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Topics - Mac Calder

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The Green Room / The Rut...
« on: May 14, 2019, 05:45 am »
Felt like posting a stream of consciousness/request for advice/mutual commiseration post.

I have had a pretty lucky career - where I have worked with some big names, on some great shows and generally have had a steady salary for most of my career (and generally a pretty decent salary at that) - I started by studying engineering (for all of a year and a bit). I hated it, but found theatre.

I mean I always knew theatre - used to travel to Melbourne once or twice a year to see a show - however locally I grew up in a town where the amdram society performed outdoors on an oval once every 2 years, our schools 'performing arts centre' was the canteen which had an 8m x 4m stage that we could almost squeeze the full band onto and our drama class (which was an elective we could take for up to half a year if enough people wanted it) consisted of the 4 girls who liked to make up dance routines to bad 90's girl/boy band songs (that all looked the same). So I found Theatre at uni and I redirected myself - into the amateur, youth theatre world as a technician and stage manager which eventually became paying gigs.

I did that for a year making little money and skipping uni classes for rehearsals and production meetings before getting a job in corporate AV. I managed to keep my arts going on the side, but corporate paid the bills. Then I got a job on a cruise ship doing lighting. Did that for a couple of years then came back to land. Back to corporate.

24 months in, I got an offer from my company, more $$, more opportunity and paid relocation to the other side of Australia - so I took it. Worked, promoted, worked harder, promoted. Now an operations manager, not really doing theatre because I have no contacts over this side of the country, but my work is interesting and highly creative - and still occasionally extremely theatrical.

We loose a big contract (my venue) - however there is a theatre on site and their operations manager is leaving - mild paycut, no dramas - so I agree to take over for 6 months. 2500 seat theatre as operations manager - there is so much I loved about that job - but a lot I really hated. Opted not to renew my contract after 6 months of rostering 120 casual staff using excel as my rostering tool and where I had to act as a middle man between management and 6 full time staff who had been there >20 years each and believed that overtime was an entitlement not a perk. I found my replacement, trained her up and she is still there. Currently I regret not staying in that job.

Went back to corporate. Promoted to project manager for my employers parent company - they paid to move me back home with the lovely lady I had been living with for a couple of years. Worked as a PM for a 18 months, partner wants to move back - not enjoying Melbourne. Find a 6 month contract on the other side of the country - and at a $15k pay cut - move across the country again with my partner - paying out of pocket this time. Partners parents offer us her grandmothers old home - provided we make it liveable - lack of rent payments make up for the pay cut - although my savings are blown renovating this house. 4 months of heavy renovations later and I have made a liveable house. We are now 9 months into my 6 month contract and my employer and I agree on an end date. Economy is cr@p, and I don't want to work for peanuts. Spend a month out of work before finding a new job at a $10k pay cut from my last job. Can make it work... A day later get an offer for a better job - only a $2k paycut from my last job. I take it. A month later, Partner leaves me - we remain 'friends' (aka she occasionally wants to go to 'things' with me, or do things or catch up and I torture myself by accepting). I move out of the house I renovated. She doesn't want the cat, so the cat comes with me. Have to get a place that will accept cats then - find a 3br unit that accepts cats. Furnish it. Paying rent, and full utilities now, no splitting it. Feeling the $17k reduction in income now.

Now I am here, other side of the country to where my family are, my ex is just down the road and I am hating my job. Last theatre job search turned up 1 job - got down to me and 1 other and apparently the fact that he was born and bred local but lower skillset where I tend to move every 3-5 years and was probably slightly overqualified for a 400 seat theatre, scared them a little. I got the "Sorry, you are over qualified." speech.

So I sit here, ranting, wondering where the hell to go next. My first instinct was "I could move back across the country and find something I like there" - but that is expensive - there are certainly more opportunities there - but I probably couldn't afford it at this point. Next instinct was "Maybe I could sell everything and go back on cruise ships - but maybe as a production manager instead". Next thought was "maybe I could just sell everything and emigrate?" All the while, I rock up to my 9-5, (7-4 actually, but whatever) and I can just feel myself rocking back and forth within the rut. And I know I am in a rut, but at the same time I know I am lucky. I am living in a 3br house, I can pay all my bills, I am not saving money, but I am not going into debt. I get a pay cheque every week. But frankly, I am bored, a tad depressed and just generally in a rut.

Well SM Network - I guess the question part - what would you do? would you be grateful that you were gainfully employed and just work the rut until something comes up? would you make a radical change? Are you in a rut? Been in a rut? Want to blurt it out on a web forum for no real reason other than to put it out there?

I was cruising the net this morning and found ShowPro - Thought some of you might like to give it a go - looks like an interesting replacement for a cue light system...

A well designed theatre, I can stand centre stage, project my voice and be heard everywhere. It is why people employ acoustic engineers, theatre designers and many other experts to design them - and I know they work, after all, I have performed more than a few focus sessions in my life talking to people in the gods without the aid of a mic.... yet the last three shows I have seen - big name productions - have all been over mic'ed in my mind.

Today, on a whim I went to go and see Annie - it had just been installed in the theatre that is in the same building as my venues, and they emailed me the RF list so that I could let our techs know what to avoid... long story short, went on line to see what sort of seating was left available and managed to pick up a seat 3 rows back, 5 seats in from the centre isle on the left - so a fairly good seat... I know the theatre really well, I have been technical director on 5 corporate events in there and know the acoustics like the back of my hand - I have also seen about 20 shows in there - a decent presenter can get away with out being put through the front fill and they really only need a touch into the line array - primarily the PA is used to "fill out" the room, balance it a bit and to add any effects/backing audio etc. I walked in and looked at the PA - instead of the line array I am used to seeing sitting way up against the top of the pros arch there are two smaller arrays - one of which lowered to about 1m above my head height... whatever. To each noise boy his own.

Then the show started... Orchestra sounded fairly good as the overture struck up.... Then the singers started to sing.

Almost the ENTIRE show sounded like it was coming from the speaker to the left of me... that is the speaker that was outside the pros arch. I was getting NOTHING from the stage what so ever. 3 rows back, NOTHING, even with no orchestra playing - during the a'capela parts - NOTHING. The only time I got anything from the stage was one performer who is renowned for his ability to be loud and project. To be honest they could have been playing a CD and miming if it weren't for the fact that a CD would be a better quality audio.

So I put it to my Stage Management colleagues - are our actors loosing the ability to project their voice? Is it a tallent that is no longer being taught as "they will just stick a mic on you anyway"? Frankly, I am getting tired of going for a nice night out at the theatre, paying $150 for a single ticket and then spending the night with my ears telling my brain I should not be looking at the stage because the audio I am focusing on is coming from somewhere else. The fact I am paying that much for a ticket is a further insult, but not worth getting into here.

The Green Room / Happy New Year SM Network
« on: Dec 31, 2011, 11:25 am »
Happy New Year all -

So what is your resolution for this coming year?

Mine is to get to the point where I can do some things I have always wanted to do, but never been able.

I thought I would pose this subject to all those SM's who are new to the business after an experiance I had a couple of nights ago (and since I left being an SM, seems to happen quite frequently).

I get a call at 1400 a few days ago from a good friend of mine. He is an artistic director for a small theatre company in Melbourne. He is calling in a flat panic because his SM and ASM have both caught the flu, so neither would be in for that nights show. It was a fairly standard type show - a hundred or so LX cues, 30 or so sound cues, a bunch of deck and fly cues etc. 12 person cast. Could I come in and fill in? He had the show prompt book and a DVD, apparently their SM was really efficient.

Technical team coukd be in at 1700, and doors would be at 1930. That gave me a bit of time to look over the prompt book, and chat with the techs, run through things etc.

So he ran the DVD over to me at work and the prompt book, and I flip through it, instantly seeing that there is no way I could call the show based on the prompt book. At least not easily. The cues were all written inside symbols scattered over the page - LX in circles, AX in triangles, deck in squares - and there was no key. Preset notes were written in short hand and there were no copies of stage plots or anything of the sort. It was obvious that this SM had a system that worked really well for them, but it was quite left of field and unitelligable to people who don't know shorthand (ie the majority of people today).

Luckily I could call the SM and get the details about symbology and shorthand from her, but what if she was uncontactable?

Food for thought? Discuss? Do you live by the "hit by a bus" theory?

Uploaded Forms / Risk Assessment
« on: Oct 04, 2007, 05:23 am »
This is a quick risk assessment form I whipped up today for a friend, so I thought I would post it here too.

Tools of the Trade / [FAQ] Comms Systems
« on: Jan 31, 2007, 08:08 am »
Thought I would collate some info on Comms, if you have any links to be added, please PM me with them, so we can keep this page relatively neat.

Forum posts:
Wireless Headsets - What's out there
Two Way Radios
Featherweight Headsets
High-End Comms systems
Headset Headaches

ASL Intercoms
Canford Audio

Stage Management: Other / School productions.
« on: Jan 15, 2007, 05:20 am »
I have just been called about a job starting soon about managing a primary schools (ages 5-12) annual production - thankfully I will be PM and not SMing until just before tech (along with lighting design and running sound) - anyway I spent a lot of time talking to the principal about what they want out of this production, yadda yadda yadda, then I got given a photocopy of a number of government regs - namely to do with children's safety with adults. The long and the short - basically the principals interpretation is that once the rehearsals/performance starts, no-one without a police check carried out by the school and cleared will be allowed in the space. Generally - that is fine, I run a closed rehearsal room policy anyway, and am AR about keeping people out of the back stage area.

The principal however wants access control.

And I hope someone here can help me.

I have never been in a situation where I have had to have access control implemented - I work with mature actors, and I usually have a tight reign over everything and by the time we are in the theatre, I know everyone well enough to know when someone is where they shouldn't be. Hundreds of children, adult chaperone's that I will not have met until dress etc have never been an issue.

My initial thoughts was to get an adult at each door and to make up "Back Stage Passes", however it will be a hassle, as I believe the only time back stage passes are useful is when they have a head shot. In my mind, it's a logistical nightmare.

Another option that came to mind was to get wrist straps made up (those paper ones that tear when you try to remove them) and then have each adult present their drivers license at the start of the night, put a wrist strap on them, bob's your mothers brother. That is still a logistical nightmare, but maybe not so much. I don't know. Maybe someone else knows of a really simple method which is still secure.

The second part of this - Group management. What I have gathered from the principal is that this show will involve each class giving a 5-10 minute show (about an hour and a half) followed by an interval of half an hour, then the "main show" which is two hours long, no break, then half an hour of talk by the principal. (Sounding like hell at the moment)

Looking at the venue, I will have to put the children in the auditorium whilst they are not getting ready to go on. I am thinking that dedicating a balcony would be a good idea, then placing the classes chaperone's in the isle seat, and having three teachers dedicated to herding children (one on cans, one grabs a group of children+chaperone and leads them down back stage, grabs the next lot as they come off stage and leads them back up, and they cross paths with the second group going down - however whilst they are waiting up there, the teacher can be used to relay "shut those kids up" messages to the chaperone's)

Any other help on managing these style shows would be great too, because frankly, I feel out of my depth, and am slightly panicking. I have never done logistics for something like this... and frankly... kids en-mass always give me the willies.

SMNetwork Archives / Merry Christmas All
« on: Dec 24, 2006, 02:24 pm »
The time has come, that day everybody eagerly both awaits and dreads has arrived. It's Christmas day (at least in Australia... the rest of the world may need to wait a few hours).

Merry Christmas everyone, stay safe, don't drink and drive and remember - it is not about how good the presents you receive are, it is about whether the person who got you the presents kept the receipts.

Whilst this is technically theatre (hence a resident of the other forum), it is so obscure that I think it belongs here rather than in the other forum. However feel free to move it mods ;-)

I have a show, opening in 4 months - so a while away, but there are a few technical challenges I need a bit of help with, and need to get sorted out ASAP.

The venue for this show is an abandoned.... I am hesitant to use the word mansion, so "Big House". It is four stories high. 8 bedrooms etc. When I was approached for this job they said "We know that you like technical challenges, and the fringe, well we think we have a challenge for you".

The show is basically a ghost story, the audience moving through the house the show is based on the theory of "Each room tells a story" and "Each person who lives in a house leaves an imprint upon it".

The problem is, I have 1 LX op, 1 Sound Op, and quite a large number of technical elements - hence I cannot do what I did the last time I was doing a house show (2 sets of ops doing alternate rooms) - I have instead dedicated one of the cloak rooms as 'the booth'. My origional thoughts were to cue things through actions - either actors doing things that trip switches, or me in the adience tripping switches, however that was vetoed. Next thought was to install cameras in each room - just cheap IR ones. Again, that was vetoed. I have access to wireless cans, which is a good thing, however I cannot be in the same room as the audience, as some of the rooms are quite small. The entire show is 1 hour long, and we will be doing 4 shows a night most nights.

As the house is abandoned and scheduled to be demolished 2 weeks after we close, I have permision to modify the house extensively, which is why I am asking so far in advance.

So my question, after all of that is basically - "How on earth would you deal with this sort of show? And how would you call it when you cannot be in the room, your ops are blind and you have no cameras?"

Tools of the Trade / Scheduling and Calendar Applications
« on: Jun 17, 2006, 11:03 pm »
Scheduling and Time Management are big parts of the Stage Managers job. So what tools and technologies are available to assist with the nightmare that is scheduling?

A lot of this really depends on what you want to do.

A bit about modern scheduling:
In the past, when I used to create schedules by hand, I would take a weekly calendar separated into 1/2 hour blocks and shade then take cast availability sheets and a list detailing each rehearsal that had to occur. And I would sit there for hours trying to make the schedule to work arround everyones availability. Now usually that was easy when working with professional casts, as they usually had 9-5 free with the odd occurance where it was not. However I also did amdram work, where there are often quite a few obstacles to work arround. The technique worked well, but was awfully time consuming, and it meant that I had to be available to write down availability problems. With the rapid expansion of the internet, now most homes in the western world have an internet connection, so it makes sense to use the internet to share this information.

Shared callendars used to be a feature included only in expensive company groupware suites, which charged hundreds of dollars per user. Now they are wide spread. The development of a standard format for a callendar (the .ics iCal format), combined with online groupware means that now, scheduling has become less of a nightmare. Basically, if I can get every member of my cast to create a shared callendar, and I create a range of callendars I share, what ends up happening is this:

Cast member A has a doctors appointment at 10:15 on Tuesday, B has to look after their child all day Wednesday etc. They each put this on their calendar. This calendar is syncronised with their calendar on the internet (either through the technology called WebDAV, or they used an online service like those listed below).

I, as stage manager, use a calendar program which loads all of my casts calendars from the internet. Now I need to plan a rehearsal for cast members A and B, it needs to be 3 hours in length and the director needs to be available. So I select each cast members calendar, my calendar, the directors and the production calendars, and I see there is a three hour gap on Monday that everyone is free. I create an event on the production calendar. The production calendar is then synchronised with a copy on the internet.

Cast member B needs to arrange a doctors appointment now for a checkup - nothing serious. He opens his calendar application, which automatically grabs the production calendar from the internet. So he looks at the calendar and sees that he  required at a rehearsal on Monday, however he has a free spot on Tuesday, so he books it for then. He updates his calendar, which syncs online.

Now these calendar applications are often capable of sending out invites, however I recomend you do that personally, and don't assume that they will all check the web based calendar every day. However systems like this make your life much much easier.

That said, there is nothing wrong with the pencil and paper method, or using excel or any other method. It is all down to personal preference.

One thing I am finding in my investigation into this area is that most online services do not support sharing amongst other services well. Some will import .ics files, and some will export to .ics but their main power is between people on the same service. The main thing that needs emphasising is that this technology is still in it's infancy.

Online Services:
There are a million of these - most of these have a 'free' and a 'paid' option - for most of us, free is fine, we just loose some of the feature set. This list is in no particular order

--MOD NOTE: Links etc to be added in the not too distant future--

If you could, I would love it if you find a service, write a snippet about it, it's feature set, does it import other calendars etc. Also, most of the links above need one too, so if you use one, write one, and I will add it to this list, and link to it from the summary here (as a way of providing user opinions before they go and check them out)

Tools of the Trade / A bit about this board and the moderator.
« on: Jun 17, 2006, 01:59 am »
Welcome to the Tools of the Trade forum. I thought I would tell you all a bit about what this forum is for, what sort of topics belong here and then a bit about myself.

What should go in this forum?
A friend once said to me that you can identify an SM by the fact that they have the correct tool for every job, and if they don't they can find something to do it with anyway. It is a philosophy I have lived my life by. But sometimes you come up against a problem and you are unsure what tool you require to do the job - do you need a leatherman or a swiss army knife? a tackle box or a road case? a scheduling program or just good old Excel? I hope this is the place you will come to. It is also for those cases where you are asked to pull a miracle out of thin air (Cigarettes that emit smoke, but have no flame, no fumes etc etc etc).

