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Saying No. Sometimes.

September 29, 2014


As a young Stage Manager in a new country I find myself saying yes a lot. Yes, I will work two jobs. Yes, I will do that gig for free. Yes, I will spend 48 hours straight in tech. Yes, I will carry all of the laundry after a show from Downtown to Astoria every night for four weeks… I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m not here to tell you the power of using “No” or anything preachy like that. I am instead going to share my tale of woe from when I took on a great deal of work and ended up lying side ways in a bush throwing up whilst a small boy dressed as Pinocchio held my hair.

This summer I was hired for three months to work as both a Stage Manager and a Director for a children’s summer camp. I would stage-manage three shows every three weeks, one of which being my own that I would Direct. Putting up these shows in a barn on a mountain in upstate New York was some of the best fun I have ever had as a theatre maker.

But Viki, you say, two jobs. Two jobs!? The work required from SMing children’s theatre (meaning theatre made by children) is vastly different to other kinds of shows. You become a chaperone, a guidance counselor, make-up artist, dresser and so much more than what is usually expected from a Stage Manager. When I also began Directing my first show, My Son Pinocchio, I struggled to find a balance. I eventually got the hang of things by doing paperwork at night and utilizing the help of an excellent assistant director. Everything was going very smoothly.

Until I started projectile vomiting on the day of my dress rehearsal.

Stomach flu had struck the camp two days prior to dress/tech. This was no ordinary stomach flu. This was a plague the likes of which I had never experienced before. Children were dropping like flies, staff were keeling over in the dining hall, grown men were donning costumes and standing in for a fourteen year old Billy Crocker in Anything Goes. And then it reached me. Whilst I was innocently talking to my cast on the morning of my dress rehearsal the plague crept up on me like that creepy vampire shadow hand in Nosferatu and I ran from the theatre in the middle of a sentence about character shoes.

A side-note: Here are some tips for Stage Managers dealing with a sickness bug in a cast or crew:

  • Hand Sanitizer is your best friend. It is not optional. Everyone MUST use it all the time. Germs spread through peoples’ hands like tiny Trojans inside a hand-shaped horse.
  • One bucket is never enough. Several buckets are always good. So is bleach and HOT water for cleaning out said buckets.
  • Crackers and Antacid should find a new home inside your first aid kit until the horror of the sickness plague passes.

Once I was sick I couldn’t go back inside the theatre so had to call the show from the grass outside whilst the assistant director kept me updated with what was happening inside. Not having a Stage Manager or a Director meant that several props disappeared, children were dressed in the wrong outfits and the lighting and sound cues had to be called by the Lighting Designer. Theatre, I realized, is like a Hydra, when one head gets cut off from a production team they grow another three to deal with the loss. It’s really quite incredible. And stressful.

As someone beginning my career, I don’t believe in saying “No” very often. However, I now have my lasting memory of the plague, the throw-up-bush and the confused faces of several children to allow me to feel OK when I do.

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