Author Topic: first time SMing ballet  (Read 3162 times)

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BlueRidgeSM

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first time SMing ballet
« on: May 22, 2012, 02:35 pm »
I got an email yesterday from a director I worked with four or five years ago looking for a replacement SM for a ballet that goes up next weekend!  I have never SM'd ballet before and only ASM'd one Irish dance show several years ago (and did not call the show).  What do I need to know about SMing ballet?

The director has sent me a scene list plus some links to the ballet on YouTube.  I will be meeting him one night this week to pick up a CD of the music.  Our first rehearsal is on Saturday, and we have rehearsals nightly until the first performance the following Friday.

I was sort of taking a break from SMing as I sort out my priorities and then suddenly this landed in my lap!  They are even paying me more money for a week of work than I made in the entire three plus months SMing the extremely successful show at the community theatre I did earlier this year.  In fact, the pay for this one week of ballet is more than a week of take-home pay at my "real" day job!  I am really wanting this to go well, so throw any tips/pointers you have my way!  In the mean time, I will go read old posts and see what I can find out that way.   :)

dallas10086

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2012, 03:22 pm »
These are the kinds of opportunities where if they're in a bind and need someone they know is good and fast, say yes and take it as a learning experience (and it doesn't help that it comes with a little extra pocket money). I'm sure there's info here that go into detail about SMing ballet if you use the search option. I know a few that go off visual cues on top of counting measures, that should help you get through the week at least. If you can call the cues off visual + score, all the better. Learn if you'll have to call certain dancers to stage as they do in opera.
It's also a good idea to ask the director how he prefers certain cues to be called (with the music? on a visual?), rather than telling him flat out 'I've never done this before, how do I do it?'

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BayAreaSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2012, 11:47 am »
As Dallas said, using the search option is helpful. And here is a thread that should offer you some good tips:

http://smnetwork.org/forum/stage-management-other/how-to-call-a-dance-show-when-your-unsure/

Most times in situations like these you aren't given a score. It's best to write down the choreography as you would blocking, and create yourself a script from that. You don't need to know terminology, though it would make things a bit easier to communicate with the director/choreographer. If you are given a score, that's great - but be aware that most choreographers don't count by the measure, they count by the phrase. We were doing Swan Lake and I wanted the choreographer to tell me how he wanted the destruction of Von Rothbart's castle to time out. We played the CD and I followed the score, but he kept counting the phrases. What would be 8 measures to me was a count of 1 to 12 for him. It made it difficult to communicate until I just learned to count music his way.

BlueRidgeSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2012, 12:21 pm »
Thanks for the tips everyone!

I did pick up a DVD from the director on Wednesday and have been watching the ballet.  Unfortunately, the version they are doing is slightly different from the DVD so I will have my work cut out for me.  The director did say there are not a huge number of cues, though one dancer does fly briefly and there is a storm scene with lots of light cues (the ballet is La fille mal gardee).  I have my first rehearsal (not at the space, but at a rehearsal location) tomorrow.

I think the thing that will be hardest about this is no script.  I can follow music but not strictly read it; not sure if they will give me a score or if I will just attempt to write down blocking.  They did give me a scene list with times for each dance/bit of music, so that will help some. 

Exciting!

BayAreaSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2012, 02:18 pm »
This is what I do when I'm in your situation:

1. Watch the DVD once to get the feel of the piece.

2. Watch the DVD again and write down all of the choreography in short phrases, like broken sentences.

3. Time stamp each line to the best of my ability.

4. Go into rehearsal and adjust my script to match what this company is doing.


So my script will start to look like this (based on the video):

10:54 Pink Girl Ent UR, x to DL

11:15 Red Man Ent UL, barrel turn around stage,

11:25 Red Man meet Pink Girl DL

11:45 Red Man lift Pink girl CS

Depending if they use their own sets/costumes or a rental from the DVD cast, the costume colors may not be the same, and in most cases, for a man's variation, his entrance may change. Most dancers have a side they perform better on, so you might find by watching your rehearsal that now the Red Man enters from UR, and instead of a barrel turn, does a series of tours (jumping in the air while turning a completely around) to meet the Pink Girl DL. Then you may find a lot of the choreography matches the video, while other small parts change.

There are 2 main versions of that ballet, and it's helpful to know if your company will be dancing the version in the video (with small adjustments as the director warned you) or if it's someone else's interpretation of one of those. A lot of companies will base their own piece on the Petipa, so while many sections will remain the same, they may be put in a different order, or some sections may be replaced with another version's section altogether (this is very common).

It is worthwhile to watch the video and take your notes, as you don't know how much differs, and you do have the opportunity to rewind and catch things you missed. Should you get lost, you always have your time stamps to help you find out where you should be. (This is also based on idea that the rehearsal you're watching hasn't slowed down or sped up the music in relation to the video.)

The other thing I do, when no video is available, is to sit in rehearsal and write down everything as it happens, doing my best to keep my line breaks and catch time stamps. In this case, it is helpful to know everyone's name or have them in costume so that you can refer to them by costume color/character. I'll admit, doing it this way is harder, so I suggest writing your script based off the video, then updating it as you watch the rehearsal.

If a musical cue is ever needed, and a score is not provided, I find it helpful to do this:

15:45                Blue Girl Ent SL1 - Start Counting
15:58  LX 45      1-2-3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8   2-2-3, 4, 5, 6, GO!

