What is an Assistant Stage Manager?
An assistant stage manager is the eyes, ears and hands of the stage manager in the back-stage area. This invaluable person relays all of the cues to the back-stage crews, monitors the actors before and during the show, and relays information back to the stage manager so that he or she can make informed decisions. The assistant stage manager is a part-time position during the rehearsal period (which is why the same individual sometimes has the position of Assistant to the Director and Assistant Stage Manager). However, the assistant stage manager becomes a full-time and essential member of the production when run-through week begins. Because it is so general in the scope of responsibilities, the assistant stage manager position is often a stepping stone to the position of stage manager.
You will first want to call the stage manager and the artistic director to make sure that everyone has your telephone numbers. Check on which day of the week you should set aside for weekly production meetings. You are a part of the production team and you should plan on spending this hour a week in order to understand any challenging situations from the very beginning. Your only responsibility (except for the occasional filling in for someone) until crew watch night is to attend the weekly production meetings and to be at publicity photo call. The assistant to the director should notify you of these important dates.
Crew Watch Night Your first official night backstage is on crew watch night. No, there may not be a running crew and, no, you may not have a blessed thing to do other than observe entrances and exits and figure out where you need to be to cue scene changes, but that is what tonight is all about! You should have gotten a copy of the script (usually the stage manager has made you one) and should be making notes in your script about your blocking (cue running crew SL).
Your help will be invaluable on this night. While the stage manager is tied up with the speed through and the assistant to the director is finalizing plans for tech dinner, you should be helping with getting ready for tech Saturday. Count up the number of stations needed for headsets (light board, sound board, spot lights, stage manager, assistant stage manager, do you need one on stage left?, are there crew chiefs that need to be on headset during dress rehearsals?) and get the headsets connected. Place the stage manager desk in the house with a lamp, if it isn’t already in place. Move the call board to the bulletin board by the dressing rooms. Arrange your station area. Make sure that you have pencils and your script. Extra flashlight batteries are always a good idea. Make sure that the intercom has been switched so that your microphone will reach the dressing rooms (check with the technical director if you don’t know how to do this).
If I’m not in the cast. why do I have to bring something to the Tech Dinner?
On occasion there is a show with a small cast and a huge crew and on these occasions production staff will be asked to contribute something to the potluck dinner. Ask at the weekly production meetings if your help will be needed to make the dinner a wonderful time for everyone by bringing your great-grandmother’s special casserole. Remember to invite your family to the Tech Dinner and to introduce them as well. Tonight is when you get your tickets for preview from the Stage Manager.
Dry Tech begins at 10:00 on main stage. That means the first cue should be called at 10:00, so be there early. Have your pencil ready and be ready to write cues in your book. In case of dire emergencies you might have to call the show from your station and from your book! Dry tech will be a “cue-to-cue” run through of the show without actors. The running crew will be there to run all of their cues, though props will probably not be running their cues. It is your responsibility to transmit cues from the stage manager to the running crew. You will need to note in your book where cues occur so that you can establish a routine. You will need to consult with the running crew chief to determine how cues should be called and if you need to stand in a specific place in order for the crew to see you. Make a listing of all cues that you are responsible for so that you can put together a “clean” sheet for use during the dress rehearsals and performances.
Insure that appropriate measures have been taken to insure adequate room for cast and crew traffic backstage, including the setup of running lights and the placing of glow tape in all necessary locations (Remember that glow tape won’t work if it doesn’t have a light source at least part of the time. You can “charge” glow tape right before a scene change by placing your flashlight directly on it and turning the light on for 30-45 seconds.)
Familiarize yourself with all set pieces and how they work; props and when/where they are needed; fly rails and fly drops or pieces and all peculiarities concerning the smooth and swift shifting; all backstage worklights and switches; the intercom and all its switches.
As each act is set up and readied for the curtain, you may wish to prepare checklists to be used on a nightly basis to insure that all crews are set at the end of a cue. These checklists should include props, running, dressing, and cast information (is the sofa set, the costume change complete and the wine glass in her hand before you tell the stage manager “complete” so that the action may proceed). Arrange with the crews to determine just who will be giving you a “complete” each performance. Include any “sounds” that you must make (bells, phones, crashes) on your check lists.
