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RELATIONSHIPS: Stage Manager – Playwright

June 28, 2012

The Stage Manager – Playwright relationship should be akin to that of the NYPD to Congress: Congress may make the laws, but the NYPD has to enforce them without question [even if the cop has never even been to DC].  That being said: the text is the bible.  In a published work, Actors must be “word perfect” on their lines and Directors may want to cross out or change certain sections, but it is the Stage Manager’s job to protect the written work of the playwright.   The play has been published/copy righted/previously produced: nothing can change in the text [stage directions are much more touch & go: only keep stage directions that have an important impact on the story.  9 times out of 10 the stage directions you see in a script are notes from the very first SM about the blocking from the Director and not the Playwright].  Now of course things are different when working on a New Work & the playwright is in the room:

ACTOR: this line doesn’t make sense

DIRECTOR: yes it does, it’s about…. it’s… it’s about –

PLAYWRIGHT: okay okay, here’s the new line…

In that case, it’s the SMs job [or hopefully there is a PA or ASM to assist] to keep track of the changes so that everyone continues to work off the same cohesive script and everyone knows what changes have been made on a daily basis.

In Pre-Production:
In Pre-Production the SM should become as familiar with the script as possible.  The SM should be intimate with the script [champagne… strawberries…] And know it inside and out before the first Production Meeting.  If it is a new work/playwright in room; develop a system early on for submitting and distributing script changes throughout the rehearsal process.  This will make everyone’s lives easier as we go on.  Remind the Playwright that they are the writer and not the director [unless, of course, they are both] so ask that questions/comments be told to the director and not to the actors to avoid “do I listen to the Playwright or the Director” issues.

In Rehearsal:

In rehearsal, give the actors meticulous line notes in hopes to have a “letter perfect” production [a particularly picky example: there is a difference between “didn’t” and “did not.” as there requires a different cadence with the speech pattern the Playwright intended and may say a lot about the character when/if that character ever uses contractions].  As a Playwright myself, I know I labor over the many ways to get an idea across.  There’s a reason the Playwright chose “steak” instead of “chicken” so do your best to figure it out instead of “accidentally” rewriting it.

In Tech:

In Tech, the SM should be sure that there is a LOCKED copy of the script [when working on a New Work] and printed out an updated script for Designers so everyone [literally] can be on the same page.  It’s particularly important to have a music stand open and following along backstage so the Actors can follow as necessary because it’s likely that the one monologue about the Glowing Fish has changed about 50 times during the rehearsal process and when jumping cue-to-cue in tech it’s easy to confuse version 30 with version 50.  Regardless, it’s not “too late” to hope for a letter perfect performance.  Keep giving those line notes and make sure the actors study them!

During Performances:

Even after the show is open, the Actors still should receive line notes [though I tend to be a little more lax on giving the notes unless the Actor gets the same note twice in a row].  It’s the SMs job to maintain every aspect of the performance, including the script!

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