Glossary 

A glossary of theatre terms used in articles on Prompt-side. All definitions are commonly used in Australia except where otherwise indicated. This list will be added to regularly. Please comment below if you want to add something.

Apron (n) – The area downstage of the proscenium arch.

Auditorium (n) – Where the audience sits. Also referred to as ‘the house’.

Bar (n)– A long piece of steel (preferably cylindrical – but sometimes not!) to hang things on.

Boom (n)– An upright, or vertical, bar usually for lighting but sometimes to support scenery.

Borders (n)  – Rectangular pieces of black cloth (usually velvet or wool) that create a ‘border’ across the top of the stage picture. They are there to mask the other items in the grid.

Braille (v) – To tie a bar to another bar or to the fly floor to get it in exactly the right position.

Bump in (n) – The period of time when everything moves into the theatre.

Bump in (v) – To move everything into the theatre.

Centre stage (n) – The middle of the stage when looking from the auditorium.

Cradle (n) – Holds the weights for the flying system

Cyclorama (or cyc) (n) – a large screen (usually white) that is used to put coloured lights on to change its colour. Sometimes this is built-in, sometimes it is curved and sometimes it is hanging on a fly line. Most theatres will ‘grid the cyc’ so that it stays hanging and doesn’t get creases or dirty while not used on a show.

Deads (n) – The point at which the fly line has to stop to be at a certain point. Often marked with coloured tape on a hemp system.

Downstage (n) – The area closest to the auditorium. This term comes from when stages were usually raked. To go ‘down the rake’ was to go towards the audience.

Downstage (v) – To go towards the auditorium.

Drift (adj) – The distance between the bar at its highest point and its lowest point.

Fly floor (n) – The place where the fly lines are operated, usually higher than stage level. It can either be on prompt-side or opposite-prompt.

Fly (v) – To move a line in or out.

Fly line (n) – The line of a bar that can fly in and out.

Front of House (n) – The area that the public sees. This includes the foyer, toilets, bar and auditorium.

Grid (n)  – A steel ‘grid’ or series of channels that can be used to rig onto. They vary depending on whether you are in a proscenium arch theatre, or in a studio type setting.

Grid (v) – To fly something out so high that it can’t be seen by the audience.

In (adj)– Towards the ground, or down.

Legs (n) – Long black cloths (usually velvet or wool) that hang down the sides of stage. They are there to mask the wings.

Mask (v) – To hide something.

Masking (n) – Cloths used to hide something.

On (adj) – Towards centre stage.

Out (adj) – Away from the ground, or up.

Prompt side (n)  – Also known as ‘stage left’. The left hand side of the stage when standing on the stage facing the auditorium. This is usually where the calling Stage Manager is located. When the Stage Manager needs to be located on the other side(or stage right) because of tight wing space or the set, that side becomes ‘Bastard Prompt’. 

Rake (n) – A sloped stage or auditorium.

Raked (a)  – To be sloped.

Vomitory (n) – An entrance through the auditorium, usually under the seating. Also shortened to the ‘vom’.

Wings (n) – The area hidden from the audience on each side of stage.

 

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#MeToo

In addition to personal experience, I have witnessed sexual harassment happen at work, in the streets, on public transport and many more places. I’ve seen it happen to straight women and people from the LGBTQI community. I’ve also seen people’s careers decided on their willingness to go along with it.

Until now I have never felt brave enough to speak up, especially about what I’ve witnessed in the theatre industry, because I know that it can have dire consequences for people’s lives and careers. These are difficult conversations to have, but we’ll have to have them if anything is going to change.

Many young ASMs (myself included) have experienced actors who have joked to them something along the lines of, ‘I’d be able to prepare for my scene better if you took all your clothes off’. Even with the joking tone, it is too much.

I’ve once had an internationally famous singer tell me that all the women on side of stage needed to come onstage and dance naked in the rain. I’ve been told by my superior that my career could be boosted by going on a date with him. I’ve seen highly unqualified people given highly qualified technical work because of their not-so-secret relationship with the person hiring them. All of these scenarios are not okay. We joke and gossip about it, but what can we really do to stop it?

