Where do you start?
By Matthew Melchiorre
Production Stage Manager
"Where do you start?" -- That’s a loaded question…especially when I have to think about writing a blog and trying to answer a very difficult question…what does a stage manager do? I guess that is the purpose of this blog, to give you some insight as to what I do throughout the course of a production…you lucky, lucky people!
SO…where do I start, exactly? With any production I would start by reading the play…I know it’s a novel idea but you have to be bold. Actually, by the time the cast gathers around the table for the first read-through on the first day of rehearsal, I have read the play AT LEAST twice. Why twice you ask? Well, the first time is to get a general feel for the play and the second is to pick out any props, scene shifts, costume issues or any other technical needs the play might call for. Sounds easy enough…not so, sometimes.
Well then what happens? I’m sure you are wondering… NO we don’t just all gather at the first rehearsal and off we go…there is a lot of planning that goes into just getting TO the first rehearsal. That takes place, for a stage manager, a week before the first rehearsal begins…in something we call PREP WEEK!!! Sounds daunting. It’s not…so no need to sweat but it’s time to get organized. That’s where lists come in very handy. I’ve often said that if I didn’t like organization, stage management probably wouldn’t be a good career path. One of the first things I do is print out a master list of all the tasks that need to be taken care of…there is a sense of pride when at the end of prep week all the items are crossed off. There is a lot of coordinating to do throughout this week, from copying scripts and gathering supplies to making sure props and the rehearsal room are ready for rehearsal…checking in with various departments to see what they need and naturally in constant conversation with the director about what their needs are going to be as the rehearsal process moves forward. Then the dreaded day comes…taping out the ground plan on the rehearsal room floor with spike tape. I have not met a stage manager that actually LIKES doing this…if you are out there and reading this blog I WILL PAY YOU to tape out my floors for the rest of my career! Since we can’t have walls or stairs or any physical set elements in a rehearsal room this groundplan of tape gives the actors a representation of their set design so they know where they can and can’t move. The set design for Beyond Therapy involves a circular turntable…so you can only imagine my delight to take straight tape and mold it into a circle.
OK, enough about the trials and tribulations of taping a floor. As prep week continues a lot of paper work is also generated…from calendars to daily rehearsal schedules and contact sheets…from prop lists to scene breakdowns. One of the final steps I will do as prep week comes to an end is to call each member of the cast. Making that first phone call gives me an opportunity to get a sense of each actor. I talk through the schedule with them…give them all the necessary info and try, to the best of my ability, to answer any questions they may have. Once we’ve all touched base, the first day’s schedule can be sent to the masses and you hope we are going to show up on the first day of rehearsal!
Then that day arrives…THE FIRST DAY OF REHEARSAL!!! There’s an excitement and a nervousness that is always mixed into a first day…think about it…a group of strangers (more or less) gather together to work toward a common goal of presenting this piece of theater and we are just getting started. On a first day I will always leave my bags as close to the front door as possible…it makes for a quick escape incase you have to go running from the building.
And that’s where I leave you…for now, the bag is at the front door…though I haven’t left yet…and for Beyond Therapy, I don’t think I will…it’s such a crazy fun piece of theater and I’m working with people who I truly respect, some I’ve known for years and some I have just met. But I’m looking forward to taking you devoted readers through our process of rehearsal, tech and performance so fasten your seat belts…there’s not a lot of time…so off we go!
Production Stage Manager Matthew Melchiorre &
Assistant Stage Manager Winnie Y. Lok "taping" the rehearsal room floor.