A Note About Notes
From Haskell Fitz-Simmons:
Probably the most important job for the Assistant To The Director (AD) is taking notes for the director during run-throughs, technical rehearsals, and dress rehearsals. “Taking notes” means listening to what the director (and sometimes the choreographer) says during the course of the rehearsal, and writing it down in simple terms so the director can retrieve his or her thoughts during the notes session following the rehearsal.
Sometimes the AD must become something of a “kamakazi” mind-reader/editor because some directors give notes in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. It is useful to use some sort of shorthand, abbreviations, and/or other symbols during this process to increase speed and efficiency. One important note: Always check with the Director to make sure that the AD are taking notes that are helpful to him or her.
It is incumbent upon the AD to distill the flow of verbiage into a comprehensive note that makes sense to the Director later. This is actually easier than it would seem: Usually the bizarre flow of words is a result of frustration on the Director’s part as a result of an on-going actor-problem, and all the AD needs to do is note the actor/character name and the specific line in the script that has pushed the Director’s button. The Director can usually put that information together and come up with the appropriate note.
Week 1: Auditions & Callbacks
Before the week begins, contact the Director and the Stage Manager to share their phone numbers and any conflicts that the AD have between the first audition date and Opening Night of the run. Also, discuss any help that may be needed during auditions, such as handing out information, collecting information from auditioners, or making copies of the production calendar.
Check with the Technical Director and Crew Chief Coordinators and begin to compile the names of Crew Chiefs who will be a part of the show. It is their job to contact all of the chiefs to invite (or remind) them about the weekly Production Meetings.
The AD must attend Auditions to assist with the cast selection process. Arrive early enough to help set up tables, make copies of show information, tape off rows in the theater, etc. Help the Director(s), Audition Coordinator, and Stage Manager with various tasks that they need to complete.
After auditions are completed, the Audition Coordinator and Director will conduct a “callback meeting” to decide which auditioners made the cut to return for Callbacks. The callback meeting is strictly confidential and the AD does not usually sit in on this meeting. Ask if the AD will be needed for callbacks; if the AD are asked to be a part of this meeting, remember that the AD are there for clerical help — the Director makes the decisions.
The AD may be asked to attend Callbacks to assist with the cast selection process. Arrive early enough to help set up tables, make copies of show information, tape off rows in the theater, etc. Check to see if information needs to be copied or distributed; if so, take care of this. Find out if the director would like the AD to take notes during the auditions.
After Callbacks are complete, the AD may or may not be asked to stay for the casting meeting. It is usually understood that the AD will not be asked to stay. If the AD are asked to stay for the meeting, remember that this is confidential information and that the Director, Choreographer, and Musical Director make the decisions.
Before the first cast meeting, the AD and the Stage Manager need to find out who is serving in all of the technical positions for the show. An exhaustive, and partially ridiculous, list is given here to suggest the positions the AD needs to inquire about. The AD should identify these possible technical positions to contact for weekly production meetings:
- Artistic Director
- Assistant Stage Manager
- Concessions Coordinator
- Costume Apprentice
- Costume Designer
- Dresser Crew Chief
- Light Crew Chief
- Lighting Designer
- Makeup Crew Chief
- Makeup Designer
- Musical Director
- Office Manager
- Props Crew Chief
- Props Master
- Rehearsal Pianist
- Scenic Designer
- Technical Director
- Running Crew Chief
- Sound Crew Chief
- Sound Designer
- Sound Engineer
- Stage Manager
- Any Other Apprentices
The AD can generally get names and some contact information for these people from several resources:
- The Volunteer page for the show on the RLT website
- The Crew Chief Coordinators
- The Technical Director
The AD must get the names, email addresses, and phone numbers for these people. Then, the AD must invite them to the weekly production meetings. One of the easier ways to do this is to send an email to everyone two days before each meeting.
Week 2: Rehearsals Begin
First Cast Meeting
This is a relatively easy evening for the AD, help pass out and collect up the paperwork that the Stage Manager will be handing out. Remind cast members to sign in on the “Sign-in” sheet and explain that the AD will be checking attendance every night and calling anyone who has not shown up by call time. (Then of course the AD have to actually call them. Often the AD will be talking to answering machines while people are stuck in traffic, but that’s okay, the AD said the AD would call.) Let the stage manager know of any late or absent cast members.
Either the Stage Manager or the AD will follow along in the script during the Read Through. the AD may be needed to write down measurements for the costumer as he takes measurements of cast members.
Invite everyone and be there. Get an estimate of the total crew size from each chief so the AD will have an idea about the size of Tech Dinner. More on this later.
Character Study and Dialogue Study
Check with the director to see if the AD are needed for these days. the AD may be able to miss these days.
