I’m a STAGE MANAGER

I’ve found myself relighting on tour more than once. And I can tell you it’s not something that I am built for. In my – admittedly limited – experience, it’s extremely stressful, and it’s also pretty damn boring. Not to be rude – it’s just not my bag – if I was into lighting I’d probably love it – but I’m not. I’m a stage manager.

The second time I did it I knew what I was in for and I was ready. The first time was a surprise. I had been interviewed for the role of CSM on a small tour. Note ‘C’ – not ‘T’. As is often the way I knew I’d be driving the van (which turned out to be considerably older than I was), doing the fit up with the help of the actors, washing and ironing the costumes, possibly operating sound and/or LX, and then getting everything out and packed up, and depositing everybody at whatever hotel we were staying in that night – and then doing it all again the next day and the next day and the next day…for a fairly hellish sounding fortnight before a much sweeter five weeks in the West End. I knew it was going to be tough. But I was new – and if not you’re lucky, it can be fucking tough when you’re new.

Nobody had mentioned it, or thought to ask whether it might be something I knew how to do, but it started to dawn on me during the second week of rehearsal that I was actually the only person going on tour with the three actors…and that alarmingly I was going to be the only person who was going to have the faintest clue about how the show should be lit. Oh yes. Sorry. They’d omitted to mention that.

SHIT.

I got a lot of love for the lighting designer, but I got no love for his handover technique. This mainly consisted of him looking upwards, occasionally scratching his beard, and even more occasionally saying “hmm” – with me looking on in what I can only describe as absolute blind panic, whilst attempting to appear calm for everybody’s sake. I hadn’t the first idea about what I needed to know and spent the day rummaging around inside his head for answers to questions that I didn’t know needed asking. It wasn’t great.

That tour was one hell of a baptism of fire I can tell you. I’ve blocked most of it out I think. Like childbirth. Probably the clearest memory of that first day out on the road is of sitting in a Premier Inn, eating the crap salad I’d bought for lunch fifteen hours previously from a garage somewhere on the M4, at half past two in the morning, with a hotel room teaspoon.

It was a good show, and a lovely lovely team, and despite it being one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done I wouldn’t undo it. And I got the hang of it all…another string to my bow and all that bollocks. And it’s all good stuff to know – the Ion and I are now pretty good friends, and knowing how to rig and focus and programme has definitely come in handy since. But it’s not a string I plan on plucking often.

Because I’m a STAGE MANAGER.

And I don’t think I’ll ever ever forget that really very low moment, one night somewhere in the darkest depths of god knows where, when poor Oscar Wilde was forced to deliver a particularly moving speech in almost complete darkness. And I don’t suppose he will either.

 

a rat ate my props

It’s difficult to explain to friends who aren’t in this industry exactly what it is that we do. Partly because the requirements of one job tend to be so crazy bonkers different from another, and partly because if you don’t do it you just don’t get it.

For starters you have to miss things. I’ve missed more than one wedding – and i can tell you that sending a photo of  yourself next to the word CONGRATULATIONS written in the sand on a blustery beach in Aberystwyth, taken between shows, goes no way towards actually being part of the event with your friends in Pennsylvania, and after totally forgetting another friend’s offspring’s 1st birthday whilst on a particularly gruelling tour – at the end of which I barely knew my own name – despite having bought and addressed the card in advance in an attempt to be prepared – I was told you had time to brush your teeth you had time to call me… Now I’m aware that that sounds like an entirely valid point – but I didn’t. I’m serious. It sounds mad, but I didn’t. I didn’t have time to know I had teeth.

It’s hard to explain just how freaking BUSY it can all be.

I’ve had to move digs five nights in a row because actors aren’t happy and must be moved at once, I’ve had actors call me on a Sunday wondering if I can lend them a ladder (?!), actors call me at 3am because they’ve just thought of something, actors inform me at the quarter that they took a vital piece of costume home (WHY?) and they’ve just realised that they left it there, actors who hate each other’s guts, an actor who discovered he had cancer two weeks into rehearsal, actors who have passed out face first on stage mid show, an actor who wondered if I could buy her son a Glastonbury ticket, a phone call from a cast member at midnight because another cast member has fallen down the stairs – at which point I changed out of my pyjamas, called an ambulance and caught a cab to the hospital, where I sat white faced and shell-shocked until 5am, trying to contact her family members and the producers, after being hit with the news that she had suffered a stroke and might never wake up. I’ve had to tackle complicated calls from the director at 6pm on Sunday evening when I’m in a bar somewhere in Covent Garden and I’m two bottles of prosecco down because actually it’s MY ONLY DAY OFF, and I’ve chased him four times for this since Friday and have already sent out three apologetic emails to cast and fielded numerous messages because despite this they are certain I’ve forgotten them. I’ve had a fucking rat eat my props.

These people drive me crazy daily. A mad mix of personalities, eccentricities, egos, pride, nerves and insecurities all crashing about. But the majority of them are fucking great. And I couldn’t do what they do. And most of the time, despite all the drama, I sort of love them for it.

I’ve had staff from the office, in immaculate make up and high heels, on a regular lunch break, ask me how it’s all going in the run up to press night – oh you know! Fine! In reality I’ve probably got at least four fingers stuck out symbolising items that cast have literally just been handed and immediately misplaced, some sort of terrible wound and a host of bruises, a vital list of crucially important things to be done by 6pm which will probably take until next week – which has vanished because the director can’t be arsed to sit through the press call and has swanned off for coffee with it accidentally hijacked in her handbag, and I’m wondering how I’m going to stay conscious long enough to shower when I get in.

But I fucking. Love. It. I’ve never been so hugged and kissed in my life. And although I hugely regret that lots of  things have had to happen without me and that there are a whole lot of photos and memories that I’m not in, I’ve been to places I wouldn’t otherwise have known existed, and I’ve met people who will be my friends for life. And despite the wrench of missing some things that I know are really important, I think it’s all worth it. I hope I’m right.