Many times I have felt too uncomfortable to come forward as the person at fault has more power than me. In an industry that relies on reputation as a way of getting the next gig, how can you tarnish your reputation by being a whistleblower? Every time I chose silence as a method of career self-preservation. I wasn’t willing to risk my livelihood over it. And, in a way, to risk my career over it felt like giving in to it.

The power in these relationships is the main element that is difficult to extract. If someone has your career in your hand, speaking up is near-impossible, as you have no power and they have it all.

In the past I’ve always dealt with these situations by laughing it off, making a joke, or standing up for myself and walking away. But maybe that isn’t enough.

How can we support people to speak out when they are so vulnerable? Or even better, how can we prevent it from happening to them in the first place?

Stage Management Resources

There are a lot of Stage Management books out there to teach us about our craft, but sometimes it is hard to find the best ones. I haven’t read every one of them (obviously), but of those I have read, I have some favourites.

Here is my list of top 5 Theatre and Stage Management books:

This book has been essential throughout my career. I was introduced to it by a teacher and her copy was so worn, I could tell I needed to get a copy; I am forever grateful for being introduced to it. It is full of diagrams and technical names for everything we use in the theatre from stage layouts to fixings, lashing flats to types of drapes. Nothing is really left out.

(Note: UK terminology is used, which doesn’t apply everywhere. Keep your eye out for some ‘dad-jokes’ in there too.)

An oldie but a goodie. This is a very good entry level book for Stage Management. If you have some experience in Stage Management, this will be too basic for you but if you are someone who is just starting out it gives a very accessible introduction into how to do general stage management tasks. Excellent for high-school drama departments to keep on the shelf.

This book is full of very useful information for anyone practicing stage management, either professional, student or amateur. Again very UK oriented, but can apply anywhere. It has a lot of practical information too as it includes useful templates and checklists.

From a US perspective this book has more modern references than the others. There is sometimes a resistance amongst some people to move with the times, but times change and I believe that Stage Management should evolve too. It is used as a text book in some training organisations and is evident that it is written from people with a lot of experience.

This one is a bit of an odd inclusion, but Stage Managers often feel like they are managing chaos. If you want to get an insight into what Stage Managers sometimes have to deal with, this is the book for you. I’ve had to deal with a number of similar occurrences, but never all on the one production! It’s a fun look at what wrangling creativity can look like.

 

I’d love to hear of some of your favourite Stage Management books. Leave a comment below with any reading suggestions.

Prompting – Once, loud and enough

Anyone who has sat in a rehearsal room understands that there is a fine art to prompting. The best advice I ever had was from a teacher, Australian theatre legend Terence Clarke.

 ‘Once, loud and enough’

This is what he would say to Stage Management students struggling with prompting.
That advice has stuck with me over the last 17 years, and I hear his voice saying it inside my head whenever I prompt.

What is prompting?

Essentially it is giving someone a line when it has been forgotten or the wrong line has been said. Usually prompting is required in rehearsals when actors are still learning lines, however on some occasions I have needed to prompt during performances.

Why do we prompt?

When a scene is flowing, lines are easily forgotten. There’s a lot going on for actors to think about in rehearsals and a forgotten line can break the momentum of the scene. A quick prompt allows the scene to continue without losing the flow and without the actor dropping character.

Who prompts?

This depends on the composition of your Stage Management team. Teams vary in different organisations but prompting should be the responsibility of only one person (usually the SM or the DSM). The prompter should always sit in the same chair so the actors know where their line will becoming from. One of my pet-peeves is when unschooled assistant directors try to prompt over the top of me. I am sure to talk to them immediately about the reasons it doesn’t work.

In a large opera, there is a prompter (who is a member of the music staff) who prompts the spoken and sung parts, and in a musical, sometimes the conductor or other music staff will take over some of the prompting.

When do we prompt?

Most seasoned actors know how to ask for a line. They will call out ‘line’, or ‘yes’, or sometimes they will look at you. In the case where they look at you, you need to not have your eyes glued to the script so you can notice when it happens. Some actors have other methods. I once witnessed a director chastising a cast member for clicking his fingers at me (although I didn’t mind).

Sometimes an actor will dry and just pause. In this case you need to be able to read what is going on. Sometimes they genuinely need a line, and you can give it, but take care not to prompt unnecessarily. There have been times when I’ve prompted in a pause and the actor has replied ‘it was intentional!’ Fair enough. It’s sometimes tricky to judge but it’s not the end of the world, just let the scene carry on.

