Once, I had a friend who worked for ASIO and she would always tell people, when they asked her what she did for a living, that she was an HR consultant. I’ve spent twenty years working in theatre as a stage manager and I’ve never really talked about it on my blog. It’s like being a spy — no one knows exactly what you do but it sounds exciting. Even my father doesn’t get it, after all these years he thinks I used to be an actor (possibly not a very good one because I was never ‘in’ anything).
As I am off to teach the secret arts of production to some fresh-faced teenagers this year, I’ve been thinking about what being a theatre technician means.
When I was at school, all the kids who weren’t good enough to be in the school musical got to be the backstage crew. It was the booby prize for not being good enough. But the truth is, those behind the scenes need to be as smart, as talented, as dedicated and as reliable as those the audience sees.
A stage manager is in charge of leading everyone — the actors, the lighting people, the sound people, the video people, the staging people. All these people know exactly what to do, but in order for everything to fit together seamlessly, the stage manager has to tell them when. It’s like being a conductor of an orchestra, bringing together all the different sections into one great symphony.
The guy on the fly floor knows how to get the curtain to come in at exactly the right speed and how to make it stop just as it brushes the floor, but the stage manager tells him when to push the button (or pull the rope) so that the curtain lands precisely on the final beat of the music, and at the same time as the lights fade to black. The stage manager waits until all the actors are assembled behind the curtain before she tell the flyman to take the curtain out for the curtain calls. It’s all a matter of timing.
Backstage is where props are distributed, scenery is stored, costumes are changed and egos are soothed. The stage manager makes sure her dark kingdom is run silently and efficiently. It’s a magical place to be.
I have a life-time of stories to tell about the things that go on in the dark — affairs, melt-downs, mistakes, tantrums, misunderstandings and rivalry.
Some of these stories have made it into my books about Sophie Walker — my fictional stage manager. Get the first episode free ~ Stages | Episode One.