The musical director is in charge of these rehearsals and the AD may not be needed. Check with both the artistic director and the stage manager to see if there are tasks that the AD need to help with.
Blocking rehearsals move slowly. Both the AD and the Stage Manager write blocking notes in their scripts. There are examples of blocking notes included in the “Supporting Documents” section. Blocking notes also generate prop notes. Both the AD and the stage manager should keep a pad of paper handy to write down prop notes. Give their list to the stage manager each evening.
Help with getting the stage ready. Sweeping, arranging furniture, setting out rehearsal props, setting out rehearsal costumes are all examples of tasks that will need to be done. Check the attendance sheet and make those phone calls to tardy cast members.
Weeks 3 & 4: Blocking & Wallow
“Run Through” Rehearsals
Primary responsibility is to take notes for the artistic director (see the shorthand symbols for director notes). the AD will follow in the script so that the AD can make page notations in the notes. the AD should make every attempt to write down everything that the director says in the note. For instance:
“John – pick up their cue from Mary on their entrance-page 34 – didn’t we talk about not turning on the light when the AD entered but instead to wait until she throws the vase at the AD.”
The AD will need to supply a legal pad, sticky notes for musicals, lots of pencils, and a flashlight for this task.
Sit beside the director during notes in order to decipher what the AD have written. Follow along in the script as the director gives notes in case there are questions and someone needs to know what page is being referenced. After notes, help the stage manager restore the rehearsal area to order and assist with locking up
Working rehearsals move very slowly and the AD may not be needed to write down notes. Check with the artistic director and the stage manager to see if there is something else that the AD need to be doing to help out.
Publicity Photo Call is for everyone connected with the show. Remind crew chiefs when the AD talk to them about production meetings to have all of their crew attend this important night. If the marketing director is not running this event, the AD and the stage manager need to help out. their job will be to write down the names of people in the photos so that names and pictures can be matched up. Make sure that the AD spell everything clearly and that the AD write neatly.
Weeks 5 & 6: Run-Throughs & Tech
Work TBAs are usually the last time that the stage manager has time to meet with lighting and sound designers. Try to make theirself available to be “on book” during this time period and, therefore, to free the stage manager for other tasks. When the AD are “on book,” the AD follow every line in the script and supply the line if an actor calls “line”. Don’t supply the line without the actor calling for it, the AD may be interrupting a dramatic pause. Give the line clearly and loudly with a minimum of interruption to the flow. Stop the instant that the actor starts talking again, he might have only needed one word.
If the AD are also to be the Assistant Stage Manager. the AD need to get a fill in for the AD position beginning on Crew Watch Night. Responsibility for attendance transfers to the Assistant Stage Manager on Crew Watch night.
The AD is responsible for coordinating Tech Dinner. This potluck dinner is put on by the cast to welcome the crew after a long day of Tech on Tech Saturday. The AD should put up a sign-up sheet at rehearsal several weeks in advance and remind people to notify the AD of what they plan to bring. The theater provides paper products.
The AD should get an estimate of the number of people expected from each crew chief, and remember to add in family members (if any intend to come).
If it is a very small cast, the AD may need to ask crew chiefs and Technical heads to help supply food. In rare cases with extremely small casts, the AD may decide to collect money and go get pans of lasagna at Sam’s Club. The AD should arrange to have someone put food out during the end of Wet Tech, since they may be taking notes.
Remember that the AD is the host. After everyone has served themselves, the AD should lead off the introductions. Unfortunately, the AD is also responsible for cleaning up after dinner, but lots of people will stay to help. – always remember to have vegetarian selections for people who do not eat meat!
Speed Through / Dress Parade / Dry Tech
The AD may not be needed during these time periods and can be polishing up Tech Dinner plans.
Dress Rehearsals / Previews
The sole responsibility of the AD during Dress Rehearsals and Previews is to take notes. During Preview(s) the AD should mark off the rows that the director will be using to prevent audience members from sitting in that area (usually, at least two rows in either direction). The final night of the responsibility of the AD is the night before Opening. There will be a reception after the Preview for cast, crew, family and friends.
It is important for the AD to give the AD Coordinator feedback on their personal experience. Therefore, each AD is asked to provide a written evaluation of the Assistant To The Director experience at the end of the show. Sample questions for an evaluation are listed below, but the AD should feel free to use their own format if the AD like. Individual names should not be used in the responses to this evaluation.
- What was the best thing about this experience?
- What was the worst thing about this experience?
- What do you wish I had done as a coordinator to help you?
- What two things would you want to see included in next year’s AD orientation?
- Why did you accept this position? Will you volunteer for this role again?
- What was the hardest part of this show, and how could it have been helped?
- How well do you think you accomplished the responsibilities of an AD?
- What needs to be added to the handbook to make this a better document?