In a performance, I generally don’t prompt unless an actor specifically asks for it. With the adrenaline that comes with an audience, most actors will find a way out of it, sometimes with the help of the other actors in the scene. I have mostly prompted during performances when an actor has lost their train of thought in a Shakespearean soliloquy.

How do we prompt?

As I said earlier, Terence Clarke’s rule of three ‘once, loud and enough’ is the key.

Once

Say the line once. If you have to say it again, the actor can start to feel exasperated. And the director.

Loud

The actor needs to be able to hear it, otherwise you will have to say it twice, which breaks the first rule. Being timid can mean that the scene comes to a grinding halt. Sometimes in a scene with a lot of tension or a loud sound track you may need to almost shout. Paying attention during the actor’s voice sessions can give you some good tips on voice projection.

Also, there are many actors with hearing impairments. Being loud is very important in these cases. People with hearing impairments find it particularly difficult to distinguish your voice over any underscore that may be playing so ensure you can get your voice over whatever is coming from live instruments or the PA.

Enough

This is the toughest one to master, but it is the difference between good prompting and poor prompting. An actor often doesn’t need the entire line. Usually they only need a key word, or the first few words. Knowing exactly how much they need to jog their memory allows the scene to continue more smoothly.

For example in Hamlet, the actor might not need the entire line ‘He would drown the stage with tears/ And cleave the general ear with horrid speech.’

Instead, enough might be ‘He would drown…’

The actor would usually be able to pick it up from there. However, if you were to say ‘He would’, it might not be enough to trigger the memory, and then again you would need to break the first rule and say it twice. The key word here is ‘drown’; it is an image that the actor is likely to be using in their mind and it is a word that is not used in the rest of the soliloquy.

Some more prompting tips

Stay focussed – have everything you need nearby, because that one moment when you need to lean over to reach your eraser is the moment you’ll be asked for a line. Some Stage Managers use their finger or a ruler to keep track of where they are in the script.

Learn the pauses – if you need to, mark them in your script so you don’t find yourself prompting and ruining those juicy pauses.

Keep your eyes up – often you’ll be notating blocking as well as prompting, so keeping your eyes up is needed anyway, but during a run, it is equally important. You often need eye contact with an actor to know if they really need a prompt.

Stay on the script in the theatre – once you leave the rehearsal room, it is equally important to stay following the script. As the technical elements and spacing are being sorted out, some well known lines may momentarily be lost. You need to be ready to prompt lines you have never needed to prompt before.

It can happen anytime – I’ve seen reliable actors dry in a soliloquy four weeks into the season. It can happen at any moment to anyone. Let them have a chance to find their way out of it, but be prepared to prompt if they ask.

Relax – prompting doesn’t need to be stressful. Just calmly stay on top of it. I’ve seen people tense up as they overthink it and worry they’ll get it wrong. If you get it wrong, it’s rehearsals and everyone makes mistakes in rehearsals. Just because you’re a Stage Manager with a perfectionist streak (most of us are), doesn’t make you a failure for making a mistake.

Finally a cautionary theatre tale

In my very early career, Stage Managing a co-operative theatre project, the script had a section that was repeated a couple of times within the play. One evening performance after a matinee (two show days are prime targets for forgetfulness), the actors skipped nearly seventy pages of script when they accidentally went from one of the repeated sections to a different one. They couldn’t find a way back, and I was inexperienced and was scared of prompting over the top of them to get them back on track.

That night the show was 20 minutes shorter than usual and the paying audience would have not understood the narrative at all. Looking back, I should have prompted or called a stop show to sort it out. In a commercial company, a producer would not have stood for such a mistake and the Stage Manager would have to explain why they did nothing about it.

The take away – don’t be shy or timid. Get out there and prompt with confidence; once, loudly and enough.

The Sistine Chapel of Stage Management

I had a designer ask me once, ‘What is your Sistine Chapel?’ We had been talking about some of the shows we worked on, and why they were special to us, and he wanted to find out which show for me had been my pièce de résistance. I had never thought about it before, and it got me thinking. Some shows are just so special that whenever you think about them, you start to glow. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of these, but what is it about them that makes them hold a piece of your heart?

