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Stage manager Katie Jackson: How to survive the first day of rehearsals for a new show

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The first day of rehearsals is nearly always a source of dread and nervous anticipation. I have met very few people who enjoy them, and the ones that do also tend to enjoy eating ice cream outside in winter and having their teeth pulled. I have many director friends who consider the first day of rehearsals one of the worst parts of their job, second only to press night.

Inevitably, people trickle into the rehearsal room, wide eyes glancing around nervously, deer in the headlights, wondering if they’re in the right place. Yes, they are.

With a sigh of relief they find a chair in the corner to put their bag and coat down before picking someone out of the crowd of strangers to speak to. Finally, everyone is summoned into the middle of the room, taking one of the chairs that the assistant stage manager put out at nine o’clock that morning, and go around the circle saying their name and role on the show.

There is comfort to be taken, at least, in the formulaic nature of first days. There’s always a meet-and-greet, a model-box showing, a read-through and, if you’re lucky, baked goods. If you’re unlucky there is a group activity, usually a memory game or a throwing and catching exercise, which efficiently and immediately exposes the less coordinated in the group. However, after these mandatory tasks have been ticked off, you’re sort of on your own.

By about lunchtime, the production team has left, the circle of chairs has been cleared to the side of the room and the work begins. For a musical, the spotlight usually falls on the musical director, who starts walking the cast through the score of the show. For a play, that beam swivels on to the director. The deputy stage manager has to be ready to anticipate the different departments’ needs.

If it starts with a music call, the DSM has to have all the vocal scores numbered, a sign-out sheet ready, and tick each copy off with the cast member’s name and character assigned. If there’s choreography in the show, ask the choreographer if they want numbers or letters on the mark-up.

For a director working on a play, there may be swathes of research that they have done for weeks before everyone meets in this room, and they would like it printed out and put up on the walls. Blu Tack in hand, you take on the task.

A useful trick is getting hold of the headshots and cast list a few days beforehand, tuck this cheat-sheet surreptitiously into your book and glance at it every now and then while making people believe in your savant abilities.

Otherwise, it’s just one of those things that has to be got through. And by the end of the second week of the run, you can’t imagine not knowing all those people you were so nervous to introduce yourself to on that fateful first day

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