Author Topic: ASMing: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice  (Read 4200 times)

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ASMing: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« on: Jul 25, 2006, 08:14 am »
Hi all,

I'm considering an offer to be an assistant stage manager for an upcoming peace concert. However, I've only done minor things (think of it as being an assistant to an assistant - arranging props and such), as well as high school plays where the only concern is "is the PA system on!?" - and this is quite a step up.

What do stage managers generally do? Are they just concerned with what happens during the event or are they also responsible for the logistics? Do they manage rehearsals? (We won't have any) How much power do assistants generally have? What other resources are there?

The show this is for has no rehearsals - there is some time for set up and equipment test, but beyond that there aren't any rehearsals for the performers. I'm really concerned about this since there are at least 4 musical acts involved, plus gymnasts and a compere, plus a whole load of props - we've got till October for this, I'll probably start mid-August (if I get the job), and there really isn't any time to do a run-through! I've performed before and run-throughs were really helpful for all involved so I'm not sure how this is going to work without one! (I did email the SM asking about it - will have to wait till the weekend for a proper answer)

Has anyone ever had experience SM/ASMing for a show that had basically no rehearsal or run-through time?

Also, what are the core differences between a SM and an ASM? From what the SM's written about the position, it seems that I have a lot of the core responsibility...

(excerpts from the emails)

The actual concert theme, is not too complicated really, but:
    * The person who volunteers for this opportunity of Assistant Stage Manager, will have NO rehearsal time to fully understand what is required;  I will fill you in over the next few months, as things come together, and we will need to chat together, face to  face a couple of times.

    * The first and biggest concert will be at Albert Waterways Broadbeach (8th Oct), (just around three hours before the concert, during setup time).  This  will be when you will truly come to understand and perfect the ideas in the show.  You will need to have clear insight, then execute hands-on; you will need to overcome any challenges that arise, without panic, on the night of the concert.  Courage, and Solid know-how combined!  These are patron paid concerts, and therefore, the challenge for you, would be to NAIL IT!

    * The second concert at Byron Bay Community & Cultural Centre (20th Oct), will have some rehearsal opportunity for various people, and of course, is a completely new venue to get used to.  We have the hall from around 1pm in the afternoon till midnight.

 The concerts will involve two acts:

    * Act One is four music acts: microphone changes, floor mikes, standing mikes; some dance, flute playing, guitar work, singing, a Gymnast or two,  4 x set changes of portable painted backdrops, plus a portable film screen will be on and off stage. Music and Sound will be the focus, and you will have to work closely with the Sound Engineer, Sanat Raymond Oliver from 'Heaven on Earth Music'.  He also will have a 'side-kick' helper, called Karl. You will need to take strong direction from Karl in the placement of microphones and leads.  This is very important to understand, along with the set changes, and directing Artists (Eight in all, plus Reuben).

    *  Act Two is the same, sort of, but will be commanded by Reuben J. Silverbird  New Member Link: [nonactive] (for your homework).   Props, I am unsure of yet, but there will be some.  It will take someone with a quick wit, hands on capabilites to direct other stage hands, keep the silence on stage, before giving the final 'NOD' of approval to the  finalisation of  each 'set' before the curtain rolls apart again.  Each act changeover is to be around 4 - 7 minutes maximum, with the Gymnists to entertain, plus myself, perhaps one other  person to join me on the edge of the stage, to tell a joke or two, with me as the evening's Compere.  You will be in charge of the finished presentation, backstage sound/noise  levels, and the turn-over of all performers, when I cannot be there.

I can let you know, for question 1.only three hours, but much will be set up, test of equipment, and a sound test, so, NO- not a run through as such.  We will only have VERY limited time, to pull it all together.  This is why I need people who know what they are doing.. It is a BIG ask, but, I know that it is possible.  We cannot afford the extra $1500 it would cost for hall hire, or collate everyone together due to busy schedules;  I will work all this out for you to understand, and I will answer you properly over the weekend..

Any tips, ideas, personal experiences, and so on are greatly appreciated. Thank you!

B*B, Tiara
« Last Edit: Feb 11, 2008, 12:47 pm by PSMKay »

Mac Calder

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Re: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« Reply #1 on: Jul 25, 2006, 10:38 am »
I have never ASM'ed, so I cannot give you "ASM'ing from an ASM's point of view" - however I can give you "What I expect from my ASM's from a SM's point of view" - and I have experiance with lots of shows with little to no rehearsal (or planning) time.

