I KNEW I WANTED TO BE INVOLVED
Monday 27th May 2019 by Jacinta Hunter, SIAS? Company Stage Manager
When Simon, the director at Say It Again, Sorry? asked me to come on board as stage manager for their new project, 'The Importance of Being... Earnest?', I was flattered, excited, and slightly terrified! I have a lot of experience of entertaining people on stage, I have much less experience of all the work and organisation that goes on behind the scenes to ensure performers can even get on the stage in the first place! However, when Simon explained the premise of the show and the entire ethos of Say It Again, Sorry?, I knew I wanted to be involved.
My background is in Comedy and Cabaret and the reason I'm so in love with these mediums is that they are completely reliant on their audience to make the show work. I've hosted shows that have turned into raucous sing-a-longs and ones that have turned into cosy chats. I went to one comedy show where I ended up squished behind a curtain with the rest of the audience in order to surprise another audience member who had gone to the toilet, and one where the comedian abandoned his material all together and invited the audience to come and dance on stage for an hour. All these experiences were great and, what's more, they were exciting. I've been to amazing theatre shows that were slick and well acted and well directed but when you invite the audience to become part of things and allow yourself to be changed by them, that's when you make space for a special kind of magic to happen and that's exactly what Say It Again, Sorry? are doing.
So, back to stage management! What actually is a stage manager and what do they do? I had an idea it was something to do with making sure props were in the right place at the right time and telling actors to be quiet back stage. That's not wrong, but there's a lot more to it!
I like to think of it as a board game, one board game in particular actually (non-nerds stick with me, this is gonna get quite niche, but I'll try to keep it clear) called Pandemic.
The basic premise is:
The world (the board) has been overrun by four fatal viruses, represented by different coloured cubes (disease cubes as I like to call them). Players work together to save the world and beat the game. You win the game by finding cures to all four of the viruses, and you lose the game by… well there are multiple ways to lose the game. So while you're going around trying to find cures, you also have to keep the viruses contained and do your best to prevent outbreaks, all within a certain number of turns.
Each player is assigned a different role and each role has a unique ability, which helps to win the game (or at least to not lose the game as quickly as you would without it). Two of these roles are the medic, and the dispatcher. A lot of rookie players love the medic, which makes sense. The medic can remove all the disease cubes in a city in one action, which looks pretty impressive. I mean, who doesn't love immediate results? The thing is, you only get four actions per turn, and moving is an action. So what if the medic is in Lima and there's an outbreak in Tehran? Suddenly the medic is useless. There's no way they're getting from Peru to Iran and making everyone better in four actions.
This is where the dispatcher comes in. The dispatcher can move another player's piece as if it were their own. They can also move any player pawn to any other player pawn on the board. So the medic's in Lima, there's an outbreak in Tehran, the dispatcher is in Karachi, and it's the dispatcher's turn. Suddenly things don't look so bad. The dispatcher can move the medic's pawn to their pawn in Karachi (one action), they can then move the medic's pawn one space to Tehran (one action). Now the medic is in exactly the right place to clear up the outbreak on their turn and the dispatcher still has two more actions, so maybe they clear up a couple of disease cubes. BOOM.
Everyone still with me? Good.
I see the game as the process of putting on a production, and the disease cubes as all the many hurdles you come across along the way. So long as you keep on top of things and deal with the hurdles as you go along, you'll cure all the diseases and win the game, or, in theatrical terms, PUT ON THE SHOW!
The actors I see as the medic. They're the face of the whole process. All the hard work culminates in the audience seeing them on stage being brilliant. They're the ones you remember.
The dispatcher is, you guessed it, the stage manager. The person who makes sure everyone in the company has what they need and are where they need to be. Without the stage manager the production might still happen, but not as safely, and definitely not as efficiently!
OK, great analogy Jacinta, but what about specifics? What exactly does a stage manager have to do to keep the show on the road (quite literally)? The answer to that is a lot of paper work!
I've spent a number of evenings crying over my printer, praying it won't run out of ink or paper before all 770 pages of updated scripts are printed, and several evenings a week will find me engrossed in spreadsheets and google docs detailing props, production meetings, lighting and sound cues, and actors exits and entrances.
And then there are the risk assessments, so many risk assessments! Who would have guessed that having actual audience live on stage, as well as at the rehearsals, get-ins and get-outs, could present so many risks! Before joining Say It Again, Sorry? the brain space I allotted to spotting potential risks was tantamount to zero. Now I can't watch a single film, play, variety night, or TV show without spotting every risk, pointing it out to anyone who will listen, and wondering what possible precautions have been put in place to prevent it.
Then of course there's the best bit, our regular Monday rehearsals, which have fast become the highlight of my week. I love being a part of the rehearsal process and Say It Again, Sorry?'s rehearsal process is one of the best. We cover so much and have the absolute best time doing it. There is so much love and passion for the project and every company member feels involved and appreciated throughout the whole journey, and it's amazing being able to share that journey with our wonderful observers. You can be part of that journey too if you like. Just give us an email or a tweet. We would be so delighted to have you join us.
And now, I'd better get back to dispatching, there's a world to be saved and, more importantly, a show to put on!