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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Working In Theatre- Stage Management Duties-Part 14

During my time working in stage management I had to do a wide range of jobs, doing 'The Book' as I've described elsewhere on here, doing 'props', operating various bits of machinery such as working on the fly floor, but also operating the sound for some shows. Generally you would be given the sound effects ready made up on tape and then merely play them back on cue during the performance, but on some shows I had to actually make up the tapes, using gramophone records and transferring the sound effects onto tape. I had to splice in pieces of coloured tape between the cues so that I could run the tape machines and have the next cue lined up so the tape stopped exactly on the head of the machine so when the cue was given the sound effect would start immediately. Also, you had to make sure the sound came out of the correct speaker on the stage, as some of these speakers were set up around the back of the set so that the sound would seem to be coming from a particular place on the stage. There was house music for when the audience was coming into the theatre for the beginning of the play and was played in the auditorium. There would usually be 'curtain up' music, for the opening of the play and usually, if there were scene changes, music to cover these. The plays I worked on had sort of 'theme music' rather like you get at the beginning of a television play or series. Generally the house lights go down and the lights fade on the  house tabs (stage curtains) and this is when the opening music is faded in and as the curtain rises this music plays out and fades so the play can begin. As I said, most of the sound effects would come from gramophone records. The BBC released some excellent sound effect LP's (this was long before digital recording techniques, CD's, computers and so on.) but sometimes we had to record special sound effects which couldn't be found on an LP or from other sources. We did an Alan Ayckbourn play called "Time and Time Again" which required the sound of a cricket match being played off-stage, so we had to record the sound of a ball hitting a bat, people cheering, clapping and so on, and this was done with some of the actors on stage and recorded directly onto tape. For a Shakespeare production of "King Lear" at Ipswich a specially composed electronic score was composed (this before electronic music was more widely used in theatre or television productions) and my own Akai tape recorder was used in the sound department for this production.
I'm not sure whether I mentioned the one blunder I made when I was sound operator on "Roots" at Ipswich Theatre. I had not set up the tape properly for one cue, and I think I wound the tape on to the wrong cue at one point and instead of  music coming out of a record player which the actress Jenny  Quayle is supposed to put on. She got the sound of rain instead of Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite. I was totally embarrassed by the mistake I had made and had to rush down to the stage and apologise profusely. Unfortunately if you don't concentrate hard on what you're doing on something like that it's easy to made that sort of mistake, particularly on a show when there are so many cues coming thick and fast and not keeping an eye on which cue is lined up on which tape machine (there were two on the sound-deck at Ipswich Theatre.)
On rare occasions members of Stage Management had to appear on stage. I was what was called a Technical A.S.M. which meant I was supposed to be wholly a stage management member, but you could be called upon to fill up the stage in some productions.  Acting A.S.M's were so-called because they did stage management duties but could also be expected to take on minor speaking parts. One of the ways someone who wanted to become an actor could get into the business. I hadn't been at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham for very many months before I was called upon to be a walk-on in A Winter's Tale (no doubt one of the many 'Gentleman' or 'Courtiers' that there are in Shakespeare's plays.) During this I had to be costumed in doublet and hose, including very uncomfortable shoes and at one point during he show myself and another A.S.M. had to kneel on really uncomfortable sort of duck boards on stage, which really hurt my knees, I think in such a position that I had one knee in contact with the floor and the other bent ( a one-knee bend? Is that the right term?) and it was very difficult to keep still without moving so as to 'upstage' the other actors. No speaking or noise came from us during this scene, but I think I got a permanent impression on one or other of the knees which came into contact with the floor! Later in the season they did a production of 'Romeo and Juliet' and myself and this other A.S.M. were on stage during the opening scene which had a fight going on between the Montages and the Capulets and we were fighting with staves, which meant actually having to use what were in all intents and purposes sort off broom handles and we were supposed to fight with these staves.
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