Author Topic: Working with enormous casts  (Read 3451 times)

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PSMKay

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Working with enormous casts
« on: Dec 27, 2013, 03:19 pm »
Brangell's recent post about his 1000 person cast of dancers and some other recent very-large-scale projects of other members have gotten me thinking about how to scale up stage management for extremely large casts. We've discussed medium to large casts before - 30-50 people for a musical, etc. But what happens when the numbers get so incredibly large that knowing each individual face becomes impossible?

These types of extravagant projects have to require a different approach. How do you handle things like blocking, sign-ins, dressing areas, crowd control?

Jessie_K

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Re: Working with enormous casts
« Reply #1 on: Dec 27, 2013, 04:02 pm »
Delegate, delegate, delegate

Appoint (if not already appointed) leaders in each group that are responsible for communicate within that group in terms of schedule/attendance/maintenance/etc.

Have detailed meetings with your team at the end and beginning of each day.

PSMKay

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Re: Working with enormous casts
« Reply #2 on: Dec 27, 2013, 05:00 pm »
What sort of delegating? What groups did you have? What would a typical meeting agenda look like?

BayAreaSM

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Re: Working with enormous casts
« Reply #3 on: Dec 29, 2013, 01:59 am »
For story ballets, the numbers of participants can get quite high, and generally with many rotating casts. For a basic rep program, I use a 2 to 3 member SM team, just to handle the dancers, maestro and orchestra. For the story ballets, I get up to 4 or 5 members.

Our most recent Nutcracker clocked in at 110 students, 36 company dancers, 8 supernumeraries, 20 Parent Volunteers, 15 Lobby Characters/Volunteers, 8 Massage Therapists, 2 Maestros and a children's choir of I don't know how many (plus the 40+ crew and symphony). We had a 4 member SM team, and each member was responsible for a number of groups. My ASM "cast" and managed the lobby team and supernumeraries, my PA scheduled and managed the Parent Volunteers and assisted the Maestro du jour, my Intern managed the students and choir (with assistance from the PA), and I (PSM) handled the calling of the show, the massage therapists, and the company dancers. Each of us was responsible for making sure our people were present and called on those that were late/made replacements. We checked our specific groups in, and for those that need checking out (supers and students) that was handled by the delegated team member.

Dressing areas can be difficult, especially when the venue you're in can't always accommodate large numbers. My principal dancers and maestro have their own rooms, while the corps de ballet has separate men's and women's dressing rooms. I am able to squeeze my massage therapists onto the main dressing level, while supernumeraries and lobby characters bunk in my office. Both male and female students take over a large rehearsal hall, which has pipe & drape sections of male and female, when it is time to get into costume. Some costumes are so large, and with the IATSE rules regarding what floors a dresser can dress on, sometimes we branch out into other backstage areas to dress dancers and students. The symphony and choir shared the musician's lounge in the basement.

Basic crowd control is mostly necessary for us when it comes to the students. That is where our Parent Volunteers come in. We have 3 per performance for the younger students, along with a ballet school staff member and our Intern. The Volunteers rotate groups up to hair/makeup, manage bathroom trips and help keep the peace while the school staffer and Intern watch the clock to make sure wardrobe is dressing students on schedule and getting them to the stage for their entrances. The Volunteers also assist with Drop Off and Pick Up, moving the students through the building so that the Intern can keep a watchful eye on everything.

As far as blocking, the ballet world is a bit different. While I am not given a score (that would be a treat!) I do write down as much choreography as I can so that I can follow along and call cues appropriately. While with a resident ballet company the Artistic Director and Ballet Master are presently practically 24/7, they are the ones giving notes to the company dancers. However, I do speak with Artistic Staff if a dancer is off of their mark or if they dancer changes the choreography and it affects my calling sequence (and that does happen, unfortunately). I do make a point to be aware of the student and supernumerary "choreography" as my team does give corrections/notes to those groups, especially when they miss their mark and cause other dancers/students to run into scenery.

