How To… Prep for a Show (As a Stage Manager)

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin

Word, Benjamin Franklin. Word. Frankly speaking, the majority of stage management is all about preparation and being ten steps ahead of everyone else. In light of Little Shop of Horrors rehearsals beginning, I figured mapping out exactly what I do to prepare for a show would be most appropriate for my next entry:

1)     Read the script. – Okay, I don’t always read the script completely and closely beforehand, but I definitely skim through it four or five times. I usually do this to look for information (sound cues, props, obvious light changes, quick changes, etc.) rather than reading it for plot. This can be just as helpful in familiarizing oneself with the show because you’re looking for the nuts-and-bolts details that make the show tick.

2)     If it’s a musical, find the soundtrack and listen to it. A lot. – The more you listen to the music, the easier calling the show is going to be for you (even though the arrangement in your production will never be identical to what you’re listening to). Just getting used to the music that will be drilled into your brain is a good way to ease into the process. Try listening to it while doing your prep work (the steps below).

3)     To-do lists are your best friends. – Make lists. Lists upon lists upon lists. Even if you think it’s something so small and irrelevant, add it to a list anyway, and as you work through it, you’ll see if it really needs to be addressed or if you can toss it. The idea is to get your mind in show mode: to be thinking about everything and anything regarding the show.

4)     Do the paperwork (dun dun dunnnnn). – Cast list, contact sheet (both for the cast and the production/design team), character breakdown (a chart of when each character is in each scene), scenic breakdown (locations/times of each scene), and preliminary prop list (just in case you need to gather rehearsal props). Those are the very basics and honestly, there’s only so much you can do before you start rehearsal. Other documents I’ve done: a work log (a list of when we worked on certain scenes, to keep track of progress) and scene by song number breakdown. No matter what paperwork you do, getting organized is the key.

5)     Put your book together and buy supplies. – Head on over to Office Depot/Target/your office supply store of choice and stock up on the essentials: at least a 2½” ring binder, pencils, pens, paper/a large notepad, and dividers. Every stage manager has their own style, but other things I need to have:

Index tabs: I use regular dividers to separate the larger sections of my book (script, schedules, rehearsal reports, etc.) but I use these stick-on tabs to break down scenes within the script, the paperwork I produce/receive from various departments, and many other things. Very, very handy!

Sharpies: You never know when you’re going to need one. Seriously.

Post-its, in a few colors: For making easy, removable notes as you go through the process. I say pick up a few colors so you can designate, for example, green as “quick changes” or pink as “scene shift,” or whatever you’d like.

Medium binder clips: Because I hate the permanence of staples (if you don’t happen to have a staple remover on hand) and paperclips just suck.

6)     Communicate with your director(s) about the rehearsal schedule and do your magic. – This is probably the most time-consuming part of prep, but once it’s done… what a good feeling. This is what great stage managers should be best at: organizing other peoples’ time in an efficient way. Make sure to have it confirmed by the directorial team and then distribute the information to everyone who needs it (production team, cast, etc.)

7)     Go have a cold beer (or soda, if you’re under 21). – It’s about to get crazy, so enjoy those last few moments of quiet and free time. Do something you want to do because pretty soon, it’s all about other people. SEE YOU AT STRIKE!

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” — Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)

(Little Shop of Horrors opens at The Western Stage on Friday, June 10th and runs through June 26th! Tickets can be purchased here. Da doo…)