Backstage crew and stagehands are the Mary Poppins of the theatre world. Not only do they have the ability to save a show with a spoonful of gaffa tape, but they literally need to be prepared for anything.
The role of an “SM” (theatre speak for Stage Manager) is varied. There are so many aspects to their job that they undoubtedly need a reliable set of tools just to get through the day and stay organised. Lost a prop? See the SM. Need the rehearsal schedule? See the SM. Forgotten your blocking from yesterday? You know what I’m going to say here – see the SM.
While the biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to get into the field is to have the passion and drive for making the show a success, we asked a resident touring professional what she kept in her handbag (and side stage). Being a Stage Manager means you have your own fancy costume and props for the role, so here is the starter pack to get you living your best SM life.
This is a no brainer. Obviously, you’ll need a copy of the script to stay on task and know what’s going on, but the Prompt Copy is so much more than just words. It’s the bible of the show! Developed by the SM, the Prompt Copy has all the mark-ups, blocking and calls used by the prompter (aka the Stage Manager). It is the master copy of the script/score containing all actor movement and technical cues, and is used to run the show – so better not leave this at home!
At any point in time, you may need to take note of direction, drawings or production to-dos. Keep another pad of paper ready to go for all the essential note-taking.
A decent Pen/Pencil case with all the stationary
I repeat – ALL THE STATIONARY! A Stage Manager is the spare pens personnel to any director. But stationary is so much more than just pens! Need an eraser, a ruler or a stapler? The SM is your go-to guru. You’ll be amazed at what is stored in an SM’s pencil case, and you’ll never know when that pair of scissors, blue-tack or glue will come in handy. Hit up the back to school lists and get your supply.
Steel Cap Boots
As a stage manager, you have to look the part right down to the toes. Plus, you’re on your feet for most of the job (up to 16 hours), so it’s worthwhile investing in a decent pair of steel-cap boots for comfortability. Why steel cap? Well, some theatres won’t even let you on their stage without them. It can be a safety requirement and are often worn for bump-in/bump-outs. Also, when you’re running in the dark and accidentally stub your toe, you’ll be fine to keep going.
A device ready for any situation – coincidentally that’s almost exactly the definition of a Stage Manager. Get yourself a multitool that has a variety of options for a variety of predicaments. Not to mention, the pliers or knife part is incredibly useful for undoing tape, opening boxes or helping fix the set.
A Good Torch
What’s worse than trying to find a lost prop? Trying to find it mid-show in the dark. Get yourself a handy little torch to search all those nooks and crannies around the theatre. It’ll also help you backstage where everything is black, including your attire.
Spike/Mark Up Tape
Back to stagehand lingo, a ‘spike’ is a different coloured tape that is used to mark where different set pieces, furniture, items or performers are to be placed during the course of a show. When moving set on and off for different scenes, they can be extremely useful in guiding SM’s or crew on where to stop the set. The specific location could be essential to lighting changes or directorial movements.
As an SM, you get to place those fancy little bits of tape down, so having spare rolls available is ideal. Don’t mock the Fluro or Glow tape though, as they’re super important. Moving them could consequently derail a production, and make for one very angry Stage Manager.
First Aid Kit
A stage manager is the first point of call if there’s an emergency, so you need to be prepared with a first aid kit. While theatres often have their own, in an accident backstage you may need to act fast. Having bandaids or bandages ready to go could be extremely beneficial. Especially since the SM is responsible for the well-being and safety of all cast members.
There could be nothing worse than Lady Bracknell’s dress splitting open just as she’s about to catch Earnest proposing to Gwendolyn! So a spare sewing kit is essential to solve any costume malfunction. From quick changes to multiple costumes, have a needle already threaded and ready at hand.
This one’s simple! Without measuring tape, there are no stage markings. And with no stage markings, there’s no set in the right locations. Also, having a measuring tape readily available will help when those pesky directors tell you to move a piece two inches to the left. At least you’ll be super precise!
Want to be seen changing the set? Best to don your own costume then and blend into the blackout. All SM’s wear their most comfortable theatre blacks (black clothing from head to toe) as a standard uniform. It’s comfortable, practical and a must-have!
While this is pretty self-explanatory, the SM life is never over. Snacks help keep you going from bump-in to bump-out. Make sure you don’t forget your little energy booster!
Where would we be without Stage Managers? Probably still in the casting process. Give ahoy to your favourite SM’s and tell us what you keep in your stagehand bag!
Photo Credit: Patrick Mansell, Penn State 2018