What is expected of an ASM depends a lot on the structure of the cast and the SM. Basically, the ASM does the jobs that the SM either cannot, due to logistics, do, or tasks which the SM wishes to delegate. For example, one prime duty for ASM's is props. More often than not, the ASM will be responsible for presetting the props on stage, ensuring the props are all on the props table when not in use and basically that everything is in order.

When thinking of the stage manager, I find it best to look at them as the center of communications. During rehearsals, they keep notes on blocking, script changes, incorrectly spoken lines, directors notes yadda yadda yadda. Then they distribute them as required. They also provide a center-point for the production team. They are also responsible for a lot of the 'grunt' work. They make sure the actors are happy, the directors are happy, the designers and crew are happy. They make sure things run to time, from the overall production schedule to the timing during a show.

It is a rather involved job, and the role changes from company to company, cast to cast, show to show.

From my reading of the excerpts, you will basically be 'cheif deckhand and props master', however the SM really has not defined the duties - ie do you have to create the deck sheets and prop sheets, or will they be provided?

It sounds like a good type of 'thrown into the deep end' type show, if you pick things up quickly, then it is a great show for you. However if you are worried, I would suggest working on a show with a decent rehearsal period so that you can learn where you fit in.

Shows with little to no rehearsals are really fun if you enjoy presure, however you need to pay really close attention to how things run. Going for a drink or to the toilet during the rehearsal is definantly a no go, so make sure you have everything you could possibly use with you. Because there is no time to repeate things. Take concise notes, work out some form of short hand after you know what your job will entail if that will help. And if you don't get something, get clarrification, because the extra 2 minutes of clarfication may save 10 minutes of repeating the same sequence to get things down pat.
« Last Edit: Jul 25, 2006, 10:46 am by Mac Calder »


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Re: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« Reply #2 on: Jul 25, 2006, 11:46 am »
Quick and dirty - be the sweetest, kindest, nicest person you can be. It sounds like this is a great chance to show off how well you can work - not to mention how fast - and nothing shines more than a person who can keep calm and pleasant when the going gets rough. Even offering to get a bottle of water can help you brighten someone's day.

That said, my personal preference in fast production environments is to write down everything I can - better to take an extra three seconds to jot down a note than to take it on the fly and then forget/misinterpret. Small notebooks, steno pads, post-it notes, whatever works for you - I tend to wind up with a steno pad or folded bundle of papers tucked under my arm, or a smaller notebook tucked into my pocket/belt. I also like to make diagrams more than lists - they are easier to scan through, and can save you a lot of time if you are called on to explain "how it was this morning" to anyone, particularly non-management or crew types. I also agree with Mac - if you have any favorite shorthand or abbreviations that really work, do take advantage of them.

I would also recommend, if you have the luxury of getting into the space before things start rolling (that is, prior to your three-hour mark), that you check out the basic geography of the venue - bathrooms, first aid, telephones, dressing rooms  - particularly if you are expected to deal with mics, this will be important - and dangerous areas. It sounds like you will be doing a good portion of the scene change-y business, and of course the crowd-control backstage during the acts. Knowing what parts of the stage the talent can use before they go on will help you streamline things and keep people safe.

This sounds like an interesting project... and an exciting one! Let us know what your decision is...



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Re: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« Reply #3 on: Jul 25, 2006, 02:12 pm »
Ask the SM to let you accompany on the walk-through and/or be a body for the tech. You may or may not be the person placing the mics/props etc but you need the diagrams to know where they all go. Allow plenty of prep time - that is, as the performer ahead is working, make sure the next performer and all their tech stuff is on deck and you are reviewing what goes off and comes on (old trick - never go on empty handed unless there is nothing to bring on - carry something on, drop it in place and carry something else off). Find out the traffic patterns for the technical swaps, the people and the crew. 

Make sure you have water (coffee/tea is also good) for cast and crew backstage, and carry in your pockets or on a small utility belt some kit items such as lots of ricolah, flashlight, a couple of bandaids, (safety pins and a small sewing kit if there is no wardrobe person nearby), a penknife or leatherman-stype small tool collection......keep spike/gaff tape, spare batteries etc nearby, make sure there is a mirror off stage before they hit. The idea is to anticipate everything. 