My largest group ever was 248 students for a year-end ballet school recital. For that large of a group, we enlisted 9 parent volunteers for a specific group of younger students, plus an additional 14 volunteers for the older groups. For the SM team we had 3 members plus 1 schools staff member, and occasional help from our Director of Production. For this, our check-in style was very different. We had the SM with a clipboard of names, ASM talking to the students to find out their name and the PA managing the parent volunteers running the groups down to dressing rooms. Oddly enough, this was the fastest method of checking in 100+ students in a 15 minute time frame. For the pick up, we only released students by class level, and had the school staffer managing that (she knew the parents faces, so she knew she was releasing kids to the appropriate person).

I don't expect everyone on my team to know everyone involved in the production's name, especially with so many people involved. But by breaking down the responsibilities of who manages who, we get a better chance of giving everyone a touch of personal attention.


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Jonas_A

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Re: Working with enormous casts
« Reply #4 on: Jan 29, 2014, 01:35 am »
I recently interned on the Victorian State Schools Spectacular (http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/events/pages/spectacular.aspx), and while I'm sure someone else on here was involved at a much higher level, I'll give what details I can.

Most importantly, Spec involves ~3,000 cast. All of them students under 18. And somehow, it still works. A lot of it comes down to "divide and conquer":

  • "Principal Cast" consists of ~240 dancers and singers. Within this corps there's further designation of principals/ensemble/etc., but for SMgt purposes they're all one group. This lot are the skilled, trained performers and soloists, and are managed by a group of ASMs, who are almost solely responsible for making sure the kids appear on the field of play as required. The 60+ piece student orchestra and maestros are handled by this department.
  • "Mass Dance & Choir" are the remaining 2,700 or so kids, who are unauditioned and are either part of a huge choir or a dance ensemble who come on for certain items. Curiously, these kids are managed like event attendees rather than performers, and are the responsibility of the Mass Cast Movement Team - another few ASM, most of whom have a fair bit of event management experience. They also come with teachers, who are responsible for their students; ASMs are really there to instruct the teachers, who are to marshal their own students.
If you haven't guessed, the SMgt team is huge (over a dozen, from the SM to the lowest intern ASMs), but they really rely heavily on the Operations team, who deal with a lot of the SMgt stuff like making sure there's enough water, dressing rooms are maintained, manages first aid staff, etc. They keep everyone going, and it leaves SMgt to focus on facilitating what's happening on the field of play and generally working to give the director/choreo staff what they need from the cast.

Re blocking: As far as I know, choreographers are responsible for knowing the choreo for their numbers. Mass cast movement is heavily planned by SMgt and is carefully organised by the Mass Cast Movement Team, and anyone curious about how they notate and arrange 1,200 kids' choreo should message me. In short, it involves a huge "Dance bible" unlike any other choreo document I've ever seen.
 
Sign-in/sign-out is electronic, dressing rooms take up every single spare space that can be found (fortunately it's an arena, so there's a lot of rooms). Production schedules are massively complicated and managed by a complex computer system so every child and adult receives a customised schedule; eg. orch kids only find out about orchestra calls, but a dancer will see their dance rehearsals and the sitz probe... but not the bump-in.



The other big one I do is Melbourne Gang Show - 125 performers, all age 11-25. This one seems more like what people face with big dance schools and the like.

Onstage:
Blocking is notated by the numerous Assistant Directors, who are each responsible for a scene or two. SMgt take no notes at all on blocking unless it is related to the leads and is relevant to cues... which means almost never.
Choreography is similarly the responsibility of the choreographer who did that number. There are also several dance captains, particularly for the dance breaks.

Backstage: As it's a Scout show, we have the fortunate boon of having Scout management structure already drilled into the kids, so we use it! The 125 cast are divided into 12 patrols of ~10 Scouts, ranging from 25 down to 11. Their patrol is their primary working group when they're not on stage, and each is led by a Patrol Leader and their Assistant Patrol Leader; usually older cast members who have done the show for a few years and are over 21. Their Patrol Leader (PL) is the person to talk to if they have questions or problems and they don't know who to ask. PLs are responsible for handing out schedules/news/information to their patrols members after being provided with it by Production Management. PLs meet with the Director and ADs frequently and are somewhat like Dance Captains on regular shows. It's the patrol system that lets the show have so many cast without excessive stress, and I recommend it to anyone working with large casts (anything from 40 upwards and you can do it).