The smoother Dry Tech is, the better Wet Tech will run. Your responsibilities increase with the addition of the cast. It is your job to make sure that all cast members are on time and checked in. Cast members should be present and checked in one hour before curtain (this applies to all dress rehearsals and performances). Anyone who is late should be called (make sure that you have a contact list with phone numbers) to find out the reason for tardiness. Do not ever assume that “they’ll be here”, always call. Notify the stage manager of any tardiness and the result of phone calls.
It is also your new job to call “times” from this point on. You announce these times to the cast over the intercom or by walking through the dressing room areas and announcing in a clear and projected voice. You should call 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes, and when told to by the stage manager – places. Remember that you are on the stage manager’s time not yours. Please do not argue with the stage manager about what time it is, just reset your watch.
Adjust any cues that need to be changed from this morning’s dry tech.
Before Every Show
Arrange a check-in system with all crew chiefs to let you know that they are set and ready to go before each and every dress rehearsal and performance. All crews should be set and ready by 30 minutes to curtain. Let the stage manager know that all crews have checked in and are ready so that the stage manager can open the house. Make sure you have turned on the headsets and intercom. A checklist that you have prepared in advance will simplify this task and insure that you haven’t missed anything.
You should expect to hear from the following crews:
Lights – All crew members present; light check complete; lights are in preset, ready for the show to start. Running Crew – All crew members present; all set pieces have been accounted for and are in working order; stage is set for the top of act 1; all running lights are on and work lights are off. Props – All crew members present; all props accounted for and set; stage checked and set for top of show; food props prepared and kept sanitary. Costume Running Crew – All crew members present; all costume pieces accounted for; all quick change areas prepared. Sound – All crew members present; sound check complete; pre-show music set and ready to start at house opening. ASM – all bells, whistles, phones, fog machines, or other stage equipment checked and in operating order.
When the stage manager gives the “places” cue, announce “Places, please, places, top of show”. Inform the stage manager when all actors are in place. Conversely, if any delay occurs at this point, let the actors know what is going on. Remember, they may be nervous and anxious.
During the Show
During the show it is your job to insure a smoothly operating backstage. This means taking on the sometimes unpleasant business of policing cast and crew to insure that any necessary conversations are kept to a whisper, un-necessary conversations are squelched, no inappropriate noise is created, and emergencies are handled. Always let the stage manager know about any emergencies and understand that ultimately the stage manager will make a decision about how to proceed.
Sometimes the best thing you can do during an emergency is to remain on headset and transfer information between crews and the stage manager. On occasion, the stage manager will ask you to fill out a maintenance request when something has broken, burned out, or generally failed to work. There is a copy of this form in the supporting documents section. Make sure that you have made copies and have them at your desk. Put the completed form in the box of the technical director at the end of the show.
You will call times to the cast during intermission. The times called are 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and places. Let the stage manager know that actors are at places and that all crews are set for the next act.
Fire Curtain. Drills, and Extinguishers
A fire drill must be done for each show and that drill is usually held during a dress rehearsal when it is not raining. Discuss with the stage manager when to hold this drill. Decide what will be your cue from the stage manager. Get together with the Technical Director and have him show you the location of all fire extinguishers, the procedure for lowering the fire curtain, and the procedures for calling the drill. The fire announcements to the crew and cast are made by the ASM over the intercom. You should pull both toggle switches and in a calm voice announce “This is a fire drill, all cast and crew exit the building.” You should then pull the fire curtain. Make sure that no cast member crosses under the fire curtain. Exit by the door closest to your station. Enlist help to reset the fire curtain afterwards.
Visitors are wonderful…. but NOT before the show. Ask any visitors who want to go see a cast member to please wait until after the show and then to meet the cast member in the lobby. Transmit the message to the cast member so they know to hurry and dress afterwards.
Patience and Polite Behavior is the way to be a successful ASM.
In the event that an emergency arises (all the way from hangnails to misplaced props), you must remain calm. The middle of the show is not the time to “vent”. If you need to discuss inappropriate behavior, then do it after the show and with someone who is able to lend an impartial ear to the situation. Remember to include any “supervisors” for crew and the stage manager.
