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If you’ve ever wondered what goes on ‘backstage’ during a performance, rather than just what may appear from the seat in the auditorium, or how sets are built and put together, or how some of the stage effects are achieved, then this may be of interest to you.
Phil Gleave (Stage Director) runs the department.
The Stage Manager takes over after the dress rehearsal and is in charge during the show performances on stage.
There are two major functions performed by stage crew, namely the build of the set and then any set changes or manoeuvring required during the run of the show (this latter is most common during musicals and panto). If you have an interest in this aspect of the theatre you will be extremely welcome, especially if you are that rare animal that combines brain and brawn!
Please contact either Phil Gleave at the theatre or e-mail email@example.com
Assistant Stage Managers (universally known as ASMs)
These are the people who feed the props to the actors and are sometimes seen skulking about in the murkiness between scenes preparing the stage for the next scene (where there is no major set change). The other traditional ASM role is prompting (which now seems to be referred to as ‘continuity’). ASM’s are involved throughout the rehearsal period and performance run whereas stage crew are involved during the actual building of the set and sometimes during the run of the show. Again, if you are interested in helping out as an ASM you will be warmly welcomed.
About Stage Management and the ASMs
The following information about the Sound Department is taken from the ‘Garrick Theatre Handbook‘.
Under the leadership of the stage director, the main stage is the focus of the theatre where the magic occurs; however, during set construction it can resemble a building site! The stage area is defined as everything behind the large stage curtains (the house tabs) and the stage director’s responsibility includes the areas behind the stage (backstage) which is where the dressing rooms are, of which we have three. The Lauriston studio is often used as a dressing room, when the production involves a large cast or when the theatre is hired out to visiting companies or dancing schools.
The stage area includes the stage and wings (scene dock/ stage right and prop dock/stage left, left/right while facing the audience), also the working space up above – the flying bridge and the lighting grid and access to these areas is via ladders from the stage floor. However, due to their nature, these parts are not free access areas!
Garrick sets are constructed using flats (wooden frames covered in canvas) and painted by the workshop staff who are employees. The sets are then erected, on the stage, by a team of volunteers at the start of the week prior to the actual production. If you wish to help with the set building you will be more than welcome – many hands make light work – please contact the stage director for details.
It should always be remembered that the stage can be a dangerous place especially during a set build. There may be hazards of which you are not aware – particularly those overhead and as such if you are not certain, please check it is safe to go onto the stage before you do so. Safety shoes should be worn by all those involved in set building, if you find that you enjoy the builds the theatre will provide you with safety shoes if you don’t have any of your own. Gloves are also available to protect hands from sharp edges/wood splinters etc. Sometimes during set construction the stage area is a hard hat area and signage will be posted on each access door if this is the case
Many set builds will include the need to work at height and this is covered by some quite stringent regulations. Height is defined as any place where a fall could cause injury – so something as simple as standing on a chair could be classed as working at height!
We have a number of means to make working at height safer – these include a mobile platform (the Genie) or substantial ladders with a broad base to give greater stability (Zargees). Both of these require some training in their correct use, so if you haven’t used them before ? then please ask. If you are uncertain about working at height, you don’t have to do it when asked, but if you do agree, you must make sure you use the right equipment to get up to it!! Ladders are an acceptable means of working at height, but you should always ensure when you are climbing the ladder that you have at least three points of contact with the ladder (your two feet and at least one hand!!).
It is worth mentioning that the majority of tasks involved in the build have been done many time before and so efficient and safe techniques have been developed and will be demonstrated (training) to you before you take the plunge.
Most set building involves manual handling in some way. This is one of the easiest way people can be injured if they don’t do it properly.
Manual handling is any transporting or supporting of a load by one or more persons, and includes pushing / pulling, lifting and putting down or moving. The obvious aim should be to minimise any injury when moving or lifting heavy objects. The definition of a heavy object varies from person to person, and it is difficult to set a weight limit. As a general guide if something looks heavy then you should consider how best to move it before you actually try!!
You must have a suitable numbers of persons to left heavy items. All those involved in the lift should be of a similar height and build. Someone must be in charge of the move and check in advance the route is clear. If a long distance is to be covered then you need to identify a suitable place to rest prior to the move commencing. Also, consider the use of a suitable trolley; hoists or break down the load into smaller units etc.
If you are involved in a lift, be aware of and adopt the correct lifting technique. As with working at height we have developed safe ways of handling heavy objects.
Some set designs require a variety of levels on the set and for this we always try and use purpose built Steel Deck sections. We have set procedures in place for the correct erection of steel deck platforms. Again ? there will always be someone experienced in such structures there when such work is being done.
For all work on the stage – there will always be someone experienced in set building available, so if you are in any doubt ? ASK!!
We always try to give actors time to familiarise themselves with the scenery before any rehearsal takes place as there may be many hazards that they are unfamiliar with.
The props department at the Garrick contains a phenomenal number of everyday items that set designers and directors use for productions. The volunteers who run the props department are masters at utilising every possible space they can find to store a myriad of styles of furniture and everything from pictures and statues to crockery and glasses, all of which help to make the production. If we don’t have the actual item required in our extensive stock then we can hire from one of a number of specialist firms or even TV studios ? but it can be costly so we don’t hire in unless we absolutely have to!
During a Garrick production, the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) is responsible for arranging with the props department to have the props required available and in the right place at the right time. Some productions have a number of ASM’s ? it depends on the complexity. Many of the props we have would be difficult to replace, so during rehearsals, similar items are used so that the actors have an opportunity to practice their performances with props, without the risk of damaging the item required when the play is on stage. Directors who require a prop that is not a run of the mill item, should give the props department as much notice as possible so as not to be disappointed. If you need a prop for a play, you should liaise with the ASM appointed for your play in plenty of time to ensure the correct item can be sourced and made available to you. However, although the ASM will usually make sure the prop is set before the performance; it is the actors own responsibility to check that it is correct.
During the week before the play is performed, a technical rehearsal is held without the cast members so that the ASM’s (along with others involved in the production) can rehearse their role. This usually takes place on the Thursday evening before the week of performances. In the event that you are asked to be an ASM for a Garrick production, the head of the props department will supply you with some written procedures to help you to ensure all runs smoothly from the start of rehearsals through to the last night.
View or download the handbook
For more information, please visit our Theatre Handbook page.