Precious Little's Stage Manager on Keeping Calm
Posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 12:00 PM
Whenever a company takes on the production of a show, there are going to be difficulties. Sometimes they are logistical things like, “how are we going to make this dummy fall from the ceiling and scar the crap out of everyone?” (a show I did in 2006). Sometimes they are scheduling things like “one of three actors was in New York when we got hit w/ a blizzard here that delayed her return flight-and our start of rehearsals by 3 days” (you guessed it, Precious Little). And sometimes you are working on a brand new play, of which the writer lives in NY, and you have questions, almost daily, about the script. (More on that, later.) Every time, though, different personalities have to come together and somehow make magic happen on stage. If a company is really lucky (and fictional), personalities blend like the flavors in a tasty, chilled mixed drink. When this does not happen, it is often up to the stage manager to help maintain a calm, productive working environment, in which the actors feel safe enough to create, and the director feels like (s)he is in control. The best way for the stage manager to do that, is not to freak out about anything, ever. To the actors: “we may only have 4 rehearsals left before tech, and you may have only run thru the show once, but you know what? I’m not worried. You’ll be fine.” To the director: “we preview tomorrow and the actors are still calling for line, but you know what? I’m not worried. They’ll be fine.” So I guess what it really comes down to, when a stage manager has to keep everyone calm, is: acting. And here I thought I was a terrible actor.
To touch quickly on the aforementioned “more on that, later,” I want to tell you what it’s like working on a new play while the writer resides across the country. That may be a scary thought to some, but when Madeleine George is the writer, there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s not like we went to Madeleine every day and said “here’s how we want to improve your script” and proceed w/ tons of changes. We just had small suggestions, like changing things that came out of the actors’ mouths sounding awkward, or, since the play was originally written two years ago, can we change the main character’s birthday so the math is still correct on her age? But no matter what we threw at her, Madeleine was very receptive. Sometimes she complied, other times she explained why she wanted us to keep what she’d written. It was very easy to work w/ Madeleine from 800 miles away…and even when she was in Chicago, it was still a pleasure.