Wednesday, August 22, 2012


The stage is set: it's hours until curtain, and I've just finished making sure the props are in place to create the setting for the first scene, a classroom.  It's my fourth time doing this show; it's one of my favorites, though I don't think I've ever managed to give the same performance twice--each time I tweak my emphasis and my blocking, I add pauses to underscore poignant moments that I hadn't recognized in the previous show and I change my dynamics to try and interpret lines differently, trying to find the delivery that works best.  Sometimes I even try different accents!  Usually, I don't keep the accent for very long.

I'm not the star of the show.

I'm just the stage manager.

But, I'm the first one on stage and I have the first lines of the production--all of this to set the stage for the wonderful ensemble cast, where each character is as important as the next.

Sometimes it's a cast of 18, sometimes 28.  Sometimes it's a living room-style comedy with a tight-knit but quirky family.  Sometimes, it's a bustling marketplace scene, with singing vendors, dancing street urchins, stone-faced constables, and always a group waiting for the first train out of the town (which has started to feel a bit too small with all of its singing vendors, dancing street urchins and stone-faced constables).

The catch is, they don't realize they are the stars of the show.  The actors and actresses show up, thinking that they or their parents have paid for tickets and that they will sit back and watch, and maybe it wasn't even their idea to go to the stupid show and now they're stuck.  Little do they know that they'll be handed scripts and told to perform, to be the show they thought they were destined to watch.  The script doesn't even have words, just a summary of how each scene should end, approximately--the details and the characterization?  All up to the cast.

I make sure the actors have the props they need.  I make the scene changes happen.  I occasionally help actors think of what to say or do next when they get stuck.  Sometimes, I am deus ex machina, but honestly, that gets boring if its overdone and what character development can happen then, anyway?

I hand out stage notes and I coach on delivery and remind the cast to please avoid having their backs to the audience.  I drop into scenes from time to time; sometimes, I am basil exposition, sometimes comic relief, sometimes the stern judge for the dramatic courtroom scene.  However, I prefer to help from the wings as the cast makes the show their own.

There are moments of mirth and laughter, moments of frustration and rage, moments of human grief and sorrow and moments of joy that are beyond description.  When the actors and actresses take their bow at the end, they close the show as very different people than the unsuspecting audience who came in so much earlier.  I cannot claim credit--that goes to the director who knew each actor, each actress, before the show started, knew their lines, knew their thoughts, knew the plot long before the performance even started.  Heck, I didn't know any of that stuff!  So when the curtain closes on each new performance, I stand grateful and admiring of my faithful cast who impressed me so much and my director who makes the show and each outstanding performance possible.

As I make one final adjustment and push a desk closer to stage right, it occurs to me that I have the best job on earth.

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