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Katie Jackson: Learning to adapt is a must when stage-managing a theatre tour

Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock
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The wonderful thing about doing a tour is that it really teaches you to be resilient when bad things happen. You’ve constantly got to plan for your plans to fail. And then when that backup plan fails, you have to be ready to get yourself out of a bad situation fast.

‘Adaptability’ is the buzzword that always gets thrown around in job adverts and interviews. It has become a cliche, but then we all know how cliches are born.

This lifestyle doesn’t suit everyone and it is a lifestyle that must be learnt. As a deputy stage manager, all you can expect is that nothing will be the same from venue to venue.

Travel day is spent negotiating your way through the British rail networks, often with varying degrees of success, to arrive in a strange city.

The next stage of the trials and tribulations is to find the route to an unknown house, owned by people you’ve never met, to get some rest before the move into a theatre you’re working at for the first time.

Then there are just a few hours to build the set, get all the props, sort the costumes, lights, sound and everything else before providing a perfect performance that evening.

As the curtain goes up, the DSM could find themselves prompt side, or opposite prompt, or in a tech box at the back of the dress circle.

In this alien landscape, there may only be a grainy old infrared monitor relaying the action on stage. It may sound like a small point, but if the DSM can’t keep up, it can make or break the first performance in a new venue.

This is only one end of the spectrum. Adaptability is key for a range of experiences that you might stumble into while on the road.

Recently, I finished an overnight get-out at 2:30 in the morning. I had no digs to go back to, so I had to wait for the first train back to London.

At the train station, I could see the staff inside working but the entrance was locked. I had to sit in the rain on a bench, after a two-show day and get-out, being bothered by seagulls and meth heads for an hour and a half until the station gate was unlocked.

In a different city, I had arranged to stay with a friend who is still in training. She lives in a student house and the other inhabitants had agreed to this.

After two nights, they collectively changed their mind and my friend had to ask me to leave. My late nights didn’t sync with their early lectures.

I was suddenly out on the street in an unfamiliar city with nothing but my rucksack and suitcase. But my company manager sorted some digs for me within an hour or so and all was well with the world again.

Adaptability is vital to a successful tour. And it’s something that you can only learn through tour experience. After all that, getting caught in a brief bout of rain without an umbrella doesn’t seem so bad.

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