This is a question I get from nearly every ASM that I work with.
I know a lot of Stage Managers that do perfectly fine without preparing a Page Breakdown, but once you’ve used one and found all the benefits, it’s something that you soon can’t live without.
So what is a Page Breakdown?
Page Breakdowns and Scene Breakdowns are similar documents (I usually prepare both) that provide a quick snapshot of which characters are on stage at any particular point in a script. During rehearsals, I look at the Scene Breakdown daily, and the Page Breakdown often. Let me show you an example:
What information can we learn from this?
In this example, you can see that Actor 1 has one page (p.47) to do a quick change from the character of Emilia into Bianca.
Page Breakdowns are always more useful in a situation where actors are playing multiple roles. It gives you a clear, early indication about how long they will have to change, and that information can be passed on to the costume makers to assist with built-in quick change features. It also forms a very good basis for a Quick Change Plot.
When scheduling, Page Breakdowns can give you an easy place to pick up rehearsals. Using the above example, if a director wants to spend an entire day rehearsing scene 4.1, you can easily see that there isn’t much point in calling Actors 1, 2 & 3 until a little later in the day. Actors sitting around with nothing to do ALWAYS make more work for a Stage Manager, so if you can call them a little later, you should.
Lets’s say on Tuesday, the director blocks Cassio to exit downstage prompt side on p.30. Then on Wednesday, she directs him to enter through the auditorium on p. 32. You can look back and see that he only has one page (or two-three minutes) to get there, which isn’t enough time. Sometimes you can pick that up during blocking without a Page Breakdown, but sometimes it can help to quickly look at it on a document like this.
I’ll often have a director ask, ‘if he goes off that way, how long until he re-enters?’ You can get that answer very quickly with a Page Breakdown.
So how does it differ from a Scene Breakdown?
Scene Breakdowns give you the option quickly refer to a scene number and who is in that scene. I usually distribute this to the actors and creatives while making sure it is pinned up on the noticeboard – everyone involved finds it useful.
Sometimes it can also be beneficial to include a column that gives a nickname to the scene, or the location. It then becomes a useful document to put up backstage in production week so everyone knows where we’re up to.
The letters after the scene numbers in the breakdown below can be referred to as ‘units’. For this production of Othello, the director preferred to have them described this way, but sometimes I’d separate those out into a separate column.
Are they necessary?
When ASMs ask me about Page Breakdowns, I think what they’re really asking is:
It seems like a lot of work. Is it really necessary?
While it may seem like a lot of work, there’s usually plenty of time in pre-production to complete. I often do it while I read the script for the first time as it’s an engaged way of reading.
On smaller shows (like a two-hander) it may not be as necessary if the actors are only playing one role, but you’ll find on productions with larger casts (theatre, opera, musicals etc) they become invaluable and save you a lot of time further down the road.
How do I start?
Well to make it easy, you can download a template here: Page Breakdown Template
Let us know how you use Page Breakdowns in the comments below.