The rehearsal room is divided into two with pipe and drape, and costume racks are provided for each patrol, turning it into dressing rooms. (Patrols are same-sex, not mixed, so each patrol can stay together). With 75 boys and 75 girls in there, it's pretty hectic, so it's expected that they'll look out for each other. The older cast take on a lot of responsibility for everything from pre-show nerves to lost socks. Patrol with the cleanest area wins a bag of lollies each show, so there's a bit of competition to keep it tidy. (Although they all need to use more deodorant. Always.) The actual dressing rooms are occupied by makeup, costume and turned into offices for the various administrative staff (having said that, we wish we had more rooms so we could divide them up more).

There are almost no ASMs on the show. The few who exist are more crew chiefs for the mechanists (team of 20+), and report to the TD. The SM themselves is really a showcaller, as the TD, LD and Master Carp head up almost everything. Before you're appalled, I'd like to say that it's a remarkably efficient system, and I doubt it would work any better if we did introduce an SM with broader responsibilities and a DSM. Instead of ASMs to manage cast, the show uses a group of Cast Supervision; volunteers who are mostly mums of cast and who make sure kids are on stage when they should be, dry tears and help find lost socks. Cast Supervision have no clue about the technical or creative aspects of the show, and are solely there to keep the cast alive. The Head of Cast Supervision is about the closest you'll get to a Company Manager.

Backstage calls are not given. Ever. Instead, we provide video and audio relay to every single room in the theatre. The video relay has a bottom third added which gives instructions such as "Vocal warm up on stage in 5 minutes", "All cast for Finale to wings" etc. As it's so noisy backstage (125 excited kids. Go figure.), it was decided that calls would just add to the noise, and most of the cast know their movements already; the text is a good reminder to the kids who aren't sure.

Backstage, there's a lot of signage; "Do not sit on this side of the corridor" "BEWARE OF MOVING SET" etc. We also mark up the wings until they look like an airport runway; lots of blues (far more than most shows) and fluoro tape marks out zones which are reserved for set/walkways/safe to stand in/sightlines. When necessary, we'll get the cast to only walk between the blue/green/whatever tape so as to avoid messing with scenery moves.

Sign-in is handled with a huge board with every single cast and crew member's name on it. When they arrive and check-in, a sticker is put next to their name - a different colour for each show. It's a really easy way to manage it, as the cast walk up, point at who they are and the coloured dot gets put on. No scribbles, no forgetting who people are and you can see instantly who isn't there because they have yesterday's dot colour still next to their name. To get into the theatre, cast and crew must be wearing their show-issued name tag. These vary each year, and I've seen everyone from tiny chorus kids to the TD turned away because they didn't have their tag.

After the show, the kids go out to the foyer where they are picked up by parents. Adult cast are allowed to leave via stage door.

The massive advantage of this system is that it runs remarkably well with a small team of professionals (who are volunteering our time) and an immense, often changing crew of volunteer parents; everyone has grown to understand that they'll be told what they need to know and not much more, and while questions are welcome, not everyone will get to know everything. The senior crew/dept heads are 99% the same each year, and communicate freely, but having the show set up as it is means we can have parents come and help out with no prior experience of how theatre works and it causes no extra stress.

There's also a big element of placing trust in every cast member and the show has developed a culture which is on the verge of cult-like (but we love it!) regarding respect, positive attitude and caring for each other. This, more than any organisational trick or good stage management, makes the show as painless as it is.

If anyone here is handling a similar show, feel free to message me; I'm sure I've left out details which would be useful.

Caroline Naveen

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Re: Working with enormous casts
« Reply #5 on: Feb 04, 2014, 10:49 pm »
This is a truly fascinating thread. It just keeps getting more and more incredible. Jonas_A I would be extremely interested to discover how you notated the blocking for that many people. WOW!

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