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Stage managers need more support (your views)

Stage manager at work. Photo: Alex Brenner Stage manager at work. Photo: Alex Brenner
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I work as a technician in a prominent regional receiving house. Of the 12 shows (excluding musicals) we have so far hosted this season, only one has had the “traditional” stage management team of company stage manager, deputy stage manager and assistant stage manager. The remaining 11 have either excluded the role of ASM or, more worryingly, left just one person to do all three jobs. One recent example saw the CSM lead the set build, relight, install sound, oversee wardrobe and then go on to food preparation before calling the show herself…

It’s worth noting this was not a theatre in education show that came out the back of a transit van – it was a large three-walled set and featured star names. The stresses and strains of the difficult position she found herself in were quickly obvious during the fit-up.

Stage management is a skilled profession and yet increasingly they’re not being given the respect and support they deserve. I haven’t even mentioned the inappropriate and exploitative use of understudy ASMs when some shows require a fully trained “full-time” ASM.

Mental health issues in the industry are rising and work/life balance is wildly off-kilter but, it would seem, producers would rather save money than ensure the well-being of the hard-working stage managers. It needs to change.

Name and address supplied

Great singers for great musicals

I agree with David Benedict that people go to see stars rather than singers in musicals and this does an injustice to both the musical and the star.

However, when one is reviving Man of La Mancha after 51 years, surely the star has to have the ability to sing in tune. It’s clear English National Opera was not given the opportunity to audition the lead for this production. I have to admit I am a big fan of Frasier and consider it the best comedy series to come to TV, but did Michael Grade and Michael Linnit – giants of musical theatre – hear Kelsey Grammer sing prior to signing his contract?

Ernest O Brien
Via thestage.co.uk

David Benedict: Musicals need great singers far more than they need stars

Grammer is a musical theatre performer. He was in the original cast of Sunday in the Park With George on Broadway. I am surprised he isn’t up to the job. Are you sure you aren’t mistaking his performance with poor direction?

Andrew Talbot
Via thestage.co.uk

Unfortunately, audiences pay to see stars, not singers nowadays. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, for instance, took on Michelle Visage as Miss Hedge. She had a very poor Sheffield accent, which was a mix of many dialects. But she’s Michelle Visage on stage in London. People were happy to see her, whether she was good or not.

David Grace
Via thestage.co.uk

“Carry a tune” – so much damage from one simple phrase. Singers are highly skilled performers and singing is much more than “carrying a tune”. Without adequate technique and physiological strength, no acting of the song can happen. Would anyone want to watch Swan Lake if the lead dancers were not trained? We need to show more respect to trained singers.

Jane de Florez
Via Facebook

Yes we need to stop fluke casting, but more importantly, singing and dancing are not the most important parts of a show – it is storytelling. Critics talk about book flaws disappearing with good tunes, but why not just write a good book? I also think Sweet Charity is a terrible example for Benedict’s argument because Gwen Verdon wasn’t a singer – she was a captivating actor and dancer who used her voice as one of the tools in her repertoire. Neil Simon wrote a nuanced book that shows authentic struggle and a captivating resolve.

Scott Leff
Via Facebook

Some of the best performances I have seen in musicals have been from actors who may not have been great singers: Judi Dench is a good example, Glenn Close another. No one could say that Jacques Brel was a great singer but in the French Man of La Mancha he was superb. It is passion that is needed, not a
great voice.

Gordon Griffin
Via Facebook

If you see Judi Dench sing Send in the Clowns, you might think differently. She has very little singing ability, but her performance was incredibly moving – you stopped noticing the quality (or lack thereof) of her singing. You can do a fantastic job without being a great singer. Two years ago the Liverpool Everyman’s production of Fiddler on the Roof divided opinion. It was a rep company of actors who were not selected for their singing, because they had to act in other productions during the season. I thought the production as an ensemble piece was fantastic and the moderate singing talent didn’t concern me, but some musical theatre friends were not impressed. I think you get a different experience and both can be enjoyable.

Nick Wymer
Via Facebook

Fleabag ticket fiasco fury

How on earth did anyone manage to get Fleabag tickets on the Soho Theatre website? I was on the page for about five minutes before the 3pm release time and at 3.01pm the website crashed. When it was up and running I was 5,000th in the queue and waited for two hours for nothing – talk about making theatre accessible – apparently to see shows I need to invest in better Wi-Fi.

Camilla Anvar Makhmudi

Quotes of the week

John Gore. Photo: Shutterstock
John Gore. Photo: Shutterstock

“There is so much more to [Andrew Lloyd Webber] than the musicals. He comes up with a thousand ideas a day, and you just know some of those are worth millions. People say Cameron [Mackintosh] is like the Henry Ford of musicals — duplicating his hits around the world. Rolls-Royce is a better analogy. He’s all about perfection and the highest production values. We all live in hope that the two of them do at least one more show together. Together they are unbeatable — every time it has been a hit.” Producer John Gore (Sunday Times)

“Why shouldn’t Peter be a girl? This feels like the right moment for the story to come back in a new form. Peter has a boldness and sense of playful fun and is an instinctive leader. I had certain dancers in mind to portray that, and they’re all girls. Why not? When I hear Peter’s music, I don’t think it’s particularly male.” Birmingham Royal Ballet choreographer and first artist Ruth Brill on the BRB’s new production of Peter and the Wolf (Shropshire Star)

“You’ve got a 1,000-seater full of people staring at you. And when you feel the anxiety, breathlessness, it’s just drilling right into your solar plexus and you think, fuck. This is something I can’t stop, not once the show’s started.” Actor Suranne Jones (Guardian)

“[Theatre is] where I get my life force from. That’s what fills me up. I’d be happy just to do theatre, but it can’t pay the bills.” Actor Phoebe Fox (Evening Standard)

“Pretty soon there will be a Hytner and Starr theatre on every high street. H&S.” Arts journalist Theo Bosanquet (Twitter)

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge to perform Fleabag on stage for last time in West End run

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