To me, that means that the first 3 counts are close together, while the 45678 are a bit longer. Then the phrase repeats with the 223, then the long 456, then I call GO on where 7 would be. (I've found this is the way most choreographers count as well - not in measures, but in phrases. While that above may look like 2 measures, it's most likely 6+ measures. Then you're at least counting the way the choreographer does and it's easier to communicate.) Time stamping is also helpful, though I wouldn't use it to call the cue necessarily, in case you're working with a live orchestra, or you're working with a CD that will require you to stop between tracks for applause and restart the CD when the applause begins to die down (which will throw off all of your time stamps completely).

If you want, I'd be happy to email you a copy of one of my scripts, if you want to see the layout. PM me if you're interested.

Best of luck! It's not as scary as it sounds. Just a little overwhelming when you start, but you'll get the hang of it quickly.

BayAreaSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #5 on: Jul 19, 2012, 02:45 pm »
Beth - I'm curious to know how your first time SM'ing ballet went. What did your calling script look like? Did you enjoy working in ballet? Were there any things you wish we'd told you but we didn't? Do you have any advice for someone else calling ballet for their first time?

And, of course, would you do it again?



BlueRidgeSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #6 on: Apr 30, 2013, 12:35 pm »
So hi all, I sort of went away for a while, but now I'm back lurking again and saw I had missed this reply!

The short answer is yes - I would stage manage ballet again and I did!  After doing La Fille Mal Gardee last spring, I SM'd this company's December production of Nutcracker and am getting ready to SM this year's spring ballet which is Sleeping Beauty.

For La Fille, they really only had light cues at the beginning and end of each track (no live music, but from a CD).  So I made a list of the songs in the show and wrote descriptions of each ("main female solo" or "youngest girls in yellow dresses").  For each place that had a light cue (i.e. the end of a track of music), I had my sound board op give me a 15 second warning before the end of the track and then he would count down from five and when he got to 0 and the track switched I would call the light cue.  We did it this way because he was in the booth and I was backstage and therefore without knowing the music very well (since I had less than a week to learn it, and it was all classical sounding to me!) I needed him to help me know where I was in the show.

Nutcracker was very different - from the start I already knew the music fairly well.  I also met up with the lady who had SM'd this show the year before and she very graciously gave me her notes.  She used pages where the left hand side of the page was a stage diagram and the right hand side had her notes.  There were more cues in Nutcracker (and more internal cues) so I had to know the whole thing in a lot more detail, but I had time to do this so it was fine.  I did get to blow some rudimentary pyro for Drosselmeyer's entrance which was fun.   :)

One thing I did learn about ballet that I did not know before - they bow a lot!  One of the trickiest things was knowing which mode the CD player was in - autopause or continual. If there was no bow at the end of the song, the CD player needed to be in continuous mode, where it would just continue on into the next track by itself.  But if there was a bow, it needed to be in autopause so it would stop automatically, the dancers could bow, and then once they had cleared (or whatever) I could call sound for the next track to go.  So I had lots of notes reaffirming what mode the CD player should be in at any given time and was checking in with my sound board op to make sure it was in the right mode, etc.

It was also really awesome to find out that ballet pays a lot more than SMing for a community theatre around here!  I am where I am for the time being due to being a homeowner, which limits my career prospects, but I was really glad to get paid a lot more to do ballet which also had a much shorter time commitment!  I am going to continue to work with this ballet company and hope to find other similar opportunities (opera?!?) so I can grow my skills and keep getting paid more. 

Jessie_K

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2013, 08:33 am »
Get ready for the autopause again- Sleeping Beauty has a million internal bows.

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BlueRidgeSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2013, 01:17 pm »
Ha!  Good to know. 

Also - to anyone who has done Sleeping Beauty as a ballet, did they use a spinning wheel or a spindle?  I actually knit and spin as a hobby, and own my own spinning wheel and spin my own yarn.  I was very pleased to have a line on a traditional walking wheel that would have a "sharp" quill for Sleeping Beauty to prick her hand on, only to be told by the owner of the company that they are looking for a drop spindle instead!  She even sent me a photo.  Is this normal for the ballet?  I'm just a little flabbergasted because anyone who has ever used a drop spindle would know there is no way you can prick yourself on it.  I figured they would have an old spinning wheel with a distaff (also a pointy thing) which is inaccurate but an understandable mistake.  I'm just not sure what to do with the fact that they want a drop spindle instead -  I don't want them to look dumb, but anyone who has held a drop spindle for two seconds would know you can't prick yourself on one.  It just seems very odd to me!

Jessie_K

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2013, 10:16 pm »
As a knitter myself I found it weird that they use a drop spindle, but that's what they do indeed use.

It would be slightly challenging to dance en pointe while carrying a full size spinning wheel.

BlueRidgeSM

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Re: first time SMing ballet
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2013, 07:50 pm »
Yeah, I've just confirmed that in this particular production they want the evil fairy to give her a bouquet of flowers and that the drop spindle will be hidden inside for her to prick her finger on.  I totally understand not being able to dance ballet with a spinning wheel, I just find it interesting that they would go for a drop spindle and not something like a distaff.  Still, excited to be doing the show!

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