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Re: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« Reply #4 on: Jul 25, 2006, 10:50 pm »
I think the most important part about being an ASM is being ready to do what the SM can't.  Be attentive.  Ask questions.  Talk to your SM and see what they want from you, what their expectations are, etc.  You could even talk to them and do a Checklist sort of thing, where they write down what they expect from you during rehearsals, during tech week, and during the run of the show.  You are there to do as your title suggests, which is to assist the Stage Manager.  Different Stage Manager's have different expectations for their ASM.  I like to tell my ASM's up front what I expect from them. Your most important job will be taking care of things that they may not be able to do/have time to do.  There are many different perspectives on an ASM.  That's why the best bet would be to talk to the Stage Manager and see what they want.  Make sure that you know the show as well as the SM, and make sure that you have all the proper diagrams/run sheets/ props lists/etc.  Make it a point to keep yourself up to date on everything that is going on, so that there are no problems/concerns on your part when you are asked to do something.  You may be asked to run props during the show, or just be a stage hand.  Just talk to the SM and see what they want/expect, and you should be perfectly fine.  This way too there is no confusion about what your job responsibilites are and what is expected of you.  You cover yourself while also getting the job done.
"Perhaps, therefore, Stage Managers not only need to be calm and meticulous professionals who know their craft, but masochists who feel pride in rising above impossible odds."


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Re: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« Reply #5 on: Aug 12, 2006, 08:35 am »
Oh my goodness, I've done an on-the-fly concert where early briefing emails looked just like yours! I learned a little late that there was someone with the production group that was called the "production manager" who was working to make the tech happen. This would have been a great person for me to get in touch with early in the process. I wondered about their planning process because of statements like: "we might do this", "there will be props, but we're not sure how many", "we're hoping to have a dozen professional breakdancers - do you know any?". Indeed, the production was slapdash and half-baked. But it looked smashing onstage and we pulled it off. But like your emails, they mentioned mics, lights, and specific drops. So someone had been thinking this out in detail. Find that person! You might actually be communicating with the head choreographer/producer, who will talk a lot about the sexy moves, but forget to mention that there's a glitter drop and a rolling couch that needs to store backstage.

In a gig like this, all bets are off about where your duties begin and end. Like most folks have been saying, just be ready for anything. Know the set list cold. Focus on making sure the next group is ready to go on. You will probably run behind schedule - accept this, but keep pushing the show forward. Events like this rely on momentum and excitement (onstage, off, and in the audience). But people also take this opportunity to chill out backstage when they're supposed to be setting up their drum kit, or they grab the mic and give a 20-min inspired monologue about whatever's on their mind - crazy things happen when they see thousands of people in the audience.

As ASM for something like this, you'll probably be backstage in the wings keeping everything running. Your PSM will probably be calling cues in the booth. So in a way, you're the one in the trenches pulling the show along by its hair. The PSM is comfy at her tech table cueing lights & sound. You'll probably be flying around with your clipboard trying to appear calm as you as "Where is Mr. Gibson? His partner is improvising onstage without him!" "Find me another chair. The dancers are going onstage now and she's missing her cab chair!" "Stop having a water bottle fight in the hallway!" "Please don't do plies against the pin rail." So I would recommend you jot down running sheets like a WWW of the concert. Know when props are used, what costume changes are happening. Know how long each set and - if possible - each song is. Constantly tell everyone what's coming up. Write down set-up and double-check notes on your sheets. Above all, just keep a cool head. You'll be great and have a lot of fun!


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Re: Newbie at ASMing - would love some advice
« Reply #6 on: Aug 14, 2006, 11:16 pm »
the short answer "anything and everything."  Sounds like some things I have done before.  I say the most important thing is keep a cool head and just find the way of knowing everything that is going on.  Make set lists that give you a stage diagram of the set up, prop placements, who starts on stage.  Compare one set to the next and know what changes between sets.  Sometimes you might just have to add or remove one mic stand and change out the performers instruments.  Instruments get tricky as some performers should move them themselves, just make sure they know when to set them onstage.  Since time is an issue when that first set is going on be in the wing planning the move for the next set.  A lot of it just might be keeping the bands sound guy on time.  Know that you might go over the time by a minute or two, yeah it happens, but if you are getting it done as quick as possible people will understand in the long run.  It sounds like they need someone who can think quickly on their feet and keep things organized, most of the job is going to be solving the problems as they come up.  Ultimately the way he describes it sound a lot more daunting than it probably would be, at least that has been my experience in similar sounding shows.


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