A Quiz for Stage Managers

by August Schulenburg

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Vase-smashing, underage drinking, backrubs…what’s an SM to do?

By Bathsheba Doran and Deb Styer
Playwright Bathsheba Doran (pictured left) wrote the following quiz for students at Adelphi University to help structure a discussion about life as a stage manager in the American theatre. Deb Styer, resident stage manager at Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago, responded to the quiz with answers and comments.

Below are Bathsheba’s questions – respond with your answers in the comments below, and then stay tuned for next Monday, when we post Deb’s answers!

1. You are stage-managing a show that requires a vase be smashed over an actor’s head in the second act. The producer of the show tells you that the budget will not allow for any extra breakaway vases to be purchased for rehearsals. The first one to be used will be on opening night. What do you do?

  1. Alert the play’s director, and tell him to discuss it with the producers.
  2. Tell the director and the actors. Explain that if they want to rehearse with a breakaway vase they will have to purchase one themselves.
  3. Explain the situation to the director and cast, and make sure that on the opening night they all get a good look at the breakaway vase and feel comfortable with it.
  4. Tell the producers that not using a breakaway vase for at least one rehearsal is in breach of Equity contract.
  5. Tell the producers that they are risking the safety of the actors and the audience, and that you will do everything within your power to organize a strike unless they provide at least one vase for rehearsal.

2. The producer of a show gives you tasks that are not your responsibility—picking up props, organizing arrangements for laundry and emptying the trash. What do you do?

  1. Tell the producer immediately that such tasks are not your responsibility. Refuse to do a single one.
  2. Suck it up. The theatre is clearly under-staffed, and it’s only an extra 10 minutes of your time. Best to make a good impression and maybe they’ll give you another job.
  3. Agree to do it, but call a production meeting to discuss how such tasks will be performed in future.
  4. Get your ASM to do anything that you don’t want to do.
  5. Call your agent. Get them to sort it out.

3. You are stage-managing a play that requires only three actors: Carmen, Michael and Greg. During the rehearsal process Carmen and Michael have started to sleep together. Both are married to other people. Greg sounds off to you about it, saying it’s affecting his rehearsal process and that the atmosphere between all of the actors is very tense. Neither you nor the director knew about Carmen and Michael, but you have noticed that rehearsals have not been going well. What do you do?

  1. Tell the director. You must. The director needs to know anything that pertains to the quality of the show, and if he knows what’s going on, he maybe able to get things back on track.
  2. Don’t tell the director. Gossip is a sin.
  3. Call the actors together. Tell them you know what’s been going on, and if they don’t step it up in rehearsal you’ll be forced to tell the director.
  4. Talk to either Carmen or Michael. Ask them to take the lead in rehearsal at keeping their private lives private.
  5. Ask Greg if he wants you to talk to the director.

4. The playwright is under great pressure from the director to make the ending of his play a little more upbeat. You like the ending the way it is, and think that the director is a jackass. By the end of the day, the playwright, who you like very much, is a nervous wreck. He asks your opinion about the ending. What do you do?

  1. Don’t commit to anything. Say that whichever way the playwright chooses to end his play will be the right choice.
  2. You say that under no circumstances should he change the ending if he doesn’t want to. It’s his legal right.
  3. Tell the playwright you love the original ending. The director doesn’t know what he is talking about.
  4. Tell the playwright how he might combine the director’s idea with his own, and come up with a compromise.
  5. Don’t get involved. Say you have to go fix some lights.

5. It’s the seventh rehearsal and for the second time an actor arrives 10 minutes late. She apologizes profusely. She overslept. She had been up late learning her lines. No one comments on it, but the atmosphere while waiting for her had been cross. What do you do?

  1. Tell the actress nicely after rehearsal that she needs to try and be on time.
  2. As soon as she sits down, remind the cast that they all need to arrive on time.
  3. Don’t say anything. It’s up to the director to mention it.
  4. Give the actress a serious talking-to after rehearsal. She needs to know that it’s not okay to show up late and waste everybody’s time.
  5. Don’t worry about it. Wait and see if she’s late a third time.

6. There is an actor in your play who is 19 years old. You’ve noticed him drinking alcohol out with the cast a few times. What do you do?

  1. Talk to him and tell him to stop.
  2. Call his mother.
  3. Nothing.
  4. Tell the cast that they are not allowed to give him alcohol.
  5. Explain to him all the differences between the beers.

