Recently, it has become fashionable for producers to require touring stage managers to absorb responsibilities from other departments into their job description. The reason for this is simple: it reduces the number of crew you have to send on the road with the show and, therefore, pay.
A particularly common one is making the deputy stage manager operate the sound for the show from prompt corner themselves, rather than calling the cues. And while they are operating it, they might as well be in charge of – with the assistance of in-house crews at the venues they tour to – installing and removing the kit.
However, this business model can be pushed too far occasionally and will only ever be detrimental to the quality of the show.
I toured a show as deputy stage manager a while ago – I was given the sound duties as part of my job role, which I was used to and anticipating.
Unfortunately, the producers also required me to take on a third department as well. They gave me the choice between being the re-lighter or the production carpenter. Whichever duty I didn’t take on would be given to my company stage manager.
To this day I don’t know why I made the choice I did, but I went for the production carpenter duties and my CSM was left to be the re-lighter.
Needless to say, I didn’t go into stage management because of my natural flair for carpentry. During my training, I did my compulsory six weeks in the construction department and, after half a day in the metal workshop and some embarrassing attempts at welding, my tutor suggested I might find my talents lay in the wood workshop next door.
Funnily enough, my woodwork tutor suspected the reverse.
On this tour we were in and up in a day for all the venues we went to. This meant that, of a Monday morning, I would arrive at 8am for the toolbox talk, lead the set build all day and be calling the show that night at 7.30pm. On Saturdays, I would call two shows and go straight into striking the set and loading it on to the wagon.
My CSM didn’t have a much of a better time, desperately trying to get dressing rooms allocated and deal with actors calling to say they had broken down on the motorway and didn’t know if they would be able to get to the city in time for the show that evening, while calling the focus.
We were working so hard to fulfil the duties we had no skills or knowledge for that we were dropping the ball on things we should have been able to do in our sleep.
It’s difficult to call a show when your cast members are coming off stage and telling you the door you spent 15 minutes wrestling with earlier that day either doesn’t open at all or opens a little too well.
At some point, producers will have to choose between touring shows cheaply and touring shows well. But until they do, I fear stage management will pay the price.
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson