Touring means change, but it isn’t the obvious changes that make touring so challenging. Yes, you’re in different cities every week, you’re living in a different stranger’s spare room each time, you’re walking a different route to a different theatre via a different branch of Caffè Nero. But those aspects are predictable and therefore manageable. It’s not the macro differences that complicate a deputy stage manager’s job on tour, it’s the micro ones.
Walking into a new theatre on a Monday, mid load-in, with hopefully most of the set already up and the relighter calling the focus, a deputy stage manager needs to quickly scout out the terrain, especially if this is a theatre you haven’t toured to before.
Are you prompt side, opposite prompt or calling from the lighting box? Are your comms packs run through the prompt desk or are they separate? Are the dressing rooms close to stage or are they miles away, and if so do you need to pre-empt your courtesy calls? Are your cue lights in the same order on your prompt desk as last week and if not can they be? It sounds silly, but muscle memory plays a huge part in show calling, and having to rewire that muscle memory every week requires careful attention to these small details so you can hit the ground running.
One of the most important things to prioritise when you’re moving into a theatre is the immortal question of the relay camera and monitor. If you are calling from the wings or anywhere that doesn’t give you a clear line of sight to the action on stage, you will need a camera that runs a live image of the show to a monitor next to you at prompt desk. This image is, almost unfailingly, grainy, blurred and miniscule. Cameras can, of course, be refocused and zooms adjusted. However, finding an in-house crew member who is free to assist you with this in the middle of an eight-hour fit up before a show that evening can be tricky. There’s no point focusing a camera to a set that isn’t built yet.
Nevertheless, it is something I end up having to put my foot down about. I can’t call a show if I can’t see it. As the DSM, you have a responsibility to your cast members to provide them with continuity. You are the force driving their sense of security. They are dealing with their own set of micro changes. Is there a rake? Are they sharing a dressing room this week when last week they had one to themselves? Will this new city’s audience be as welcoming as last week’s? They don’t need, added on top of that, the stress of cues being late or missed because I can’t see or hear what they’re doing.
Any DSM worth their salt can call a show that never changes location or structure, but being a good DSM is all about how you handle these minor, but major, differences.
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson