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Messages - Jonas_A

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Students and Novice Stage Managers / Re: E-mail Management
« on: Feb 05, 2014, 10:08 pm »
Keep it all. But keep it neat.
Nobody else has mentioned that you should find an e-mail program that suits your needs and system. I personally love Gmail and am infinitely thankful that my uni uses it; if you use a Gmail account, start getting familiar with stars, labels and folders. All will help manage it, and make finding useful things far quicker and easier. Outlook (the program) is similarly excellent, but few people seem to have it these days. I assume licences are expensive... (note the difference; web-based and free) is about as much fun as shooting yourself in the foot. And about as effective.

Find a program you like, create a system you trust and follow it religiously. It doesn't have to be super-complicated; anything from "Production e-mails" through to MatthewShiner's folders is suitable as long as you can navigate it efficiently and can file stuff quickly and accurately. David Allen makes a great point in his book "Getting Things Done" that a system has to be simple and even kinda fun to use, and should be flexible enough to accommodate anything you could have to file; aim for this rather than a strictly-regimented system whereby you have 8,000 folders (example only) and go slightly neurotic filing e-mails into it. The biggest key to success isn't whether it's a complicated system or not, but whether you trust it to keep all of your data in check. If you can trust it to the point where you aren't wondering "Now, where did the e-mail from the PM re bump-in go...?", it's perfect.

There's no reason to delete substantive emails.  Storage is incredibly cheap and becoming cheaper by the day; I'm fairly certain the amount of storage I have on my personal gmail is outpacing the rate at which I'm using it....
Same situation for me. I sometimes wonder what it would take for me to collect data faster than Google expands my mailbox capacity...

Tools of the Trade / Re: POLL: Paperwork Ownership
« on: Jan 29, 2014, 02:12 am »
As a student, I'm fascinated by this argument...

At my uni, we keep several dozen old prompt copies assembled by past students, and it's the most useful resource we have. We all love being able to compare other people's paperwork and pick and choose either the best or use it as inspiration to make something that fits our needs. (I recently compared five different props tracking templates with my SM to find something that suited both of us).

Many of my peers and I are completely happy to share our paperwork. Don't worry about attributing, change as you wish and if someone asks, you should just give it to them, too; that's our shared attitude. And we love it. Yes, some stuff isn't useful - so it doesn't get used by anyone else! We sort of consider it a paperwork version of natural selection. The good mutations will survive and thrive, and the ones not so well suited will die out. If you think this is silly, I'd like to point out that this process has continually improved the quality of paperwork by all SM students across the uni for the past half decade and has allowed us all to do our jobs better.

Do I think there's a place for some paperwork to be proprietary? Perhaps. I've seen some masterful solutions to managing some paperwork via FileMaker and I would never consider asking the creator to give me the file so I can use it. Having said that, I'd appreciate it if people didn't get precious over me using their particular pre-show checklist or similar. Will I ask if I can use your documents? Definitely. But consider just how much of a professional edge it really gives you, and whether helping train people and improve the quality of work across the industry is more important before you say no.

As for the SMNetwork forms collection: I can't count the number of times it has either saved my backside when I've needed something in a hurry (not lazy, just stressed and under the pump) or helped me devise better ways to do my own paperwork. So thank you, everyone who does support it. If you ever find your work in a show I'm working on and it's because I've found it here, please let me know so I can buy you a drink.

Tempest; I like your idea. If a company gave me templates, I'd be delighted to put whatever they want on their paperwork however they want it. They pay me, I do what they want.

sievep: I'm with you on this. And I feel that whether I list things in a certain order or use a certain font or not may make someone else happy, but at the end of the day, paperwork isn't the heart of this job. People are.

Stage Management: Other / Re: Working with enormous casts
« on: Jan 29, 2014, 01:35 am »
I recently interned on the Victorian State Schools Spectacular (, and while I'm sure someone else on here was involved at a much higher level, I'll give what details I can.

Most importantly, Spec involves ~3,000 cast. All of them students under 18. And somehow, it still works. A lot of it comes down to "divide and conquer":

  • "Principal Cast" consists of ~240 dancers and singers. Within this corps there's further designation of principals/ensemble/etc., but for SMgt purposes they're all one group. This lot are the skilled, trained performers and soloists, and are managed by a group of ASMs, who are almost solely responsible for making sure the kids appear on the field of play as required. The 60+ piece student orchestra and maestros are handled by this department.
  • "Mass Dance & Choir" are the remaining 2,700 or so kids, who are unauditioned and are either part of a huge choir or a dance ensemble who come on for certain items. Curiously, these kids are managed like event attendees rather than performers, and are the responsibility of the Mass Cast Movement Team - another few ASM, most of whom have a fair bit of event management experience. They also come with teachers, who are responsible for their students; ASMs are really there to instruct the teachers, who are to marshal their own students.
If you haven't guessed, the SMgt team is huge (over a dozen, from the SM to the lowest intern ASMs), but they really rely heavily on the Operations team, who deal with a lot of the SMgt stuff like making sure there's enough water, dressing rooms are maintained, manages first aid staff, etc. They keep everyone going, and it leaves SMgt to focus on facilitating what's happening on the field of play and generally working to give the director/choreo staff what they need from the cast.

Re blocking: As far as I know, choreographers are responsible for knowing the choreo for their numbers. Mass cast movement is heavily planned by SMgt and is carefully organised by the Mass Cast Movement Team, and anyone curious about how they notate and arrange 1,200 kids' choreo should message me. In short, it involves a huge "Dance bible" unlike any other choreo document I've ever seen.
Sign-in/sign-out is electronic, dressing rooms take up every single spare space that can be found (fortunately it's an arena, so there's a lot of rooms). Production schedules are massively complicated and managed by a complex computer system so every child and adult receives a customised schedule; eg. orch kids only find out about orchestra calls, but a dancer will see their dance rehearsals and the sitz probe... but not the bump-in.

The other big one I do is Melbourne Gang Show - 125 performers, all age 11-25. This one seems more like what people face with big dance schools and the like.

Blocking is notated by the numerous Assistant Directors, who are each responsible for a scene or two. SMgt take no notes at all on blocking unless it is related to the leads and is relevant to cues... which means almost never.
Choreography is similarly the responsibility of the choreographer who did that number. There are also several dance captains, particularly for the dance breaks.

Backstage: As it's a Scout show, we have the fortunate boon of having Scout management structure already drilled into the kids, so we use it! The 125 cast are divided into 12 patrols of ~10 Scouts, ranging from 25 down to 11. Their patrol is their primary working group when they're not on stage, and each is led by a Patrol Leader and their Assistant Patrol Leader; usually older cast members who have done the show for a few years and are over 21. Their Patrol Leader (PL) is the person to talk to if they have questions or problems and they don't know who to ask. PLs are responsible for handing out schedules/news/information to their patrols members after being provided with it by Production Management. PLs meet with the Director and ADs frequently and are somewhat like Dance Captains on regular shows. It's the patrol system that lets the show have so many cast without excessive stress, and I recommend it to anyone working with large casts (anything from 40 upwards and you can do it).

The rehearsal room is divided into two with pipe and drape, and costume racks are provided for each patrol, turning it into dressing rooms. (Patrols are same-sex, not mixed, so each patrol can stay together). With 75 boys and 75 girls in there, it's pretty hectic, so it's expected that they'll look out for each other. The older cast take on a lot of responsibility for everything from pre-show nerves to lost socks. Patrol with the cleanest area wins a bag of lollies each show, so there's a bit of competition to keep it tidy. (Although they all need to use more deodorant. Always.) The actual dressing rooms are occupied by makeup, costume and turned into offices for the various administrative staff (having said that, we wish we had more rooms so we could divide them up more).

There are almost no ASMs on the show. The few who exist are more crew chiefs for the mechanists (team of 20+), and report to the TD. The SM themselves is really a showcaller, as the TD, LD and Master Carp head up almost everything. Before you're appalled, I'd like to say that it's a remarkably efficient system, and I doubt it would work any better if we did introduce an SM with broader responsibilities and a DSM. Instead of ASMs to manage cast, the show uses a group of Cast Supervision; volunteers who are mostly mums of cast and who make sure kids are on stage when they should be, dry tears and help find lost socks. Cast Supervision have no clue about the technical or creative aspects of the show, and are solely there to keep the cast alive. The Head of Cast Supervision is about the closest you'll get to a Company Manager.

Backstage calls are not given. Ever. Instead, we provide video and audio relay to every single room in the theatre. The video relay has a bottom third added which gives instructions such as "Vocal warm up on stage in 5 minutes", "All cast for Finale to wings" etc. As it's so noisy backstage (125 excited kids. Go figure.), it was decided that calls would just add to the noise, and most of the cast know their movements already; the text is a good reminder to the kids who aren't sure.

Backstage, there's a lot of signage; "Do not sit on this side of the corridor" "BEWARE OF MOVING SET" etc. We also mark up the wings until they look like an airport runway; lots of blues (far more than most shows) and fluoro tape marks out zones which are reserved for set/walkways/safe to stand in/sightlines. When necessary, we'll get the cast to only walk between the blue/green/whatever tape so as to avoid messing with scenery moves.

Sign-in is handled with a huge board with every single cast and crew member's name on it. When they arrive and check-in, a sticker is put next to their name - a different colour for each show. It's a really easy way to manage it, as the cast walk up, point at who they are and the coloured dot gets put on. No scribbles, no forgetting who people are and you can see instantly who isn't there because they have yesterday's dot colour still next to their name. To get into the theatre, cast and crew must be wearing their show-issued name tag. These vary each year, and I've seen everyone from tiny chorus kids to the TD turned away because they didn't have their tag.

After the show, the kids go out to the foyer where they are picked up by parents. Adult cast are allowed to leave via stage door.

The massive advantage of this system is that it runs remarkably well with a small team of professionals (who are volunteering our time) and an immense, often changing crew of volunteer parents; everyone has grown to understand that they'll be told what they need to know and not much more, and while questions are welcome, not everyone will get to know everything. The senior crew/dept heads are 99% the same each year, and communicate freely, but having the show set up as it is means we can have parents come and help out with no prior experience of how theatre works and it causes no extra stress.

There's also a big element of placing trust in every cast member and the show has developed a culture which is on the verge of cult-like (but we love it!) regarding respect, positive attitude and caring for each other. This, more than any organisational trick or good stage management, makes the show as painless as it is.

If anyone here is handling a similar show, feel free to message me; I'm sure I've left out details which would be useful.

Students and Novice Stage Managers / Re: Rehearsals: Be quiet!
« on: Nov 13, 2013, 12:48 am »
I'm a bit with Mac here (and ljh007): The student SM's at my uni have uniformly found that with teenagers (and some college/uni students), that you have to establish a culture of quiet - and establish it early. Put up signs, get directors to mention it, pounce on anyone talking... you get the picture. But you have to start early.

If you can train them (can take several months), get them into the habit of raising their hand and shutting their mouths the second you/director/MD/etc. raises their hand. Although it can be a bit of a battle to start with, it's remarkably effective and is actually pretty respectful. You just have to establish an expectation that when the speaker raises their hand, everyone else will do likewise and mouths close. You don't have to wait for them to be quiet; just start talking as soon as you raise your hand. I do this with my Scouts (11-18), and find they prefer it to "QUIET, PLEASE. THANK YOU EVERYONE. PLEASE BE QUIET. [etc.]" You also have a nice recourse when they continue talking because, having raised their hand and then continued to talk (it will happen.) you can take them aside later and say "Hey, you know how it works here. When you put up your hand, you also need to stop talking." They rarely try to shift the blame because they know they can't say they didn't notice what was going on - otherwise their hand wouldn't have gone up. (And it will. I think it's instinct.)

Also, removing people from the room is never a bad move. Depending on how much they're frustrating you, you can actually make it an act of benevolence "We've got 10 minutes till we need you again, you're welcome to go outside."

As always, you're more effective on this one if you're not a snarly, shouty SM *all the time*. If you can be quiet and pleasant 99% of the time, the 1% of the time when you start to yell makes a huge impact. People very quickly get desensitised to shouting (and resent it), but, as Patrick Rothfuss put it; "all wise men fear the anger of a gentle man."

At times when the drama level hits record-high (usually with regard to schedules going out the window, directors/producers/performers being "horrified" at the standard of pretty much anything, etc.) I'm reminded of the words of a mentor of mine:

Really, we're all just adults playing dress-ups. Your show might be avant-garde/highly political/a sell-out, but at the end of the day, you're just making up stories. Nobody lives or dies by what happens on that stage*

* Actual life-or-death situations are his one exception. Those were dealt with as quickly and cleanly as possible, because not over-complicating them is part of this philosophy.

I find it's a nice reality check to put on things when people start to get highly strung over the show...

That's some rather alarming data... and very much puts paid to any hopes I had of moving to New York to work in stage management... PSMKay, does your research include work on corporate gigs/unusual performances/anything not strictly union-based?

Also, does anyone have any figures on all this for Australia? PSMKay, I know your research was limited to the US, but I know there's a few of us Aussies on SMNetwork. Just curious is all.

I'm with TheWiseTurtle; I'd say it's possible to put the show on without the director, but I would probably have a long discussion with the stand-in director to make sure they were ready to help facilitate the Tech Week process as much as possible and ensure that they understood that they probably wouldn't be completely confident with the show, although also reassure them that their actors and crew would be.

I feel like this is one of those situations where you would want to rely on everyone having a strong understanding of their role and nobody deciding that as TD/PM/SM/cast member they're going to take over as director; if everyone just did their ordinary job and other creatives (LD/Set Designer/choreographer) filled in the gaps where necessary for the director, it would avoid a power play situation, get more done and allow for the least angst if/when the director returns and wants changes.

I'm reminded of the mantra my SMgt lecturer repeats ad infinitum:
Even if there's nothing you need to do, there's still lots you can be doing.
I recognize that it's hard on long-run gigs, but is there a way you can use the time for your own development? Time to update forms, go over paperwork and see if it could be improved, even learn the choreography?

I've worked with an SM who, having become completely confident calling the show and managing her daily duties, spent the evening memorising her cues by number and what happened - she admitted that it wasn't exactly a necessity for the show, but it kept her mind busy and in the end she found that she could call most of the show without looking at her prompt copy!

Tools of the Trade / Re: SM Kit *for students*
« on: Feb 27, 2013, 06:49 am »
Thanks for the feedback so far, everyone!

brett - I'm liking a lot of those ideas... Uni has asked us to get a scale rule, but I'm loving the idea of the phone charger and the extension lead. 3m/10' is usually enough to get you out of a sticky situation with badly placed powerpoints.

Ruth - I'd like to think the uni will supply us with most of what we need, but I know the amateur companies I work with are notorious for asking their crew to supply everything... I've budgeted for a cordless drill this year because the scenic shop doesn't have anywhere near enough and crew are expected to have their own. I'm trying to write it off in my head as an investment of sorts.

Bex - Interesting idea! I know the students studying Design Realisation (costume/set design) as part of the course are sick of paying for so much equipment when they really don't need a set each... I'm definitely chasing this one up.

Matthew - I completely understand your philosophy on hiring the person not the tools and 100% agree in the case of pro situations, but what about amateur companies? I'm not sure about in the States, but here SM budgets on amateur productions are sub-zero; we're expected to provide what we need, and then some. Is it better to fight for a policy change and get a cut of the budget, or should we suck it up and provide equipment including some consumables?


