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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Working In Theatre- Part 1

I had always been madly keen on theatre since I was about 5 years old, not particularly acting, more in the production side of things. My family had absolutely no knowledge of the world of theatre, as they were all in farming. Anyone who came along with any sort of information regarding how I could get into 'The Business' had their brains picked! I had originally intended getting in to television to do floor management, and had been told by the B.B.C. that I would need to have a couple of years experience in theatre stage management before I could work in television. As it turned out, I never did get to work in television, preferring a different career path. I was going to go to university and get a degree in performance or at least something theatre-related. I was lined up to go to Bristol University, but my A Level mocks weren't very good, so I attempted to go another route and apply directly to theatres and get some sort of stage management post. I wrote to a whole host of theatres across the United Kingdom, and eventually got an interview at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. They were running a Student A.S.M. scheme (Assistant Stage Management), where you were taken on for a year and learned stage management 'on the job' as it were. I was paid the princely sum of £1. 10s (or £1.50 in decimal currency) so my parents had to subsidize me the whole time I worked there, which went towards my upkeep, board and lodging and so on. 

I began my career on 16th February, 1969. I was taken to Cheltenham by my parents in the Land Rover, as it was a very cold, snowy, day. I even took my bicycle with me, as it was felt that I would need this if I was to need any sort of transport. I had been given the address of suitable accomodation in Cheltenham, which my mother did not think I would manage in, as it was my first foray into living away from home, so it was decided that I would live in the local Y.M.C.A. I have a feeling that I must have lived there for several months until I moved into a house with a family, no doubt my mother found this by placing an advert in a local Cheltenham newspaper.

The first show I worked on was an adaptation of "Jane Eyre." That first Monday was the Technical rehearsal of that show. It had Angela Richards as Jane Eyre and Philip Voss as Mr Rochester in the cast. I have to admit to being extremely 'green' as regards life and how things worked. I think we lived a very sheltered existence!

There was a very complex scene change that was rehearsed during this Technical, and I recall being detailed as to what was to be 'struck' during this particular scene change. Someone put something on the set, (I seem to remember it was a portfolio, one of those things artists use to store their artwork.) and I inadvertantly removed it! I was described as being 'over-zealous' but the stage manager!

The season was run in the tradition of 'repertory' theatre, a basic company of actors, appearing in a season of plays, which ran for two weeks. A show would run for two weeks (although I seem to remember some shows ran for three weeks.), and while one show was running, the next one would be rehearsed, one would end it's run on a Saturday, and that night, once the curtain came down, the old set was 'struck' and the next show's set would be constructed. We were supposed to work until 2 a.m. and go home to sleep, and then return the following morning to continue building the new set. On the Monday there would be a Technical rehearsal, which could go on for hours, sometimes into the small hours of the next morning, where all the lighting, sound and other cues were put into the action, all scene changes, costume changes and so on would be rehearsed and then put in. Then, depending on what time there was left, there would be a dress rehearsal, where everything rehearsed during the Technical would be put into a run, which was, in effect, a performance, but minus an audience. On the Tuesday there would be another rehearsal and then the show would open that evening. Sometimes there would be a very brief gap before the first performance. Then it would be straight into the First Night performance.

There would be a couple of days break before the next show went into production. The cast and stage management would meet for a read-through of the play, and the designer of the show would present a scale model of the play's set. This would have been produced from the working drawings/ ground plan he/she would have produced, and these  would be used by stage management to mark out the floor of the rehearsal studio. This would give the precise position of such things as stairs, doors, windows, fireplaces etc so that during rehearal the actors would have some idea where to move to on the set and time such things as entrances/exits. This marked-out floor would then be set up with furniture, not necessarily the actual furniture that would be used when the play was produced on stage, but it would allow the actors somewhere to sit when the directions required it. Also, during the 'blocking' of the moves, the D.S.M. would write the moves in the prompt copy and keep these moves up to date as these often got changed as the play progressed through rehearsal. He/she would also have to make notes as to things like the positioning of props, cues for music/sound effects, costume changes, off-stage sound effects (or 'spot effects, such as doorbells, gunshots, crashes etc.) but generally these points would be noted by an A.S.M. (Assistant Stage Management) who would also sit in during rehearsals.

Once the moves were completed for all the play, stage management would be sent out to find props, the items that the actors would use during the play, from firearms, to bits cups and saucers, hairdriers, books, infact, any item which was used on stage. Some of the more difficult to find items were often hired from specialist firms, such as guns, period things such as sports equipment, but generally we had to go out and scour the town to beg, steal or borrow items from local businesses. You had to learn to be quite imaginative as regards borrowing things. The various shops that lent things would get a credit in the play's programme and they'd get free tickets, but it could be quite difficult to find some items and it could be quite a feat of effort to walk into a shop and brazenly ask to borrow something which was worth a fortune, such as a piece of antique furniture which I presume was insured, because they was always the possibility of it being damaged whilst being used on stage. For instance, a piece of scenery might fall on it particularly item during a scene change. Or it could get lost or stolen. Fortunately nothing did happen with any of the items we borrowed, but the theatre must have some sort of insurance policy to cover such likely events.

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