When I was 19, I was sent on a professional placement for eight weeks as part of my drama school training. I was working with a company manager who had been in the industry for about 15 years and had toured extensively in the UK and internationally.
She once commented to me in passing that, especially with international touring, if you get along with the rest of the company you will have the best time of your life, and if you don’t you will have the worst.
That idea has stayed with me throughout my career. It is, of course, true of any job, but the nature of touring makes it so much more pertinent. I’ve been very lucky with my tours so far, in that I’ve always had at least a few cast and crew that I get along with really well, if not all of them. But I am always wary, when taking a touring contract, that one day that may not be the case.
It’s a demanding lifestyle: living in a stranger’s house, walking around a stranger’s town and only knowing a handful of people, all of whom are there for the same reason as you. Digs are great, but they aren’t a home, and as a result I often find myself trying to get out of the house and explore whichever city I’m in that week. Having to do that alone, week in, week out, would become depressing fairly quickly.
Obviously, we all need to be by ourselves sometimes, but feeling you have to spend time alone is deeply isolating and can make your entire contract unpleasant. You need to strike a healthy balance, making sure you’re not spending all your days in your own company.
In the international touring sphere you are often staying in the same hotel with everyone and travelling on the same shuttle buses to and from theatres. But it’s not always collegiate – especially if you’re in a country with a significant language barrier – and not having anyone in the company with whom you can spend time easily is excruciating. Living on top of each other, when you don’t have anything in common, or just don’t like each other, can make you feel penned in.
On top of that, if you’re somewhere with a big time difference, you can’t rely on people back home being available, or awake, for a quick Facetime. It is easy to slip into the habit of hiding in your hotel room and not seeing the amazing countries you are visiting.
Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining and, in this situation, it is learning self-sufficiency. Being a good stage manager is all about confidence in your abilities, and if you know you can survive on your own in any scenario then you know you can handle pretty much anything this career throws at you.
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson