Author Topic: TECH: Configuring backstage  (Read 4893 times)

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beningini

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TECH: Configuring backstage
« on: Aug 04, 2006, 12:18 pm »
Okay, here's my deal - I am hoping someone has suggestions and/or forms.

Doing "Six Women With Brain Death" at a small theatre with no real production crew backstage except for the actors.  We have run into a bit of an organizational problem with props and costumes.  Backstage space is limited but almost everything needs to be backstage due to the quick change nature of the scenes.

There aren't any prop tables backstage, space is severely limited.  All props are stored on a central table by dressing rooms until I place them backstage at the top of each act.

I tried printing up these prop/costume charts, but while they really help me, they are not so helpful for the actresses. (see attached)

Also, I probably need to do a scene/character map but want something that is both comprehensive but easy to glance at and comprehend.

Has anyone had success with hanging shoe and hanging sweater storage as backstage prop storage?

Tech is Sunday so I will be in the booth from now on and after last night's rehearsal I just didnt get a good feeling about things, but everyone was saying how organized and stuff it was.

ARGH!  This is my first SM job at a theatre outside of the place I have worked for 6 years and it's new and I just want to do a super job.
« Last Edit: Jun 08, 2009, 11:38 pm by PSMKay »
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Scott

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #1 on: Aug 04, 2006, 12:33 pm »
Backstage space is limited but almost everything needs to be backstage due to the quick change nature of the scenes.

There aren't any prop tables backstage, space is severely limited.  All props are stored on a central table by dressing rooms until I place them backstage at the top of each act.
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Has anyone had success with hanging shoe and hanging sweater storage as backstage prop storage?

I'm a big fan of hooks and shelves -- backstage space is severely limited at many Off Broadway venues and there often is not a traditional "table" nor other space for prop storgae.  Assume you've exploited hooks and shelves to the best use within the limits of your space and budget?

I've seen hanging shoe storage used successfully for body mics.

Let us know how you make out!

beningini

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #2 on: Aug 04, 2006, 12:45 pm »
I'm making a trip to Container Store and Target this weekend, any suggestions as far as hooks, shelves go (cheap & durable).

The one good thing is that the way the flats are constructed and arranged there are "ledges" all over the backstage area.  They are wide enough to hold cel phones, flasks, small props.  But I've got so much more.

Freakout.

But I hafta say I love the craziness associated with tech week.
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Scott

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #3 on: Aug 04, 2006, 02:20 pm »
I'm making a trip to Container Store and Target this weekend, any suggestions as far as hooks, shelves go (cheap & durable).

Don't forget to check out your local hardware store if possible -- they may do better in terms of individual shelves and hooks (as opposed to pre-fab units.)

I'm a big fan of hooks that screw in (if they are sturdy enough to support your props) and simple shelves (a piece of wood and two appropriate size brackets screwed into the wall or flat) -- but you will probably know what you want when you see it.

Have fun!!!!!

stagemonkey

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #4 on: Aug 04, 2006, 02:56 pm »
Really you have to remember that some of the responsibility for this has to fall on the actors.  I did a show that was very prop heavy and all the props existed in an open suitcase that sat upstage center.  There were points where they had to quickly get up there grab a new prop and be right back in the scene.  They knew where the props existed and ultimately they found the way they had to be laid out so everyone could quickly get what htey needed, this inluded stacking some props ontop of others or inside others or what have you. Since it was very difficult for me as the stage manager to determine how they needed them I would scan the area to see that all the props where there at the start but then went to all the actors when giving call times before house opened "ten minutes till house opens everyone check your props."  It doesnt exactly solve the space issue but ultimately the actors need to have a responsibility for themselves to get their prop, they cant expect a stage hand to be standing there to hand them exactly what they need.  If its a quick thing and there is a stagehand available (or even another actor just waiting around) who can have the prop ready right by the door for them it helps a lot. 

So through the tech if someone has a problem getting a prop just ask "ok where could we put it that would help you get it?" then deterimine if it can go there and compromise to a good spot.  Ultimately since you havent started tech you might be freaking out a little prematurily as these are the kind of things that get ironed out during the tech run, plus if everyone else is saying how it was so organized you might just be being to hard on yourself.  Things are never perfect going into tech, tech helps get things as close to perfect as they can be.  But at the same time i can understand wanting to have it set and done so its one less thing to worry about.

beningini

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #5 on: Aug 04, 2006, 03:21 pm »
definitely premature freaking outage, but in a good way.

im used to having at least a week with rehearsal props and then a week with actual props to get sorted out what i had to sort out in two days - not saying it's bad, just different.

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loebtmc

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #6 on: Aug 04, 2006, 03:40 pm »
following up on stagemonkey's note -

yes, props need to be laid in certain places for the show, but they can be in a central location off R and L (as in, way WAY off!) once your shelf and hook space has been exhausted (you'd be surprised the nooks and crannies you can find once you have hooks on and under shelves) - and see what you can hide on (or just off) stage too.

HOWEVER - in a set up like this, sometimes the only thing you can do is just have a central pickup and drop point where the actors place their stuff FROM preshow and return it back TO at the end of the nite. Piggybacking on Stagemonkey, sometimes the actors find the best places for their stuff after they've run a few times in rehearsal, and that way you solve it together (cuz ultimately, it's their responsibility to make sure their props are where they need to be and they get to someplace we can find to clear for the next nite).

And only put out one act at a time - I can't recall if this one has an intermission or not, it's  been years since I've seen it - but in situations like that I often have a milk crate or three standing by to load Act 2 (and into which to clear the Act 1 props) at intermission. And if the set is masked decently, your carp/deck asst/PA can place props during the act as other things get struck.

take a deep breath - and it will all work out (it always does) -

Mac Calder

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #7 on: Aug 04, 2006, 08:46 pm »
How much do you trust your actors?

In a show where there is no ASM or Props Master and there is a trustworthy cast, I find that often the best way to manage it is to say "You are in charge of your own props" then hand out a sheet to each actor with a list of their props with space to check off each one before and after each show as well as a list of props they need to pre place before each entrance - that way you can keep the props elsewhere (ie a dressing room). I have attatched a mockup (as I tend to create this one fresh on a show by show basis)
« Last Edit: Aug 04, 2006, 08:48 pm by Mac Calder »

kjdiehl

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #8 on: Aug 04, 2006, 10:42 pm »
As to your posting helpful paperwork backstage, I find that while we as stage managers want to know everything, other actors and crew generally only want to know their own information. And since charts are good at organizing lots of info, SMs tend to like them, but actors and crew tend to like ordered lists with only the most important information to them.

So my version of your paperwork would something more like this attached version. It's streamlined to eliminate as much blank space as possible. Why should your actors have to waste time scanning over your entire page for Area 4 if only one prop is ever brought on from there? Why should they have to waste any time reading about the transition into High School if no items are ever used in that scene? I eliminated the columns denoting Props/Costume; once the actor reads "Prom Dress" they know exactly what the item is. I eliminated the different pages for each area, and just included that with the listing: It's the info that will be least important to the actors, especially as time goes by and they learn where their items are. I listed the scenes going down the page because it's easy to understand and actors are used to scene order information being presented in that way: listed down the page. I made a separate single column so each actor can just quickly look down his/her own column to find their own items.

When I make cheat sheets like this, I usually post some backstage blown up real big on 11x17 paper, and also distribute individual ones, (just their own column,) to each actor. Hope some of these ideas help!



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stagemonkey

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #9 on: Aug 05, 2006, 12:42 am »
I agree with what kjdiehl is saying.  The TD at my college always used to say that when posting things for actors to make it as simple as possible.  Use the simplest words you can find, short sentences, just the facts.  Its not saying that actors are stupid, its just a matter they're minds are focused on different things then ours are as a stage manager. As a stage manager we want to know everything.  Like kjdiehl said actors are morely focused on just their part.  So simple is always better. 

Rebbe

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #10 on: Aug 05, 2006, 10:51 am »
Working at with a new theater is always challenging, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn and grow. 

I’d stay in communication with the actors as much as possible.  Ask them where, in an ideal world, they would like to have their props or costumes placed, and work back from there.  Even if the actors end up doing most of the pre-sets and shifts themselves, they may feel better knowing that you’re considering their thoughts, and are doing your best to make it work for them.   

You mentioned already getting comments about you being well organized, so keep that in mind when you’re feeling frazzled.  Good morale is one of the best things an SM can bring into tech!

By the way, I’ve had luck with the plastic hooks that have sticky stuff already on the back to attach them to the wall with.  May not be the sturdiest items in the world, but they’re cheap and easy to place quickly. 
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)

stagemonkey

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Re: TECH - HELP!!!!!
« Reply #11 on: Aug 06, 2006, 02:02 am »
Rebbe had a good point.  Good morale is a great thing to bring to tech.  Even in a situation where everything seems to be crumbling down just break it down to one problem at a time and provide solutions, as all major problems are usually just caused by a bunch of little ones.  I've been told several times that one of the best things about me as a stage manager is that i have a very calm demeanor.  You'd be amazed how much it helps that when everyone is stressed and about to freak out and the stage manager is sitting there calm and collected (even though on the inside you may be completely frazzled and at the end of your rope) how that calmness trickles out to others and they are calmer.  You are the center of the little universe, if you freak out everyone will start freaking out, but if you are calm people will still freak out but not all at once and it is easier to calm them down and focus the energy at the problem at hand and not freaking out.

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