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Stephanie Street: Celebrate the stage managers who create the backbone of our plays

The work of stage managers is often unseen by the public. Photo: Vladimir Gramagin/Shutterstock
The work of stage managers is often unseen by the public. Photo: Vladimir Gramagin/Shutterstock
Stephanie Street
Stephanie Street is an actor, writer and a judge on The Stage Critic Search competition
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This week, I have two plays in rehearsal: one in my motherland and one in my fatherland.

I can’t stop pinching myself, as having productions simultaneously in Singapore and Britain is, in itself, a marvel. But possibly even more marvellous is watching theatremaking transcend national and cultural boundaries.

Nowhere is this clearer than watching the stage management team in Singapore at work. I write the kinds of plays that need lots of props. I tend not to bog my ideas down in anything as banal as unities of time or location. I prefer to tell stories that whizz around like Donald Trump’s psyche.

So productions of my plays tend to need lots of location changes and therefore the props to bring the differing places to life. They also require loads of food.

In one rehearsal room in north London and another in the east of Singapore, stage managers are working, simultaneously, like Trojans. This week I have seen – or read about in rehearsal reports – requests for the following: masala tea, pakoras, candles in holders that can be handed out to audience members (imagine the health and safety specs on those) and the steering wheel of an Uber vehicle complete with smartphone holder.

In every case, the item required has been sourced without a second’s hesitation.

In our Singapore rehearsal room, I park my laptop next to the stage manager (whose role includes deputy stage manager duties) and I’m in heaven because, you see, I love stationery.

Highlighters, hole punches, those little translucent Post-it tabs. The colours, the bits that clip together or clip on and thus miraculously pull things into order.

It’s the dorky kid in me; take me to the depths of WHSmith and it’s like I’m aged five again. And nowhere in the world, not even Smiths, has more technicolor stationery splendour on offer than a DSM’s table.

But it’s not just in thanks for the coloured plastic that I’m writing in celebration of stage managers. It strikes me, watching a team of stage managers in another part of the world, that they have a universal role. The writer creates the framework to hang the piece of theatre on, while, say, technicians including the lighting designers create the visual emotional template.

But the stage managers create the whole structure, the scaffolding, the skeleton, upon which every morsel of creative flesh will hang and ultimately live.

From the sourcing and organisation of props to the backstage calls, without the stage managers and their unique combination of inventiveness, huge heart and soul and unwavering thirst for detail, nothing, no one, would ever make it on to a stage.

When Nick Hytner got the NT stage managers to storm the Olivier at the NT 50 show, I was in tears seeing some faces who have held supported me as a performer. Stage managers are the backbone of theatremaking and they deserve every inch of celebration as the rest of us in the creative mix.

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