For a long time I’ve been trying to work it out, and for me, I think it comes down to these key ingredients:

Quality
Some of the hardest shows I have worked on have been the most magical because they have something important to say. They have taken every ounce of my (and everyone else’s) energy, but they are meaningful pieces of work that touch audience’s hearts. Often they are the premiere of a new script and there are a multitude of problems that need to be solved along the way, but they bring you together to create something exciting. They are the kind of show that people ring you about three weeks later saying ‘I can’t stop thinking about that play’. When the Rain Stops Falling was one of these for me. An intensely beautiful script, transcendent music, detailed direction, and an evocative set supported the powerful and profound performances by the cast. From the start we knew that there was something special in this brand new work, and being a part of it was like having a constant tingle in your fingertips. For me this is the biggest contributing factor to a Sistine Chapel show; knowing that you are involved in creating a work that makes people think or feel something new is one of the main reasons I love theatre.

Good people
Sometimes a group of people come together and they just click. It can be a company of two or a company of 20, or even a smaller group within a bigger cast and crew. Most people in theatre know that feeling when a show company becomes your family.  As with all families, there are confrontations and differences, however sometimes the most diverse groups are the most cohesive. But when you have a group of people who can manage those differences in a way that brings them closer together, it can feel incredible. They know you better than anyone else, and they understand when you want to chat and when you need time alone. They know how to make you laugh, they know your deepest fears. The ultimate is when you have a group like that on tour. You really feel like a travelling circus family. It’s difficult to describe, but it is a very deep connection that I’ve not found elsewhere.

There is, however, a shadow side to having such a tight-knit theatre family. When closing night arrives, saying goodbye can be tough. Over the years it has become easier, but there is a period of mourning afterwards. After spending every day with the same people, who feel like a part of you, all of a sudden you’re not seeing them every day. Everyone returns to their home cities and your theatre family disappears from your life. For some it can bring a real period of sadness and melancholy and learning to deal with this is important. I’ve found keeping in contact with people over the coming days with just a text message, or a funny email can help slow down the abrupt break in contact.

A busy show
The 39 Steps was so busy, but it was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever called from prompt corner. It is by no means a thought-provoking, meaningful production, but it is a fun romp that is even more fun backstage. It was an endless series of major scene changes with only a small crew. One in particular was so difficult that the crew only just managed to set the scenery and props before I needed to call out the cloth each night. At one point during early dress rehearsals, I looked into the upstage wing and found that the entire crew was standing doubled over, puffing and laughing. It was the first time they had made the scene change in time, and it gave us an enormous sense of achievement. The adrenaline ride that the show took us on each night was addictive, and I looked forward to going in to call it each night.

On the flip side, when cast and crew get bored, it can put a dampener on everything. You can tell people aren’t happy – they start mucking up, and then there’s discipline required from Stage Management. There are ways to prevent it though. Five years ago I worked on a production of Entertaining Mr Sloane, where the entire crew had no cue for over an hour. By the end of the first week everyone was getting very bored, and started using the time to rate the nightly performances (bad idea – see A Beginner’s Guide to Cans Etiquette). So we decided to do something together to pass the time. We decided to knit. Those who didn’t know how to knit learned, and those who did know helped the others. Knitting was good because we could still pay attention to the show and it was easy to put down if something went wrong. It seems like a silly thing now, but that ended up being a great season in the end, and it’s all because we found our way through what was, from a backstage perspective, a very quiet show.

So, how to choose my Sistine Chapel? I don’t know if I can. Each show means something different to me. One show is where I made some of my most lasting friendships, one show is where I laughed the most, one show is the one that took hold of my heart and still hasn’t let go, one show had me addicted to the adrenaline, one show when I was 38 weeks pregnant with my first child, one show when I was 38 weeks pregnant with my second child, one show where we danced the hokey-pokey every night at the beginner’s call, one show where we toured for so long I forgot which venue we were in, one show where it was just four of us and we drank two fingers of top-shelf whiskey after every show in the dressing room talking about the world.

So my Sistine Chapel is not just one production. Instead, it is the accumulation of memories, intangible moments and feelings; layers of brushstrokes that together form the complete work.