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“What’s Your Type?”

March 2, 2011

… Not usually a question posed to anyone not an actor, but an important answer for us to find.  Some behind the scenes jobs are similar within their departments, while others couldn’t be more different.  One may assume that a fantastic Stage Manager would make an incredible Assistant Stage Manager, though this is far from the case.  Not all those with the mental capacity to run a tech or call a show have the quick wit and sometimes “Tetris”-like skills it takes to organize a busy show backstage.  This goes vice versa, of course.  I once worked with an accomplished Sound Designer who had never learned to operate a sound system or EQ a space (true story – he had the intern Audio Engineer turn on the system because he didn’t know how).

While I pride myself in running a tight ship and having an organized backstage as an ASM, I am much more hesitant when calling a show and have always had a hard time being consistent in the timing between my “LX 37”s and my “GO”s.   Though I have served as PSM a number of times, I currently prefer ASMing.  While ASMing, I feel like I have more control over the situation should something be amiss.  SMs are “trapped” in a booth, and the only means of knowing what’s going wrong backstage is the broken sentences of a frustrated ASM who’s trying to fix the problem before it gets worse, while Actors breathe down their necks “what’s going on”, and the SM sprouts sentences like “Is it fixed?… Standby LX 13… Did you find it?… LX 13… ASM are you there???? GO!… is it fixed?  Oh, thank God she’s on stage, shit! Sound K Standby.  Thank you, ASM!”

I’ll take sweeping, mopping, splinters from set pieces, and one-on-one contact with diva actors throwing props at my head (again, true story) OVER production reports, following up on everyone who doesn’t read production reports, being trapped in a box with the sometimes smelly board ops (I kid!) and calling a show.

I found my place as ASM with a very busy show backstage, “Tommy.”  After two days of tech and backstage falling apart, I voluntarily upgraded myself to 1st ASM (I had been 2nd) and produced clear paperwork (prop tracking; Quick Change Details, etc) to our dressers and crew.  The PSM called a meeting, pronounced me Queen of Backstage, and demanded the previous 1st ASM and all other crew to take my direction without hesitation.  Opening night, the accomplished Director hugged me, and introduced me to her husband as “this little one saved my show.”  For me: the busier the show, the better.  I thrive off of prop nightmares, quick-change hell, and the organized, choreographed chaos that is inevitable in a complicated & fast paced show backstage.

So, techies, back to the question posed, “What’s Your Type?”  Are you the Lighting Designer who has spent hours on the paperwork, got there for focus and bellows “Love It, Lock It, Leave It, NEXT!” while sitting next to the board op?  Or are you the electrician up the scaffold with your C-Wrench, purposely having worn black or white so that you wouldn’t be the one running around onstage to different points getting blinded by each individual instrument?  Or are you the programmer/board op who’s spent hours studying the ins and outs of this larger-and-more-expensive-than-necessary light board that the company rented?

What’s your type in your field of Tech, and how did you find your place?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2011 11:15 am

    I love that you wrote about something actors usually take for granted at this point from a techie’s perspective! It’s not something I would have ever thought about, but you’re right, people have their own niches to fill backstage, too. Great post!

    • March 2, 2011 12:26 pm

      Also, I can personally attest to your kick-ass manic backstage organizing skills, without which, my senior thesis play probably would have sucked. So props for that.

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