How to tape a circle – Ruth’s Method

The taped out rehearsal room of “Tuck Everlasting” at Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute. Photo by Elynmarie Kazle

To tape a circle using this method, without string, chalk or plotting multiple points, you need two people, a roll of spike tape, and a metal tape measure (the almost square kind that locks and has a flat bottom, enabling it to stand up by itself.) The only two measurements you need are the coordinates of the center point of the circle, and the length of the circle’s radius.

Locate the center point of the circle and place a good size dot or an “X” on the floor. One person sits at the center of the circle holding the “zero” end of the tape measure on the center point. That person’s job is to hold it there, and allow the tape measure to pivot without kinking, bending, or moving the end off of the center point.

So, let’s say it’s a six foot diameter circle, with a three foot radius. The tape measure should be opened to just a few inches past three feet, and set flat on the floor. The “taper” kneels on the floor, puts down the end of the spike tape just under the tape measure, centered under the three foot mark and pulls out about another foot of spike tape. Then all the “taper” has to do is push the tape measure forward with a finger (or thumb) on the three foot mark and together the tape measure and pressure of the finger push the spike tape to the floor. Continue pushing the tape measure on top of the spike tape and extending the spike tape, always centered exactly under the three foot mark. If the person at the middle is allowing the tape measure to swivel with each push, yet keeping the zero end exactly on the center dot, and the “taper” keeps the spike tape aligned in the center of the three foot mark, you’ll have a perfect circle (and very sore knees) in no time at all. It takes some practice (and stamina) and smaller circles are somehow more difficult than larger ones, but I’ve used this technique for years with great success.

(Oh, the person in the center of the circle is also responsible for moral support, and must call out “What an amazing circle!” as often as they can!) This technique, is a one step process. And the circles look beautiful when you are finished!

Opera Stage Management 101 – Part Four: Timing the Score

Timings in Score

Timings

One advantage of stage managing an opera is that the timing of a show doesn’t tend to vary much once it’s set. When a show has dialogue, that’s where you’ll find more wildly varying run times for a scene or production. Spoken text could come out faster one day than another, and audience reaction time certainly can change a performance from afternoon to evening, whether it’s filled with laughter or a quiet audience. However, even in a musical, the songs rarely change their timing. Think about a tap number in 42nd Street. If the music was faster or slower on a given night (which does happen), either the dance steps couldn’t fit in and the dancers would be worn out if too fast, or the opposite, the longer notes would be even longer, and singers could run out of breath, and the dance would seem “sloggish.” Dialogue is not common in opera (though certainly present for some), so once the tempo of a given piece is set, it really won’t change too much from day to day. Also, there are some pretty standard tempi for some of the more-produced operas. Stage managers can use this to our advantage.

During prep, see if you can find out which recording your maestro/conductor prefers of your opera, assuming there is one. You’ll either get a definitive answer or “oh, I haven’t even listed to a recording for a long time” if it’s a standard opera. Also, if it’s a remount by a given director, you may have a chance to simply watch a past recording. If no one can lead you to a specific recording, see if anything is available on YouTube or CD. (If you’re less familiar with opera, see if you can phone-a-friend for recommendations.) I like YouTube, because I can also get a sense of the scale of a production at the same time, or which characters are singing what – of course knowing that my production may be vastly different.

For stage management, it’s standard to then take timings into your score. (If you haven’t read my blog post on preparing your score, do that first!) Thirty seconds apart is very common, though I prefer to start with fifteen seconds. The primary advantage to this is that if I miss one, it’s a lot easier to go back and catch what I missed! I will also record where I am in the given recording I am using, listing perhaps a track number from a CD, or a timing from a video – especially if they let the recording run during the orchestra tune or similar, prior to the actual start, or kept the same video going after intermission. You really want to record the timing from the top of each Act, rather than starting over for each song, but both are helpful. When we get to the first sing-through, I will make an attempt to re-time the songs, though this can be trickier if they stop and start. I am now a huge fan of colored erasable pens (as mentioned in a previous blog), and this is one more use for them.

This image shows several colors. I started with red for the timings, based off a recording of a previous mounting of the same production. Green shows the start timing of a recording from Minnesota of the same production, which we also referred to quite a bit. We then decided to add some cuts that weren’t present in the original, so the first red timing has “WAS” written with it (to find on the recording). The new timings have rectangles drawn around for “finality” for the rest of my team to copy. Blue was from when I timed a sing-through – a zero at the top of the song, and blue with parentheses to show where we hit 30 seconds during the sing-through.

Though not used a lot, sometimes I will take time during prep and make myself a document of how long each section of the opera takes. This can be used to know if you have time to run the number again before a break, for example, or even begin to have a rough idea of quick change needs. Eventually, the timings will be very important for the backstage running paperwork, especially the Who/What/Where and First Entrance Timings documents that are rather standard for opera. It will also be used for all those Places calls you’ll need to start planning. Taking the timings also gives you one more chance to familiarize yourself with reading the opera score before rehearsals. You may not have another real chance to time the show in one go other than the last night in the rehearsal room; as discussed previously, opera is often rehearsed very piecemeal with a single room run prior to tech.

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager who works in a wide variety of genres. As of this writing, she is spending her second summer in Evansville, Indiana, as New Harmony Theatre’s Production Stage Manager.

