when I have been stage-managing a show solo. When I think back to these occasions, I can recall the low whirr of a washing machine, as these moments have always occurred after a show when I’m waiting for a load to finish. Meanwhile, the members of my cast are in a pub – but these clothes that aren’t even mine have to be washed. And even if I could make it to the pub before closing time, it’s likely there wouldn’t be a seat.

Even when I’m a company stage manager on a larger production with a full team, I find myself alone in offices completing endless tasks, knowing that nobody else will be in for a while. Day trips are planned and members of the company make lunch dates, but there is petty cash to be finished or sick actors to be remotely tended to.

So you decline any invitations to do anything fun (often to be met with the incredulous response “you have to work now?”) and spend another afternoon by yourself.

Funnily enough, the reason I started my blog was due to a low moment of isolation. Something had happened at work that I wanted to share, but everyone had gone home. So I sat next to a washing machine in the Gate Theatre and began to write about it.

Within moments, I was getting messages from other stage managers with words of support or encouragement. And my loneliness soon dissolved.

It’s important to remember that even when you feel completely alone, you’re still in a ‘team’ of sorts. Just with other stage managers who work beyond the walls of your own theatre.

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