Recently, I was hired to call a dance show. Their normal stage manager wasn't available and they just needed someone to come in for one day of tech followed by one day of dress/performance. A quick little gig for good pay - similar to many of the corporate/festival gigs that pop up outside of the traditional theater scene. These are gigs I always try to say yes to. They are always a little weird and you don't know what to expect - but that's what I like about them. I'm often working with people who flat out don't know what a stage manager does, and so the presumption that they know what I need from them isn't there. This not only makes me very proactive at these gigs but also forces me to assess how my position relates to others.
Of course, no two gigs are the same, and each one comes with the fun task of figuring out how they function. If it's a reoccurring event I find and rely on anyone who has institutional knowledge. Asking what worked and what didn't work is a great conversation to have if possible.
I knew this gig would be particularly fun when I realized that the owner of the company was the same person who hired me and was acting as the production manager, event manager, and everything in between. I had an overall great time and below are some fun things I learned along the way -
Calling from the Deck.
I Surprise! I had never called from on deck before (not counting the times a proper backstage did not exist) so this was a great exercise in figuring out some of the major differences between booth calling and deck calling. On one hand, I appreciated being, literally, on the ground with the performers. It was great that I could check in with folks in person - but only if I had the time too. I could also know immediately when things were wrong, behind schedule, etc, because no one had to find someone else on com to talk to me. On the down side - seeing that I'm on com and calling a show is not enough of a cue to stop folks from trying to talk to me all the time. I had a ragtag team of volunteers/dancers who had been given responsibility to round up folks and be my liaisons backstage. They were invaluable, but also needed a lot of instruction on how to communicate with me and what sort of information I needed from them.
Being up in the booth can be lonely and make you feel a little disconnected from what's happening. So in that regard, calling from the deck was a fantastic experience. But it definitely was an adjustment. I found my sightlines were good (we're talking no -monitor situation here), the sound was LOUD (so good AND bad depending on the moment), and I could rest assured I always had folks on deck for the next piece. And it was fun to give the kids high fives after they exited their dance too.
Calling up the union...
Another crazy situation that happened was when, upon starting tech, we discovered that our board up couldn't, well, op. Previously, this company just requests, through the steward, 2 technicians for the show. One for sound and one for lights. IATSE provides 2 people and we go from there, assuming those technicians have the skills to meet what our production demands. This was unfortunately not the case as our light board operator had never worked with this particular board before and failed to program a single cue. It was unfortunate, and it's clear that expectations were not laid out in the call. After an hour of struggling we came to a dinner break and our steward made the right call and called up the union rep to get a replacement. Although it doesn't always happen this nicely, we had a new technician before the dinner break was done. He also struggled to program, as his experience was mostly with rock concerts and not dance theater, but eventually he got the hang of it. He also was not familiar with working with a stage manager who calls cues. This was a totally new experience for me - I assumed that if you're a board op of any kind you've worked with some type of stage or production manager who would be calling the show. But the event world is very very different from theater! Luckily, he was open and listened to me, but it was a process. At first, because he wasn't used to listening for my GO's, would just take cues himself and not tell anyone. This meant that at any time, I had no idea WHAT cue we were in and had to always ask. Eventually, he started listening to my GO's and even commented, "Oh wow it looks so much better when I take it off your cues!". I jokingly said "Yeah that's my job!". But in the end we had a successful tech and dress rehearsal, if not a bumpy one.