It is also a place for discussion of the tools we use - cue lights, cans systems, 2-way radio systems, computers, "the SM kit" and the like. It is a rather broad topic, but one that I hold dear to my heart.

So Who is Mac Calder (mc)
Well I am a Stage Manager along with a wide range of other things. I am skilled in information technology, I have a year and a half of electrical engineering under my belt and I lived on a farm. I am also a lighting designer, sound designer, flyman and when necessary, I can also sing and perform (although I would rather not).

I am an Australian - which means that sometimes I do things differently to US stage mangers and use odd terminology. Although if you could do me a favour, and spell colour with a u, mum with a u and say "write to so and so" instead of "write so and so" (unless "write so and so" is followed by "a message" or some such) I would be most obliged  ;D

Some little moderation issues I have
Well there is one thing I hate - posts that are rehashed over and over again (for example the kit issue) so in the not too distant future I hope to compile a FAQ stickied up the top of this board to keep it all in the one place.

Also, just as a nicety - if you could spell check your posts before you submit, that would be great - I know the forums don't have a spell checker, however if you install the google search bar (which is what I use) then the spell checker on that works great - or you could just type it in your word processor of choice and copy/paste it across.

Another (final) thing - I don't like excessive formatting. That basically means that if I read a post in here that is wrapped in a colour tag (the entire post) or has a huge scrolling marquee with no apparent purpose I will edit it and remove the tags - formatting is for highlighting a point.



Today I was looking through a box labled 'misc show stuff' which had a bunch of things I had made for shows over the last few years and was just wondering what strange and unusual items you have accrued over time. Here is a brief list of some of my favorite things I have built and or sourced which I reuse show after show.

  • Home made projector shutters which work in tandem or seperatly
  • Home made cue lights
  • Home made phone ringer
  • Home made 4 station, full duplex intercom
  • 4 camera 'security' system
  • Home made string of 50 candles arrayed like the small candles that you light in a catholic church which flicker
  • Home made 'smoke curtain' creator
  • LED gooseneck lamp powered from battery
  • gooseneck lamp powered from phantom power

SMNetwork Archives / Stage Management Utility
« on: May 27, 2005, 09:30 pm »
I have released a version of Stage Management Utility for testing by those in the SM industry.

Some functions work, some don't.



To add a show/user:
     Username&password: smadmin

To view a show I prepared earlier:
      Username&password: smnetwork

Comments and suggestions wanted!!

(BTW: People with the access level of "Stage Manager" can only work on one show at a time, so if you want to create a show, create a stage manager too, and set it as "Current show")

Stage Management: Plays & Musicals / CALLING: FOH calls
« on: May 21, 2005, 02:30 am »
I just want to know, what is your 'all out' call - ie the show contains every possible thing the audience may complain about (nudity, course language, smoke, haze, loud noises etc)

This is mine:

5min pre-show.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this evenings performance of _____ will commence in 5 minutes. All mobile phones and pagers must be switched off. If it is essential that you be reachable, please give your phone, and seat number to one of our front of house staff, who will record your details, and contact you if necessary. If there is a chance that you will need to leave this evenings performance during an act, speak to a member of our front of house staff, and we will try to relocate you to an isle seat. We ask that all patrons please make their way to their seats now. We hope you enjoy this evenings performance.

Just pre-show:
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this evenings performance of ______. We would like to remind you that all mobile phones and pagers must be switched off, and not to silent, as they do interfere with our technical equiptment. Photography, Audio recording and Videography is strictly prohibited. Any patron caught recording any part of this performance will be removed from the audience and the recorded media destroyed. Recording of any part of this performance breaches copyright. This show contains pyrotechnics, smoke and haze, however the biproducts of these machines are hypoalergenic, and therefore not have any effect on breathing. This show also contains strobing. Anyone who may suffer from epilepsy is advised to close their eyes during these sequences. Ladies and gentlemen, we feel it is polite to inform you that this show does contain course language, nudity, and sudden loud noises. Thankyou for coming to see ____, and we hope you enjoy the show.

I find it is a bit verbose - in fact, some people applaud my effort, which is rather unnerving.

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