Author Topic: CALLING: Backstage or Booth? (meta-topic)  (Read 48136 times)

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Miz

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CALLING: Backstage or Booth? (meta-topic)
« on: Mar 29, 2005, 02:23 pm »
Which do you prefer, calling from a booth or calling from backstage?

I've had several people (not theatre professionals) tell me that in the "real world" of theatre, SMs call from the booth, but I've also read several posts here in which people say they call from backstage.

So far, I've never had the option to call from a booth, since my tiny theatre doesn't actually have one, just a table in the back of the house for lights/sound (we do, thankfully, have decent wireless headsets).  Also, since I am the only person at the school who's really interested in stage management, I've never had a real ASM, so I both call the show and am in charge of the running crew (and often am part of the running crew).

I've found that I appreciate being able to keep a finger on the proverbial pulse of the show by being in the middle of the backstage chaos, and being right in the middle of things helps me to be able to deal with problems as they come up (and sometimes before they come up).  On the other hand, I can see the advantages of being able to see the entire stage and having the (relative) calm and quiet without the distractions of nervous actors.

I'm wondering if I'm the only person who likes calling from backstage, or if this is normal?  Assuming you have a competent ASM, do most people prefer calling from a booth?  Do most professional/equity SMs call from a booth, or are there shows that are easier called from backstage?

NOTE: This is a meta-topic, consisting of three separate threads all merged together. -PSMK
« Last Edit: Jun 10, 2009, 02:15 am by PSMKay »
Miz

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isha

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #1 on: Mar 30, 2005, 12:16 am »
I'm a new highschool stage manager, but I've only experienced it from the booth. I think I would prefer it there. Even though it is in no way calm, you are able to see the stage and anticipate problems better. For mics anyways. We had HUGE mic. problems for the play I just finished, and we had to have our eyes on stage all the time, to know when to immediately lower volume if someone was going to hit someone else in the chest, or move suddenly, it gave us that half a sec. to turn the mic. off before it happened.

We also had a mix up in the light cues that the lights guy didn't catch (a cue was switched, so it had this amber wash when it definetly wasn't supposed to) and I could instantly see the problem. I was able to switch it at a good spot in the script, almost where it looked like it was supposed to be there, and the audience didn't even notice. I wouldn't have been able to do that from backstage.
You really have to have someone backstage that you can trust tho, thats the major downfall. I had a really good techie backstage (on headset), so he was able to do all the backstage stuff for me.

^Not much help..I'm sorry...
~isha

smejs

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #2 on: Mar 30, 2005, 01:53 am »
Well, I've called from both, and yes, it's a lot easier to call from a booth if you have good communication and rapport with the folks backstage.  I've only called from backstage on a show that was so large and complex and all about scene shifts, that you somewhat needed to call from backstage when things were clear enough to call the next cue.  However, it made calling light cues rather strange, as you had to learn to do it off a somewhat washed-out tv monitor and never could see the full stage version.  But you could look in one wing most of the time, too.  It is handy to be "right there" to make some judgements, but also can be difficult to get a true sense of the show.  And the calling desk was on wheels and had to be moved aside for some larger scenery occasionally...

When I work in regional theatre, if asked I've always said I'd like to call from the booth - especially if there are walls in the set it makes no sense to me to call from backstage if the only true view I can have is from the booth (i.e., the set is a house with walls).  And yes, communication with an assistant backstage is vital to this set-up.  One of the hardest things to figure out is when actors have cleared or are set for a black-out...in those cases I either ask my assistants for "clear" or "set" or in the best of situations you can get an infrared monitor.

The strangest way I ever called a show was from a booth (me, sound, and light operators all in there) that was situated above and behind the stage, with only a washed out black and white monitor to try to find actors who improvised and wore muted neutral colors against a cyc.  That was FUN trying to follow the actor's leg (the rest of his body was washed out on the screen) and anticipate when he was stepping off a platform...especially when he started tapping his foot and shifting back and forth...

And a truly fun one was done in a black box theatre, and the show's setting was someone's back yard....behind the audience seating they built another building facade, and we looked through the scrim windows as the Peeping Toms next door as our booth!

Erin

nook

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #3 on: Mar 30, 2005, 09:49 am »
I did a show as a SBO where my SM called the show from the booth (which is normal at my current college).  The show was nominated to go to ACTF in Indiana (Region VI I believe) and I traveled with it in which the SM had to call the show from backstage.  As the SBO, I had my board and set up in the back of the orchestra with the balcony above me in the open.  She said it was the wierdest thing to call from a different location and being forced  to use a b/w monitor.  Luckily I knew the show really well and could tell her if things were happening onstage that weren't supposed to.  During a scene change, someone forgot to grab a portable prayer booth thing (we were doing Hamlet) and if she had not been where she was situated, it wouldn't have left the stage, because she ran out to grab it and hopped back on headset to call us out of the transition.

I'm 95% sure I would prefer a booth though, with trust that my backstage crew is on top of thier game.  If I didn't have a trustworthy ASM or crew though, I think it would be nice to be backstage constantly supervising.  Your presence alone should probably be enough to keep folks on thier toes.  Also, if calling from backstage, I'd like someone else that I trusted (LBO/SBO) in a booth or the back of the house keeping an eye on things.  It all about having that team there to back you up and trusting other people to give you correct information on what is happening...

jon

smejs

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #4 on: Mar 30, 2005, 10:05 am »
Quote
( I dunno - is it worse to see your incompetent ASM in action  ?)


It's at least VERY frustrating and distracting!!!  

Erin

kaliedascope786

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« Reply #5 on: Mar 30, 2005, 11:07 am »
I have called from a booth backstage and a booth in the back of house. It really depends on the space. For example, the off-Broadway theater I last worked in had a booth backstage with an infrared monitor system so you could see in the dark, however, it was a peice of SH*T and it was difficult to see if you were in the right cue. On the other hand, working in the back of the house is sometimes a problem when you do not have direct access to the actors and backstage area making it harder to resolve issues when they arise.  :? I guess that didn't asnwer the question...did it?

phillydan

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #6 on: Mar 30, 2005, 02:58 pm »
Again, this is dependent on having a competent ASM, but I absolutely prefer to call from the front of the house.  Apart from being able to see the action for cueing purposes, it makes maintaining the show easier if you're able to see it from the front, since most of us don't usually have the staff on hand to allow one stage manager to occasionally sit out in the house to simply watch the show and take notes.

I understand what many people are saying about liking to be backstage to deal with actors/crew/problems directly.  But that can get tricky if you're calling a complicated show.  It's one thing when you're dealing with a play with a limited number of light cues and/or shifts, but if you start getting involved in deck issues, there is a much greater possibility of missing cues.  

And I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I was chatting about this very issue with a friend of mine recently and she raised a good point, saying that the only reason Broadway stage managers call from backstage is that there simply aren't booths in most of the Broadway theatres which are pretty old.

the long and short of it is, unless you need to have a clear view of the deck for saftey issues in big scene shifts, I think it's most advantageous to call from the front of the house, particularly for longer runs.

supershorty

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #7 on: Mar 30, 2005, 07:01 pm »
While I don't have much experience, my personal preference would be to call from the booth.  Being backstage would be too much of a distraction as actors tend to flock to backstage personnel when they have a problem.  The last show I was ASM for, I sometimes had problems knowing what was going on because I was being talked to by panicky actors.  Also, I would imagine that it would be easier to see what's going on on stage more easily from the booth.
-Katie Paige

centaura

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booth
« Reply #8 on: Mar 30, 2005, 10:38 pm »
I don't think there is one golden rule or situation for this.  I've been in both a booth and backstage, (and could produce dozens of stories with pros and cons for both positions) and especially on tour, I find that where I call depends on the original architect of the building and not nessecarily any other factors.  Old vaudeville houses especially were never designed to have 'booths' in them; while a lot of new PACs are not designed with a SM station in the wings.

Personally, if given a choice, I'd take an enclosed booth in the back of the house, with an opening/closing window & full sight of the stage.  I actually think the worst I've done is having to run sound from a mid-house position while calling lights & scene changes.  Try competing with an audience to be heard over headset!  While at the same time not disturbing or distracting said audience.

I think there's a tendency for folks who find themselves in less-than-ideal working conditions to dream that things aren't that bad elsewhere.  I hope that hearing stories here helps you feel like you're not alone with what you've got to deal with at your space.

-Centaura

isha

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #9 on: Mar 31, 2005, 12:50 am »
this is really fascinating. I wonder if it differs with different levels of theater...hmmm...I think I have inspiration for a new topic.
~isha

Tashi

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #10 on: Mar 31, 2005, 09:50 am »
I think it also depends on the type of show that's being called. Usually I call from the booth but I did work on a charity rock concert where the SM called from backstage. I've also seen a theatre on the London West End where there was actually a booth for the stage manager herself without anyone else. And naturually, there's advantages to each of the three options!
-- Tash

Fireguy551

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #11 on: Apr 07, 2005, 02:06 pm »
I am TD for a theatre in the Northern Arizona Univeristy campus and we have a SM panel backstage and a place for them in a booth backstage.  In every production that i have been in the SM perfers to be backstage.  We have a 32" screen and a television studio quality camera located back in the booth where the SM would be.  We also run our lightboard form backstage.

DAE

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #12 on: Apr 11, 2005, 12:38 am »
Hi,

I think the preference of booth vs. backstage is greatly based on what you are brought up with. I prefer calling from the booth because early in my career and in college that was always the setup. It is just more comfortable for me.

Now, however, preference gives way to neccessity. When I call dance, I have to be backstage, mostly because dance companies rarely have ASM's and it is just you, the IA, and the dancers and you have to be backstage.

We do what we have to do, but if we are ever given a choice, I say go with what you are most comfortable with.  

My Two Cents,
Have Fun!

casper

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #13 on: Apr 22, 2005, 10:41 am »
I sm in a community theatre.  My board of directors actually wanted to tell me that I couldn't call a show from the booth. They had never had a sm call from up there.  All of their sm called from backstage.  They did not understand how I could "control the actors" and make sure everyone got onstage in time if I wasn't back stage.

Ummmm......well, first of all, I am not a babysitter!  Second, the distractions backstage would hinder me from calling the best show i am capable of.  Third - no one on the board new a thing about what an sm did.  they just knew they had always been backstage.  Grrrrrrr.......

They have left me alone for the most part, but still love to make a dig every now and then about not being a presence backstage.  I just keep saying, "I feel the show would suffer if I have too many distractions.  I have great ASM's and a fabulous TD.  It is all under control"

This topic just hit a nerve bc they really have no idea what it's all about.  They want a great show.  I can give them a great show from the booth, not backstage.  Period.  The End.

smejs

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Backstage or Booth?
« Reply #14 on: Apr 22, 2005, 10:54 am »
Quote
I sm in a community theatre. My board of directors actually wanted to tell me that I couldn't call a show from the booth. They had never had a sm call from up there. All of their sm called from backstage. They did not understand how I could "control the actors" and make sure everyone got onstage in time if I wasn't back stage.


I actually came from a community theatre so "low budget" or low skilled or whatever, that we didn't really even have stage managers...and if we did have them at all, they WERE the person backstage, and the lighting and sound folks took the cues on their own.  I didn't really know what a stage manager did until college, when I eventually switched majors.  My line is that I was always the actor who said "Remember, guys, this is when we all need our suitcases."  So I can understand a board of directors having no clue.  That said, it sounds like you might be on your way to educating them...especially if you do have an ASM you can entrust.  Hang in there and best of luck forging ahead.

Erin

Erin

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