Author Topic: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays  (Read 6733 times)

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ESM_John

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Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« on: Nov 11, 2006, 10:51 pm »
Hey Everyone,

After completing my sixth show, and my first time stage managing solo at my high school i have an interesting SM question that for whatever reason i didnt notice or pick up on while i was doing other things the past few years at my high school.

What are the big differences when stage managing a musical, besided the obvious additions of a larger cast a pit band and singing/dancing. Are there any new roles that the SM takes on. How does calling musical cues change with a band? Any tips?

Mac Calder

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #1 on: Nov 12, 2006, 02:16 am »
I find the main difference is in the way I set up my prompt copy. I usually call from a self made composite of straight lines, vocal score and orchestral score, and that when calling, I tend to use a stop watch more.

The Orchestra (calling them a band will often get you lynched) are usually fairly independent from the rest of the show, which is a blessing and a curse.

I find the calling of the show changes depending on the MD and orchestral setup. Some MD's like to be cued before certain numbers (I don't know many, but I find that in orchestras which are cut down (say 5/10 people plus a whole heap of midi devices or pre-recorded stuff) a couple of MD's like a standby so that they can cue up the equipment). Some MD's want nothing to do with the stage manager, other than to receive a "Go" for the Overtures.

At your level, with a school band/orchestra, you may need to talk to the MD about making sure the band knows proper procedure for tuning and behavior etc. It is an ongoing debate in a number of SM circles, but I am firmly of the belief that no unnecessary sounds should come out of the bands instruments whilst the house is open. That means tuning is fine. It does however mean that a trumpet player should not be playing the star wars theme, whilst a clarinetist practices his/her C-minor arpegios, whilst a bass guitarist plays the mission impossible theme.

High school bands are notoriously unprofessional - I know because I was in one for my entire time at high school, and that involved going to various eisteddfod's, visiting other schools, and touring. Prior to my high school band career, I was in a choir. Choirs, as a general rule, are anally retentive about professionalism when entering/exiting/standing in front of an audience. Most high school bands are shockers. In the corridor outside the hall, trumpets blasting notes, trombones pretending to be race cars etc - all of which can be heard by the front rows. Put them in an orchestra pit, where they believe they are next to invisible, in an auditorium designed acoustically, so that an un-miced voice talking at a reasonable volume can be heard and you are in trouble.

I suppose the moral is to talk to the MD and make sure (since you are a student and I assume the MD is a music teacher of some description) that your concerns re: behavior whilst the house is open are understood, and that the message is passed on and enforced.

Also - find out what form of communication you will have between yourself and MD. Some MD's refuse to use cans (even before show) and all you will have to work with is a cue light. It is hard to convey messages through cue lights, unless you are both proficient at Morse code, so if that is the case, and if at all possible, it may be worth having an ASM in blacks able to act as a runner (if the pit is raised to performance height whilst the house is open) or an ASM at the pit doors if the pit will remain lowered until show start.

The core duties of a stage manager remain basically the same - look after everyone, make sure things happen on time, and enjoy it... Just don't start singing along, because people on cans will look at you funny afterwards... and there is a chance that you might be heard.

ESM_John

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #2 on: Nov 12, 2006, 12:04 pm »
Thanks for the advice! The few musicals we have had with the last stage manager have gone pretty smoothly, so i dont see any problem. But i needed that clarification.

smsam

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #3 on: Nov 29, 2006, 08:59 am »
Bit late but I'll chuck in my thoughts about calling a musical!

The most important thing to me is to get a copy of the "Reduced Piano Score". This is the score the rehearsal pianist will have and it basically contains the vocals and the "general sound of the orchestra" if that makes any sense! Then with a CD of the show listen and follow the score! Depending on how musical you are this will either prove very easy or very hard at first but trust me, by the time tech week comes you will have heard the music so much in rehearsal that you'll be able to follow the score in your sleep!

Next important thing; INSIST on having an MD Monitor so you can see the musical director conducting. Without it calling LX Qs will be next to impossible no matter how well you know the score! This because you will find the Lighting Designer is likely to put most of the cues on Button, Holds & Downbeats/ Upbeats! You can only preempt these if you can clearly see the MD! The need for good foldback is also important, just ask the sound boys to send you whatever going out front, thats normally the best feed.

Now to talk about my favorite rehearsal; The Sitzprobe or Balance (is this just a UK term, I'm not sure?). This is where the whole orchestra are assembled together with the company and you work through each musical number (just singing - no dancing or acting!). This rehearsal will always be led by the MD so it provides you with the perfect chance to sit next to the Lighting Designer and for him to finalize Cue positions with you as he listens! You can also practice following the score to the live orchestra.

As for cueing the MD, most I know will only ever want a cue-light at the top of act one and the top of act two. Normally the start of a show will go something like this; You get clearance and so send the MD on. He will then tap his baton for silence and the Oboist  will play and 'A'. The whole orchestra will then tune to 'A', after you can hear that everyones ready you are good to give a Green to the MD and start the show! As for calling the orchestra and MD the way I normally do it (again the standard here in the UK) is with the beginners call do "and ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra & Mr. MDs Name to the pit please. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Orchestra and Mr. MDs Name to the pit please. Thank You".

Just a few tips I've picked up from DSMing musicals. Calling from score is a real art, in my opinion, is hard to explain in words but if you've got any further specific questions don't hesitate!

Sam x
Sam x

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #4 on: Nov 29, 2006, 05:49 pm »
I'm going to be ASMing a musical that's in pre-production right now and will be going into rehearsals in January. The play is Cabaret and I can't read music, but the other ASM can and I'm fairly sure that the SM can as well. I haven't heard anything about an orchestra or orchestra pit yet, but perhaps I've missed the talks about it, or something. Broad question, but has anyone ever worked on that show before, or have any other advice to add for me or ESM_John?

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #5 on: Nov 29, 2006, 10:38 pm »
It is very possible that the band will be onstage, as it is with most productions of CABARET.


I am also PSM'ing CABARET this winter, albeit in a AEA setting.  I start pre-production on Dec. 18th and begin rehearsal the day after X-mas.  Please feel free to keep in touch with any more specific questions or problems.  I'd love to hear about your experience while I'm having my own!

I'm going to be ASMing a musical that's in pre-production right now and will be going into rehearsals in January. The play is Cabaret and I can't read music, but the other ASM can and I'm fairly sure that the SM can as well. I haven't heard anything about an orchestra or orchestra pit yet, but perhaps I've missed the talks about it, or something. Broad question, but has anyone ever worked on that show before, or have any other advice to add for me or ESM_John?
"Be fair with others, but then keep after them until they're fair with you."
--Alan Alda

isha

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #6 on: Dec 26, 2006, 02:47 am »
My highschool doesn't have a pit, they set up on the side-corner of the audit. So I always give the MD places cue last...
I say "give me 45 sec. to get to the booth, then start."

since we don't have any way to be on headset or have a cue light, it seems to work. He laughs every time I say it tho...
-isha
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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #7 on: Dec 27, 2006, 12:05 am »
I had Stage Managed musicals before, but I had never Stage Managed an operatic musical (nothing but music with no dialogue) until this past October when I did Cats.  To me, that was a different experience than calling a musical with dialogue and songs.  It was my first time calling a show from a score since there was no other 'script'.  I learned after this show that the orchestra makes a huge difference in calling a show, especially when there is The Jellicle Ball in Cats, which is 20 pages of dancing without any music.  I also think that my style of Stage Managing during rehearsals changed slightly, and I paid so much more attention to the music rehearsals.  I found that I had to know that show better than anything else I had ever done before - I had to know the music like the back of my hand, just in case there were any issues that arose during the show and I lost my place in the score.  Although I don't think that there are any 'big' differences when it comes to Stage Managing musicals, I have found that different musicals can strike you different ways and you may find different ways to do things as a way of communicating with a Music Director and dealing with scores and music.
« Last Edit: Dec 27, 2006, 08:56 am by KC_SM_0807 »
"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."

Mac Calder

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #8 on: Dec 27, 2006, 02:47 am »
Since I just closed JC:SuperStar with a new SM (acting as PM/Trainer for SM) - more of an Easter show in my mind, but who cares - I thought I would add a few extra things I took note of:

1) My trainee SM did not know anything about music -  apart from who the lead guitarist is in Limp Bizkit. The first thing I did was to give a crash course in music and conducting. If you are planning on SMing anything with a lot of music, I think that is something you should learn - you should know what each instrument is, it's basic sound, where it tends to fit into the orchestra, how music is written on the page, what note lengths are, basic patterns used by conductors, beat subdivision etc. I saw an advert in the paper the other day, 2 day "crash course in music" - I don't know what they covered, but it is certainly something to look into if you are planning on entering the operatic world of theatre.

2) Sitzprobe is cool, I agree with the above poster (we use the term here in AU too). Try and get a feel for how the music really sounds. Rehearsal scores/arrangements rarely do any justice to the actual way it will sound when played by a full Orchestra. I found myself marking "landmarks" into my score (any points that stood out, like "trill played by clarinet section") - they are useful if you ever get lost, and also because they often form cue points in the LX plot.

