Victoria Firth - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the second week of rehearsals for Happy Days, directed by Sarah Frankcom


Rehearsals are progressing and becoming more focussed on moving through the text. Sarah comments that as a general rule of thumb she gets twice as much done in week 2 as week 1, 3 times as much in week 3 and 4 times as much in week 4. This would account for the spaciousness and playfulness I observed last week.

In the rehearsal room ‘mock up’ structures, informed by the set, have now appeared and the actors are using these to get used to the physical confines they will experience in performance. At the end of the week we all go over to visit the workshop where the set is being built. It’s an inspiring opportunity to see the set part way through its build. For the actors it’s a chance to try out how they will physically fit into the spaces assigned to them and take that knowledge back into the rehearsal room. Some movements are tried out on the set to inform the build and some small adjustments are made to ensure the actions described in the text are feasible in/on what will be a giant structure.

With rehearsals getting up ahead of steam and more practicalities creeping in, I am interested to get a better grip on the world the rehearsal room lives within and in particular the different stage management roles and processes that support the production and the director.


The Stage Management team often start 3 days before a rehearsal to prepare. This may involve ’marking up’ the rehearsal space – laying tape on the floor to denote where the set and entrances and exits will be and assembling draft props used for initial rehearsals.

‘The Book’ is a master copy of the script which becomes a record of the production by the addition of notes made in rehearsal. Facing each page of script is another page on which any props used during that section of text are noted. Notes are also made of ‘blocking’ (any significant actions or movements made by the performers). Finally, as the production moves into tech week and beyond, notes are added to denote where any lighting or sound cues or special effects happen. Along with a video taken of a live performance of the piece, the book becomes part of the documentation and archiving of the finished production. Production meetings are essentially planning meetings for which all personnel relevant to that point in the production process gather.

Production meetings start way ahead of rehearsals and get more frequent as the production approaches. Initially they may be for just the Director, designer and producer or production manager, later the whole production team and creative team meet and, closer to opening, front of house and other venue staff may join.

... On Friday I am able to sit in on a production meeting. The production meeting is a working lunch while the actors are on their lunch break. It is informally chaired by the Company Manager. In turn lighting, sound, stage management and set/workshop, and wardrobe talk through where they are at in their process and share queries or issues with both the director and designer. The level of detail and accuracy is extraordinary e.g. there is a discussion about a newspaper used as a prop – what paper should it be, from what date, with what headline? The meeting both informs the process and is informed by it as decisions and discoveries made in rehearsal are communicated and what’s possible in the time and budget are identified.

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Disclaimer: this is based on snatched chats with people being very generous with their time and so this is my crib sheet rather than a perfect or exhaustive guide.

Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) The ASM manages and updates required paperwork during rehearsals and works on, or with, props and costume sourcing. In some theatres, props may all be done by the ASM, in others the ASM may focus on perishable purchases e.g. food and sundry items like paper products and smoking whilst other buyers / makers source larger props like furniture.

Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) The DSM deals with everything in rehearsals. They set up the room, take the rehearsal notes, track props and communicate needs to other departments like wardrobe. They are the keeper of the book. When the show goes into performance the DSM ‘calls’ the show i.e. indicates moments in the performance when technical cues should happen.

Stage Manager (SM) The Stage Manager oversees the process and in particular works closely with the Director on the call schedule. ‘Call’ here refers to the times actors and the creative team are asked to come into rehearsal. For actors, the call schedule indicates when they will be in the rehearsal room, when they may be working on lines or songs, when they may be in wardrobe fittings and so on. It’s like an appointment calendar and is a big logistical jigsaw. When the show goes into performance the SM and ASM work the show backstage i.e. scene changes, moving props from one exit to another, opening entrance doors, doing quick changes (fast costume changes) etc.

An aside - the convention of stage management coming on stage visible to the audience in ’blacks’ (black clothes) tends to be being substituted for one in which either the actors move items to transform a scene themselves or the stage management are costumed so when visible they are in keeping with the production.

Company Manager (CM) The Company Manager manages the team and deals with contracts and recruitment. This includes looking after any personal needs that may arise for artists or the wider team. When multiple companies are working at the same time or in the same building the CM works across all of them. They are ‘on call’ and the ‘go to’ person for company needs that can’t be solved elsewhere. They may also support specialist needs for a production such as the recruitment of community or children’s cast members. In production the CM runs the tech.

In unionised companies all 3 stage management roles - ASM, DSM and SM are recommended but this may not be the case for smaller shows or smaller companies. Sometimes roles will be amalgamated and there may be a Company Stage Manager (CSM) or Technical Stage Manager (TSM).

A final thought – Stage management involves a lot of initials but if, like me, you are a ’West Wing’ fan you might like to remember it as - the ASM is Donna, the DSM is Josh, the SM is Toby and the CM is Leo!

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Happy Days runs 25 May - 23 June 2018, Theatre

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