7. During a notes session after a preview, an actor asks you to give him/her a backrub. What do you do?

  1. Give the actor a backrub if you’re attracted to him/her.
  2. Move away immediately. It would be crossing a boundary between actor and stage manager.
  3. Be angry with that actor. Who do they think you are?
  4. Pretend not to have heard. The actors should be concentrating on their notes.
  5. Explain to that actor that you’re tired, too, and you’ll only do it if they’ll give you one back.

Leave your answers in the comments field below, and then tune in next week when we post Deb Styer’s answers!

  • Dtzblys

    1) Breakaway vases or bottles do not mean that no one would get hirt. I have managed a production where a breakaway bottle still has a few edges and can give a nasty cut. I believe it is imperitive to instruct the actors how and where to hit another person with anything. That being the case, I also believe that safety is the major factor, no actor-no show, most of the times. If the prop person is capable and artistic enough, they can make a mold of the vase or bottle and create some very good breakaways with materials good enough to eat. If the producer won’t put up the money for a few items to make the show safe, then he must remember, he could be sued.

    2) We always seem to do things that aren’t our responsibilites. I think it depends on the type of theatre and production. If you’re doing a showcase production, try to get someone to do those things but most likely you will have to compromise and do some things that just aren’t your responsibility. If you like to fine props and have the time, then why not but, remember you can’t run them for the show. If your doing a National Tour then your in trouble and might not get to the first city.

    3) What a horrible situation these two have put on each other and the company. I would love to say, man up, woman up and keep all body parts covered and let’s move on do the work ahead of us. I think a straight approach to this situation is needed. It must be said to either him or her that this might be understandable but not acceptable behavior if it’s going to cause the work for any member to suffer and possibly get bad reviews and be out of a job. Indeed tell the director and also be as discreet. No one likes a gossip in a company. It creats fear and mistrust. This is a sit down over dinner with the two of them and the director and talk and it should be pointed out that either both or one of them may need to be removed from the production in order that “the show must go on.”

    4) I think you can tell the playwright that you like the original ending. But then move on to changing the light. It really will come down to the director, playwright and producer.

    5) Remind everyone to be on time. Alert folks that there is a section on the daily reports and performance reports regarding Lateness. If it happens a 3rd time, then go through the channels – alert everyone to this fact, producers, gm’s, etc. Take the actor aside, talk firm and find out the problem and see if there’s something we can do like make a wake up call. Remind them this will have reprecussion down the road and possibly not being hired again. However, I must say that I find that Artistic Directors and the like shy away from this problem with the excuse “well we’re only doing this show for 4 weeks.” Well it’s four weeks that makes the producer weak and when we try to either remove the actor from the company or write letters, we get in trouble and not the actor.

    6) Remind him or her, that they are still underaged for drinking. If they give you a hard time, tell the bartender to proof the kid and then call a cab. This is a legal issue and one that can come back and bite the theater. Next day talk to the person and keep an eye on them.

    7) Tell them, “Hello, it’s called a note session and I’m taking notes.” That’s all. Move on.

  • shimarella

    1a…seems like the most productive solution. I don’t know much about Equity & so far all work has been non-Equity although we pay pretty well.
    3a) The director and I are a team.
    4d)…since he asked. I suppose e) is the more politic answer. Ha!
    7d) although e) is pretty funny!

  • Daniel

    1. a & d
    2. b & d
    3. a
    4. b
    5. d
    6. d
    7. d

  • Michael

    1) If I can’t figure out how to make or get the propmaster to make however many break-away vases we need plus 3, maybe I’m not really a stage manager.
    2) I do what needs to be done.
    3) Greg needs to concentrate on his doing his job.
    4) Stay out of it, get playwright and director together and go work on something else.
    5) There are several of ways to do this: a) find out what the problem is, and offer options to correct it. b) In front of the entire cast, add up the time wasted per person multipled by the lateness factor, and c) remind her lateness is unacceptable and this is called “show BUSINESS.” Discuss it with director.
    6) Professioally, nothing. Privately, we have a serious talk.
    7) b.

  • kitsune

    1) C + I’ld search on google how to make it from sugar.
    2) A balance among b,c,d
    3)first e
    4)c but emphasizing is a subjective opinion, “I’m just a SM”
    5)c and next rehearsal give her a call early morning!

  • Misty

    1.) a
    2.) c
    3.) a
    4.) d
    5.) a
    6.) a
    7.) b

  • Lakyn

    1. b or d
    2. b
    3. d or c
    4. e
    5. a and e
    6. c or a
    7. b