6 Reasons Stage Managers Don’t Get A Tony Award

The 2017-18 Broadway season is officially in the rearview mirror and culminated in the Tony Awards a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve been reflecting on the season and about stage managers.  Because stage management is what I think about. And I wondered why there isn’t a Tony Award for the stage manager?

Our industry honors so many in our industry, but on its special nationally televised night. There is no stage management acknowledgement. In fact, there is no annual stage management award at any of the big ceremonies: Drama Desks, Obies, Outer Circle Critics, Lortels, etc…

It would be great to be recognized, of course; but we stage managers don’t make the cut. Why? Here are my six reasons why stage managers don’t get awards

#1. Awards focus on what you see onstage: the fine work of the actors, directors, choreographers and designers. What you don’t see from the audience is the contribution of the managers making it all happen.   Our “art” is bringing all the creative bits and pieces together and coordinating all the logistics for a show to run smoothly, seamlessly and frankly, as if we were doing nothing at all.  When we are doing a great job, the audience shouldn’t know we even exist, aside from the preshow announcement. So, if you can’t see it, how can you judge it?

#2. You may not notice good stage management from the FOH, but you can see bad stage management. Lighting cues not in line with the music, or lights coming up before a transition is complete? Or worse, crashing scenery! All that could be the stage manager making errors. Are the understudies not prepared, is the show expanding, extra bits creeping in and the show is not as tight or clean as opening night? The stage manager may not be maintaining the show well. And if the SM has to announce a hold during the show and literally keep the audience in the dark? That’s when the audience is keenly aware of the stage manager. Now it may not be the stage managers fault, but they are the voice of the stop and the person associated with the incident. So, if the audience is only aware of us when there is a problem, we have a problem, right?

#3. Stage management is ephemeral, it is what happens between people in time and space. You can’t show great listening skills, persuasiveness, gentle confidence building, simple kindness and all the other leadership skills that great stage managers use to communicate, coordinate and keep a show running well. Award shows have a tough enough time trying to figure out a good way to showcase plays and playwrighting, how would you show leadership, compassion, scheduling, etc… You can’t take a picture or video of great stage management to showcase it. Maybe you can show off your production book, but no matter how great looking your paperwork is, that alone is not going to convince someone to give you an award.

#4. Only stage managers really understand stage managers. Unless you have stage managed before, you really don’t understand what it is we do and/or how we do it. Not that you can’t appreciate your stage manager, but there is a difference. It’s similar to the difference between sympathy and empathy. You can give me your sympathy, but unless you’ve been in exactly my situation, you can’t empathize. We stage managers go through a unique crucible from pre-production, rehearsals, tech and the run. We deal with everyone else’s concerns, it’s never about us or our needs, always about taking care of the rest of the company. We sacrifice breaks, lunches, sleep and more; but we do it because we love it. This is not a complaint, but rather an acknowledgement that unless you’ve done it, can can’t really understand. And if you don’t understand what I do, how can you give me an award for it?

#5. A few years ago, the Sound Design Tony Award was taken away, leaving many in the industry confused, sad and even angry. Well, the Sound Tony is back thankfully, but it highlights how misunderstood the contribution of this design element is. On the Tony broadcast, all the design awards are given out during commercial breaks, so unless you are in the live audience you don’t get to see those awards handed out. Watching from home, you just get the one sentence of their acceptance speech that is telecast. I bring this up because if the design elements are not understood or acknowledged in the same fashion as the other awards, I can’t imagine how a stage manager award would stack up.

#6. A good friend of mine recently described herself as, “A King maker, not a King.” I thought this was quite appropriate for us stage managers.  We work tirelessly, so that others can reap the glory. That is who we are and what we do. It would be great to be recognized, but we are not interested in that and as a profession, don’t really advocate for it.  You may be aware (hopefully you are) that Actors Equity is advocating for a new Tony Award for best ensemble and best chorus to acknowledge the important contribution they make and I fully support that effort. However, there is no advocacy for a stage manager award. Why would a King maker ever tell the king to give them a crown? Even this article isn’t about why we should get awards, it’s about understanding why we don’t.

With all that said, there is a bit of an exception here. the Stage Managers’ Association created the Del Hughes Award many years ago to honor lifetime achievement in the art of stage management in any part of our industry.  The winners are a long list of some of the best stage managers ever. You can read more about it here: https://www.stagemanagers.org/del-hughes-award/

This is one place where stage managers get a chance to honor other stage managers at an annual award ceremony in midtown Manhattan. It’s from and by the people who are their colleagues and can see, understand and comprehend their work. This award is for lifetime achievement though, so you really have to have a great career to win, no one hit wonders in this elite club! You can’t be a Marissa Winokur or Sutton Foster and win this one in your 20’s!

In summary, there are many reasons I don’t think you’ll see a stage manager Tony Award, but that’s okay. In part because we know that we are the glue, not the glitter, but also because the nature of our job is extremely hard to judge.

Thankfully, the Del Hughes Award exists as a way where we can honor stage managers for their body of work and contribution to our profession. And the Tony committee occasionally gives an Honor for a stage manager (for example, Peter Lawrence in 2014) which is awesome.  But for now, we stage managers will continue on doing the great work we do, awards or no awards, because we love what we do and know what an important job stage management is.