3) Make sure that the MD gets the orchestra to sign in and be strict about punctuality- my pet peeve is that Musicians often do not believe they come under the SM's jurisdiction (which is sadly, often true) and by extension, the MD is then responsible for making sure everyone is there, and phoning up - which means things can go to hell in a handbasket pretty damn quickly (MD: "Oh, the drummer has not arrived" Me: "I told you we would be ready to open the house in 10, and to get the orchestra in the pit, why didn't you tell me then? Why wait until we are about to open the house to tell me?" MD: "He has been 5 minutes late a few times, something about the bus." Me: "Have you rung him to see where he is?" MD: "No, I thought we could wait a few more minutes." Me: "Please go and ring him." MD: "In a minute"......) Slightly frustrating.

4) If all else fails, give yourself timing marks through the scripts, and use a stop watch. Combining this with landmarks, will allow you to find your place relatively quickly in emergencies - ie your prompt copy is knocked off the table during a scene filled with dancing.

They are the main notes I have made from JC:S that apply to this thread. Hope it helps, even just a little.

Scott

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #9 on: Dec 27, 2006, 09:25 am »

1) My trainee SM did not know anything about music -  apart from who the lead guitarist is in Limp Bizkit. The first thing I did was to give a crash course in music and conducting. If you are planning on SMing anything with a lot of music, I think that is something you should learn - you should know what each instrument is, it's basic sound, where it tends to fit into the orchestra, how music is written on the page, what note lengths are, basic patterns used by conductors, beat subdivision etc. I saw an advert in the paper the other day, 2 day "crash course in music" - I don't know what they covered, but it is certainly something to look into if you are planning on entering the operatic world of theatre.

Certainly good things to know -- but I wouldn't go as far as saying you need to know them all in order to stage manage musicals.  I wouldn't want to see someone who hasn't stage managed musicals before intimidated into not trying because they didn't have that knowledge set.

I think a decent ear -- memory for recognizing music -- is really all you need to start.  Especially if you are working on something from the canon -- like "JC: Superstar", which you might be familar with already.  Besides, many musicals are in essence simplistic musically.  (Verdi, now that's tricky...)

"I learned everything I know about music by stage managing opera..."

Drummers are almost always late by our standards.

ESM_John

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #10 on: Dec 29, 2006, 07:58 pm »
This is all excellent information. Thanks everybody. Any tips for cues that are based off of dancing. How is it to work with a choreographer. The previosu stage manager had pages in her script of numbers, such as 1      2      3      4, which were counts of beats but im not yet sure how to work that yet.

ESM_John

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #11 on: Dec 29, 2006, 08:01 pm »

3) Make sure that the MD gets the orchestra to sign in and be strict about punctuality- my pet peeve is that Musicians often do not believe they come under the SM's jurisdiction (which is sadly, often true) and by extension, the MD is then responsible for making sure everyone is there, and phoning up - which means things can go to hell in a handbasket pretty damn quickly (MD: "Oh, the drummer has not arrived" Me: "I told you we would be ready to open the house in 10, and to get the orchestra in the pit, why didn't you tell me then? Why wait until we are about to open the house to tell me?" MD: "He has been 5 minutes late a few times, something about the bus." Me: "Have you rung him to see where he is?" MD: "No, I thought we could wait a few more minutes." Me: "Please go and ring him." MD: "In a minute"......) Slightly frustrating.

Being in a high school setting, as professional and realistic as we are or try to be, its still interesting to be a 16 yr. old that at sometimes will be pushing the director (and theatre teacher of the school) out of the way. generall because he and the technical director have been in professional theatre settings they respect my position of authority and listen to what i say. Am i to be responsible for controlling the band, which at times seems worse than actors. They answer to the band director, who is also the band teacher normally, but since he answers to me in a sense, is it imporant for me to be taking their attendance during tech week, etc.

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #12 on: Dec 30, 2006, 12:09 am »
Quote
The previosu stage manager had pages in her script of numbers, such as 1      2      3      4, which were counts of beats but im not yet sure how to work that yet.
I discussed my version of this kind of script/dance notation in the Plays & Musicals Forum, at this thread: http://smnetwork.org/forum/index.php/topic,1518.0.html

Erin

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Re: Musicals Vs. Straight Plays
« Reply #13 on: Dec 30, 2006, 12:37 am »
Being in a high school setting, as professional and realistic as we are or try to be, its still interesting to be a 16 yr. old that at sometimes will be pushing the director (and theatre teacher of the school) out of the way. generall because he and the technical director have been in professional theatre settings they respect my position of authority and listen to what i say. Am i to be responsible for controlling the band, which at times seems worse than actors. They answer to the band director, who is also the band teacher normally, but since he answers to me in a sense, is it imporant for me to be taking their attendance during tech week, etc.

Ah - see the way I view it - the MD/Director/etc do not answer to the SM - you provide a service from them, and occasionally need to put in an "excuse me, Mister Director, Sir", but all in all, you defer to the director/md/td/ect.


As an aside - within a professional setting, the muso's are in their own little world.

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