Monday, November 7, 2011


I am assistant stage manager (asm) for the show I'm working for, and though it's not a head stage management job, it's still a position I enjoy immensely.  It's less stressful at times (though definitely not all the time) and I don't always have to make the decisions.  One of the problems I have with asming though is that I never know how much of a prompt book to put together.  I need a script certainly, and I have taken back up blocking notes before, but do I need to print all the rehearsal reports and design paperwork?  Generally the answer is that I don't need to have all the rehearsal reports in my binder, but I do need to have essentials such as a contact sheet, schedule, and character breakdown (which lists which characters are on which page).  It's sort of a silly thing to worry about, but it's something that's always struck me. (This post reminds me that I should probably do a post on prompt books at some point, even if most of my readers don't really care).

Now, two quick stories about the last time I was an asm (anyways I hope I can tell them quickly):


During tech, we had been sitting in a cue for around thirty minutes (our lighting designer was horribly slow at writing cues) and finally we were going to run the transition into the next scene.  Well, we had a seventeen foot tree that was engageable (ie we had an actress up in it) and it was sitting offstage as far as we could get it.  We also had a scrim (a type of drop (piece of fabric) that covers the entire stage and that lighting can do some cool things with) which was right next to the tree and for the transition the scrim was going to fly out and the tree was going to go in (I was in charge of moving the tree).

Katie, one of the actresses, was being very patient and had just been waiting quietly in position up in the tree.  Well, as we started the transition, our incompetent fly rail operator (the person who moved the scrim in and out) flew the scrim the wrong way.  The stage manager yelled: "Stop" but I'm not sure that it registered with the fly rail operator.  There was a deafening crack and a scream from Katie.  The fly rail operator had flown the scrim further in, rather than out, and the pipe that the scrim was hanging on (which was only about five feet above the tree to begin with).  

I  immediately scrambled up the ladder for the tree, calling to Katie.  She didn't respond, which caused my heart to stop beating for just a second.  I got to the top of the tree and found a quietly sobbing Katie cradling her hand.  I asked her if she was hurt anywhere other than her hand and she shook her head no.  I asked her if she thought she could get down right then and she shook her head no again, so I told her to hold tight and I would get her an ace wrap and ice.  I climbed down the ladder as fast as I could and nearly slammed into my technical director.  I explained very briefly what had happened and asked him to talk to her while I grabbed an ice pack and ace wrap from my kit.  I did so and climbed up the ladder again and wrapped the ice pack onto her hand.

At that point, I finally felt safe enough (ie Katie was secure enough) explaining to my stage manager what had happened.  She was horrified, but also had to deal with the fly rail op.  After I finished explaining (I was still sitting in the tree next to Katie, making sure she was okay) the head of the design program showed up and demanded of me why was Katie still up in the tree.  I told him that she didn't feel safe climbing down and he demanded that she come down.  I looked at her and she nodded that she could, so I helped her climb down one handed and we got her seated in the dressing rooms.  We kept her hand wrapped, iced it off and on, and had her mother (who was a nurse) see look it over.  As it turned out, she had only sprained her hand, but it was incredibly scary.

After this whole ordeal the head of design talked to both me and the other asm (separately).  He told us that we should have been watching the fly rail op (despite the fact that I was on the other side of the stage and that the other asm had also been in the middle of a complicated scene change).  He said it was also Katie's fault for not crying out and I defended, saying that she had. He blamed her for being in the tree when she didn't need to be, which was bullshit, since she had done exactly what we asked of all the actors: be in positions one cue early.  The person he blamed least? The fly rail op.  And yes, stage managers are responsible for pretty much everything, but in this case we just weren't.  He told us that we hadn't handled the situation properly since we hadn't informed him immediately.  And I rarely rarely disagreed with a teacher to their face but told him in no uncertain terms that getting to Katie who was 17' in the air had been my first priority and I would not ever apologize for doing that, especially since I have significantly more first aid training that he does.  Surprisingly, he actually backed off and apologized to me.


I know I promised you two stories, but this post is already long enough, so I will post the second one separately.

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