Katie Brennan shares the ups and downs of being a stage manager of student theatre, in particular her most recent experience stage-managing for Troilus & Cressida.
As a University student, there are very few times in my life where I feel completely fulfilled in what I am doing—tutorials and late-night papers just don’t do it for me. But I did catch glimmers of this contentedness when I was being shot at by imaginary guns and dying dramatically in my friend’s garden on North Street while we were testing a variety of blood packs for our upcoming show. Not the usual way to spend a Saturday morning, you say? Well, I agree, but such is the stage manager’s life.
What does a stage manager do, exactly? The rather facetious answer of ‘manage the stage’ is, actually, fairly accurate. I come from a high school where there were regularly casts of thirty to fifty people per show. This meant that stage-managing was a huge ordeal that resulted in a lot of blind panic in my life before a show opened from the ages of fifteen to eighteen. Here, where smaller shows are the norm, the producer and stage manager roles frequently get lumped together into one, especially in shows where there are less than ten people in the cast. However, on occasion, shows do come up with upwards of twenty-five cast members, in huge venues like Venue 1 and you really do need a stage manager, at the very least, for crowd control, not for the 100-person strong audience, but for attempting to make the backstage area of Venue 1 hold 30 actors at a time.
There are ways this could go wrong very easily. There’s a lot of deep breathing and muffled shrieks when props break onstage, sets break, or (memorably) when swords get stuck in stages. As a stage-manager you can’t do anything from backstage, you just have to make sure that you’re doing your job well enough that you’ve minimized the chances for those on-stage flubs through off-stage organization and preparation, and that the audience don’t notice when the shit hits the fan.
So, how did my most recent stint at stage-managing go? Troilus and Cressida had a cast of twenty-eight, most of them guys, with pretty much every guy requiring a sword when they were onstage for massive fight scenes choreographed by one of the directors. I think that about speaks for itself, especially if you’ve ever seen how cramped the backstage at Venue 1 is.
In the end I guess what I’m trying to say is although stage-managing can be a bit like running a pre-school filled with fake-blood-smeared, sword-wielding actors and you have to surrender yourself to the mercy of randomness and prop-malfunctions (and, God forbid, costume-malfunctions!) for me, at least, it is incredibly fun, rewarding, and guarantees a constant flow of party stories. It’s when you let yourself really get into it and realise that everything isn’t going to work perfectly all the time that the magic really happens.