Tools of the Trade / SM Kit *for students*
« on: Feb 26, 2013, 05:26 am »
Hi all,

So, I'm starting my BFA next week and I'm beginning to assemble my first real kit past a bucketload of sharpies and tape, and I'm wondering:

What should go in a student SM's kit?

I've seen some spectacular kits - extra large, extra small, designed for dance, prepared for plays, etc. But almost all of them are being used by people far older than me, with a lot more experience, working on much bigger projects. I'm not looking to make this kind of a kit; I'm looking for something that helps me get what I need to do done, without it weighing more than me or costing a small fortune. To make this a bit more specific;

If you had to pick the top 10-20 things that are in your kit that you wish you'd had starting out, what would they be?

Before anyone comments; I've done some extensive searching around the forum, and I've found lots and lots of lists, and I am getting some great ideas... I just feel that if I keep throwing everything that seems vaguely useful into my kit, before long I'll be carting a small trailer to shows.

Looking forward to hearing thoughts on this! :)

Can't really comment on the level required to call from, given I can sight-read a lot of stuff after years of piano playing and so have never really considered it, but the tip I always got taught was to mark scores you can't understand with notes on what it actually sounds like;

As long as you can count beats, you can follow along the score without reading it all, and then if you hear something interesting you scribble a note in describing what you can hear.

You just do it in whatever wording suits you - what my ASM wrote in as "gets really loud" I wrote in as "Timpani sfz roll w/ crescendo". Both got the job done, and as long as you can describe what you're hearing, MDs are usually able to cooperate (In fact, they'll probably prefer it over "Cue 29, bar 44 beat 3" when they don't have a score handy). You get to look like you can read every note, they get to communicate with you, you don't lose your place as often... it's a pretty good outcome.

(Hope that makes sense... I'm really too tired to type coherently...)

A few years back I was in a pantomime about pirates, and we had a 'Pirate School' scene where one of the old pirates was teaching the kidnapped kids how to be pirates. This involved lots of audience participation and usually it worked really well. Until one night:
Pirate Jake: "So, what's a pirate be saying when he be surprised?"
Audience: " ... "
Then we hear a single voice from somewhere up the back; "Arr?"

Thank God someone did it!  ;D

Tools of the Trade / Re: Flashlights?
« on: Apr 21, 2011, 09:38 am »
I own a Petzl headlamp ( and I swear by it. I'm also a Scout and have tried just about every kind of torch out there (including the ones you shake that can look more than a little... suggestive  ;)) but the Petzl has been perfect. Runs off AAA batteries - chews through them at the start but if you don't mind it being a little dim they then last forever. Only issue is that they all seem to have a very wide throw... not sure how you would fix that.

Tools of the Trade / Re: Favorite Bag
« on: Apr 21, 2011, 09:13 am »
A few years back I bought myself a Crumpler messenger bag - Mine is one of the larger sizes (a Complete Seed) and it can hold several binders, stacks of pens/tape/anything else I feel the need to carry. Looks great, and after four years it still looks like new.

Where I come from they're extraordinarily common (the company is based in Melbourne), but not sure how easy they are to get in America and the UK. Well worth it if you can get your hands on one.

In an amateur show I frequently perform in, production give the cast the usual 'hate sheet' every night, but they use a lot of humor to dull the sting. There's also congratulatory notes on cast members who did a great job - usually just doing what they were told to! If the kids really aren't doing what they're meant to, consider taking them aside and having a quick word with them about "how the show's going for them" - often times when they get it wrong it's because they either don't understand something or they're bored/frustrated. If they're just being bratty, ask them to do it to set an example for the others. No kid will turn down an opportunity to take responsibility and show that they can do a special job.

Parents? Depends on the kid, depends on the parents. Sometimes it can do a world of good, sometimes it just makes things worse. Go with instinct and a good dose of caution.


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