Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Prompt Book

Considering the title of my blog, it's probably about time I addressed what a prompt book is and of what it consists.

What is a prompt book?  A prompt book is a binder that contains every scrap of paperwork a stage manager ever generates.  Why is it called a prompt book?   It is called a prompt book because you will use it to prompt your actors when they are off book and calling for line.  Your prompt book will essentially contain everything you will ever need for the show.  I once had the experience of temporarily losing my prompt book the day of a show and it was genuinely the most terrifying experience of my life.

Prompt books are personal and each stage manager sets theirs up differently.  Below I provide a general guide to what should be in a prompt book.

Company Information: This section has every contact sheet that you generate, meaning one for your cast, one for your production team, and one for your technicians.  I generally also put my scene breakdown in this section (a scene breakdown is a piece of paper that documents every entrance and exit of every character).  The last piece of paperwork that I generally put in this section is an emergency contact sheet.

Calendars and Schedules: This is a fairly self-explanatory section but it should firstly contain your rehearsal calendar.  It should also contain any daily schedules, production calendars, conflict calendars, tech schedules, and tech call times.  My current prompt book consists of everyone of the above mentioned schedules.  That is frequently not that case for me.

Audition Forms: This section could contain your audition form, audition flyer, and any other forms that you create for auditions.  Every single solitary production I have been involved in professionally has not had me involved with auditions at all, so lately I haven't needed to put this section in my book.  I think I may be something of an anomaly however.

Production Meeting Minutes: This section contains every set of production meeting notes that you take.  Again, since I entered the professional world, I haven't taken the production meeting minutes.  They have either been taken by the production manager or production stage manager, which was interesting and unexpected for me.

Rehearsal Reports:  Rehearsals reports are sent out after every rehearsal and contain information about  notes that came up during rehearsals of which the designers should be aware. They are sent out to your asms, director(s), designers, and anyone else that your theatre considers necessary (frequently theatre staff members). One handy hint is in addition to attaching the rehearsal report to the email; you can copy the body of the rehearsal report into the actual email in hopes that people will actually read the report. This section should contain a printed copy of every rehearsal report you generate.  You are most likely the only one printing them out, so if someone wants to know what's in such-and-such report, then you have them at your fingertips easily.

Rehearsal reports are tricky beasts.  The stage managers at my college were getting lectured about proper etiquette and the best way to phrase notes and requests.  Ultimately, you're never going to make everyone happy.  I've been yelled at for being too polite and I've been yelled at for being too terse.  Each designer and director will have a personal preference and you're just not going to be able to change that.  I try to cater to my designer's desires as much as possible, but if I get two conflicting requests, I am going to go with the politer option that suits my needs more.

Somethings to keep in mind about notes: 1) Be as descriptive as possible.  Give the actor/character that the note affects (if any), page number (and/or song), and any possible details you know about the note. 2) Unless someone asks you not to be, try to phrase things politely and in a non-demanding (more requesting) manner.  3) Sometimes where notes go in two categories.  If this is the case, I have a tendency to put the note under general and include the designers/directors' names in the note.

One other warning.  There are some notes that you might not realize are actually notes.  The one that comes to mind immediately is if an actor is blocked to sit on the front of the stage, this is a lighting note.  Lighting designers light people at the level where their faces are, not where their knees would normally be.  They need to know before they do their focus about any strange blocking moves.

Performance Reports:  This section contains every performance report generated.  Performance reports are very similar to rehearsal reports and the stage manager should make one for each performance, including if you have two performances in a day.  Performance reports more often consist of notes for the designers like: "The tea cup from Act I Scene 2 lost it's hand, but we repaired it temporarily with super glue.  We will use epoxy overnight to make more permanent repairs."  When the show opens, it's the stage manager and crew's responsibility to maintain the props and other aspects of the show.  Thus, it's more likely to see a note about something being repaired than a note about something that the crew and stage manager need help managing.

Performance Forms:  This section of your prompt book should contain forms like a quick change list, props preset list, pre and post show checklists, actor timelines, sign in sheets for your actors, scene change lists, and any other paperwork that pertains to your individual show.

Costumes: This is one of the design sections.  Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the costume designer.  Some of it includes a costume plot and copies of the costume renderings.

Lighting: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the lighting designer.  Some of it can include an area plot, color key, instrument schedule, channel hookup sheet, lighting renderings, light plot, and light cue sheet.  Don't worry if this section is empty until you get closer tech.  This is fairly normal because lighting design (unlike set design) is a back loaded design.

Properties: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the properties master/designer.  Some of it may be generated by you.  Generally a props list (or a more detailed props plot), rehearsal props list, and sometimes a props tracking sheet (generated by you or your asm) are included in this section.  Lately I've had extremely props heavy shows so I've needed the detailed props tracking in order to be able to set up rehearsals correctly.

Scenic: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the scenic designer.  Some of it includes renderings, a ground plan, and elevations.  Later on, you should get a fly cues from the scenic designer.

Sound: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the sound designer.  Since sound is a different medium than the rest of the designs, I frequently buy CD sleeves to insert in this section.  I also include sound cue sheets.  CD sleeves are an excellent investment, especially when running dance calls via CD and not a live piano.

Blocking Script: The blocking of the entire production is recorded in this section.  It contains two parts: 1) the script and 2) the blocking.  Blocking will most likely need to be an entirely separate entry.

Calling Script: This is the section in which you record your all of your cues.  You use this section to call every performance.  See my post on how to call a show for more details:

General/Miscellaneous: This section is just what it sounds like, a general area for miscellaneous notes.  I put notes from rehearsals, line notes, and other notes in this section.  I also frequently include dramaturgy materials (because I haven't had any overly intense dramaturgy shows before, otherwise I would give it it's own section) in this section.

These sections can be expanded or reduced according to the needs of an individual production.  Occasionally I have had a hair and makeup section.  I have also seen stage managers with a separate section for line notes.  I've only had one, very simple show, have projections so I haven't yet needed a section for it, but I might in the future.

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