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RELATIONSHIPS: Actor – Stage Manager

June 26, 2012

I recently went to the off-Broadway Networking Event hosted by Actors Equity.  A lot of what the Production Managers and General Managers on the other side of the table wanted to know was how I dealt with the relationships of the production as a Stage Manager.  An important part of Stage Managing is the ability to compose relationships so that the team works productively and harmoniously.  A Stage Manager’s relationship with an Actor is completely different from their relationship with the Director and likewise the Technical Director, etc.  But the relationship has to be clear both ways, otherwise frustration and miscommunication is inevitable.  For example, if you must put request the Producer/Production Manager to change the time of a rehearsal – though this means an hour’s worth of juggling spaces and times for them, they simply say “yes, I’ll let you know where you’ll be.”  We all have jobs to do, things go unexpectedly, hey – it’s live theatre!  Be respectful of everyone’s necessary position, and bring information and any issues to the appropriate person.

The Actor-Stage Manager relationship is absolutely key.  There’s a reason Stage Managers and Actors are in the same Union.  The Stage Managers are there to protect the Actors.  SMs are the only Actor representative on all technical or practical issues, they ensure proper information is given to all and guarantee safety so the Actors can concentrate solely on their craft.  Likewise, the Director-Stage Manager relationship is as important, and that relationship requires the Stage Manager to maintain the Director’s vision, including watching the Actors after Opening.  The relationship must be clear on both sides, but the relationship is mildly different in rehearsal, tech, and performances.

In Rehearsal:

In regards to the Actor, Stage Management is responsible for rehearsal breaks, recording blocking, being on book should an actor call “line,” updating everyone on schedules, and answering questions. I know that we’ve all have horror stories about past colleagues – but let’s assume everyone does their job well.  If you are blocking a scene on its feet – even if the Actors take notes as they go – Stage Management’s book is Bible.  When going over blocking, if the Actor doesn’t remember [or remembers differently] trust that Stage Management could have caught something you missed or forgot [note: often Directors say “try your cross on this line instead of that line, but we won’t go back, let’s move on…” and Stage Management will update the blocking in the book, so the Actor will obviously remember crossing on a different line at the last rehearsal].  If there is a strong discrepancy let Stage Management speak with the Director, that way they can update everything and everyone accordingly.  Same goes for rehearsal breaks, conditions, and rehearsal time.

In Tech

Stage Managers are sometimes referred to as “god” because of the role they play during Tech.  The Actor-Stage Manager relationship during tech is much removed from the rehearsal conditions.  The Stage Managers are far away, and sometimes can only communicate via email, god mic/intercom, or briefly in passing.  SMs have a lot on their plate during tech, be sure to use their assistants appropriately and email questions or concerns if you don’t have a chance to speak in person.

During Performances

Actors should respect Stage Management’s call times for brush-up rehearsals, fight/flight calls, and shows.  Likewise, Stage Management must respect the Actor’s needs including:rehearsal requests, Equity Cot, and warm-up necessities [within reason].  As previously mentioned, the Director – Stage Manager relationship requires the SM to maintain the performance, so pay attention to Stage Management’s notes and don’t change your blocking or intent.  If you’re stuck in a rut after opening, look to your “actor toolbox” to keep the performance fresh without changing the show.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    June 26, 2012 1:14 pm

    I’m assuming from that last sentence that you must have some crazy stories of actors changing their performances to freshen the show? 🙂

  2. The Practical Artist permalink
    June 27, 2012 8:59 am

    you would be surprised… “Actor rewrites” are obvious, but what’s sometimes worse is changing the intention of a beat can make the entire scene or character come across very differently; and that’s not maintaining the performance.

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