You are the communication link between groups. Make sure that you communicate completely. (Yes, the Stage Manager knows that the sofa is stuck and that you can’t get it off the stage and she says we will have to proceed and we’ll try to fix it at intermission.) Always let both sides know what is going on and remain cool and collected.
At the End of the Show
Wait for the “all clear” from the stage manager before allowing props and running crew to go onstage to begin clearing and setting up for the next show. You may turn on work lights at this point.
Insure that audience members do not “break” the proscenium to see cast members. Ask them to wait in the lobby and then notify the cast member to meet friends and family.
Arrange with Running, Props, and Costume crew chiefs to let you know when they are finished clearing from tonight’s show and have completed whatever preset for the next show that is to be done tonight.
When all crews have completed their work, set the ghost light, turn off running lights and stageequipment, put away headsets, check to make sure that the building is clear of audience and then turn off house lights and work lights.
Post yourself at the bottom of the stairs and remind cast to exit through the stage door since the stage area is dark and, therefore, not safe to navigate.
Help the stage manager with any other locking up that needs to be done.
Pranks are not Funny!
It is your responsibility to stop practical jokes and pranks from occurring. They are not funny to the actors who have to perform while they are going on and they aren’t funny to an audience that has paid to see a professional production. So, you get to be the bad guy and tell people that they will not spike the ice tea, or put nude pictures in the prop magazines, or tape up funny signs for the actors to see. If you have any serious problem having people take you seriously, enlist the aid of the stage manager. In any event, you must tell the stage manager about practical jokes that you find out about.
Audio Amplification System
RLT’s audio amplification system helps people who are hearing impaired hear shows better. The Audio amplification system is turned on backstage. It is your job to make sure that it is turned on for each performance. It should be turned on one hour before curtain. Check with the Technical Director if you do not know the location of the equipment or do not know how to turn it on.
Two Shows in one Day!
In the event of double shows the cast will either be fed on the premises or be given an eating allowance. Make sure that you complete a full check-in procedure before the second show with crews and cast. Ask your crews to give special attention to preset details for the second show. Remember that everyone will be tired and mistakes get made when people are tired and not paying attention. Try to circumvent mistakes by being overly cautious with check ins, presets, and calling of cues.
Strike is Everyone’s Job
Strike responsibilities for you include cleaning your area and helping to put away headsets. After this is done see what else needs to be done and pitch in. A dinner or dessert will be served after strike to end the show on a pleasant note. If you have small children (under 12), they should not be a part of strike. It is too dangerous for them to be around a set being dismantled.
Some shows require the use of fire arms.
Before the show starts, it is the ASM’s responsibility to obtain any required fire arm from the locked cabinet under the Stage Right Props Table, load the fire arm and secure it at the Stage Right ASM station. During the show, the ASM will hand the fire arm to the actor who will be using it in the play. When the actor no longer needs the fire arm it shall be returned to the ASM to secure at the Stage Right ASM station. At the end of the show the ASM shall unload the fire arm and lock it up in the cabinet under the Stage Right Props Table.
The Scenic Designer or Technical Director will train the ASM on the proper handling and loading of the Fire Arm(s).
Note: The fire arms used at the Theatre are completely safe if handled properly and extremely dangerous if handled improperly. The ASM must handle the fire arm per the training received from the Scenic Designer or Technical Director.
From one hour before the show starts until the fire arm is secured under the Stage Right Props Table, only the following people are authorized to handle or even touch the fire arm. 1) Scenic Designer 2) Technical Director 3) ASM 4) Actor using the fire arm in the play. The only exception to this rule is the Props Master acting in his/her capacity as the Props Master and only if pre-authorized by the Scenic Designer or Technical Director.
Sample Cue Sheet for Assistant Stage Manager
Running Crew – Street Scene Fly – IN
Cue Cindy’s entrance
ASM – Phone cue
Running Crew – Sofa – IN
Running Crew – Street Scene – OUT
Props – Butler’s table standing by for pick-up
(Immediately after cue called go to quick change area to help with Roger’s coat)
Curtain-IN (pause 3 beats)
Running Crew – Garden set – IN
Curtain – OUT
Running Crew – Hanging Vines – IN
Cue Evelyn’s entrance
Running crew – Swing set – IN
Running Crew – Garden, Vines, Swing – OUT, Sofa -IN
ASM – Doorbell cue
Curtain – IN