Backstage at the Fringe
Ten minutes to show time, one of Michael Johnson’s cast came to him in a panic asking where a key prop was. Without it the show would be sunk. Fortunately, the young stage manager keeps detailed notes, and was able to locate the piece in time for curtains.
It’s that kind of troubleshooting that stage managers have to be ready for at any moment, and that’s a big part of what makes the job fun. “It’s dealing with the pressure and the ever-changing environment, it’s never the same from one show to the next. Things change all the time in our show and you have to deal with it as it happens,” says Johnson, who is managing the play Sonder in his Fringe debut.
Stage management is a very detail-oriented position that requires focus and good organizational skills, adds Jesse Lyn Anderson. Knowing lighting, sound and actor cues, and making sure cast and technicians are ready and rolling all falls on the stage manager.
But while good preparation goes a long way, an improv show like Truth or Dare?, which Anderson is managing, presents yet another challenge because it’s not scripted.
“You have to look for cues as the show is going… you’re always on your toes listening for what the performers are telling you,” she says, “They might say, okay we’re going to be in a French café so immediately I’m looking up French music, ready on the go button to hit play when the scene starts.”
“It’s exhilarating,” she enthuses.
Anderson, a graduate of the Rosebud School of The Arts, cut her teeth on with the Canadian Badlands Passion Play and with Stage West in Calgary, while Johnson comes out of the Red Deer College theatre and entertainment production program, and worked as an assistant manager on a production of Ten Lost Years.
Both are now getting their chance to step up as stage managers here at the Fringe. And from the way they talk about their roles, it’s clear they both love what they’re doing—even if they’re not front and centre on stage, basking in the accolades.
“You do it because you’re passionate about theatre in general, and the team spirit you get out of it,” says Johnson. “It’s about looking after other people… so the actors can get onstage and perform to their full potential.”
So, while they may be at their best when you don’t know they’re there, stage managers still deserve some credit.