What’s the point of a Page Breakdown?

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:

Stage Management Page Breakdown

Page 2 of a Page Breakdown for a production of Othello

What information can we learn from this?

Quick changes

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.

Scheduling

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.

Travel times

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.

Stage Management Scene Breakdown

Scene Breakdown of the same section of the Othello production

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.

CallQ – Stage Management Training Software

Calling a busy show can be difficult. Learning to call can be even tougher.
Your brain needs to be doing a number of things simultaneously; listening to what’s happening on stage, watching the stage or monitor, listening to your operators and reading the prompt book. This doesn’t even include being interrupted side-stage by an actor who has lost their handkerchief.

Recently, I took over 1984 mid-tour, a technically tough show. I spent weeks at home practicing the call and cue lights. I made myself a paper cue light panel and sat with the archival and prompt book calling the cues. Sure, it worked, but what if you could learn the show, or learn how to call, using software that is a calling simulator? Thanks to CallQ, you now can.

Gail Pallin,  stage management teacher and author of Stage Management: The Essential Handbook, together with partner and software developer Iain, have created CallQ – simulation software that teaches the user how to call a show. Prompt-side recently got in contact with Gail to find out more about CallQ and what it can do for Stage Managers.

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Gail and Iain demonstrating the software in Glasgow

Calling a show for the first time can be scary. ‘I can still feel the fear and anxiety of hoping I would get it right,’ Gail recalled of her first call in college. ‘Not disadvantaging the performers and maintaining the integrity of the piece was incredibly stressful.’

Also, training institutions are limited in the number of productions they can produce in a year, meaning that only a few students get the opportunity to learn to call. Gail says CallQ can provide ‘an opportunity that offers every student one equal cueing experience, which can be assessed and ensures parity across the year group.’

CallQ has two versions – CallQ Trainer allows the learner to learn calling on a pre-recorded show, while CallQ Studio allows you to record your own show then run it through the software, meaning you can train someone new to call the show, or for use in remounts.

Gail explains that the software is more beneficial than traditional calling practice (such as me using the archival at home), because you can ‘practice cueing without expensive show conditions. Students can cue over and over in their own time until they feel confident with their technique.’

So, how does CallQ work?

Using a PC or Mac, the program gives instructions on what to do, then gives the caller FOH clearance. ‘Once they have accepted clearance its up to them to start the show by standing by the operators,’ She says. ‘The software plays a film of the show (as a backstage monitor) and reacts to the cue light instructions. The operators acknowledge the standbys via the cue lights and verbally. The play begins and you cue the show according to the prompt copy.

‘If you cue incorrectly (miss a cue, too early, too late) the program will stop, explain your mistake, set you back to the previous stand-by and you can try that sequence again. Once you reach the end of the show successfully, it prints out a show report which details miscues etc.’

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CallQ Trainer screenshot

‘Over 50 professionals and 30 students have trialled this and they all felt nervous when the film begins and plays the audience murmur and shows the tabs and tab warmers (which proves how realistic an experience it is)!’ says Gail.

And where does she see CallQ going in the future? ‘I would love to see every drama school and college using [CallQ] in addition to the standard cueing exercises and production opportunities already offered. It would also be useful for interviewing show callers and would hope that producing companies would give to young graduates joining that company one of their own shows to cue to help build confidence before their first professional show.’

CallQ is now available here.


After training many Stage Managers over the years, I also asked Gail a few questions about learning Stage Management in general, you can find a profile of Gail here.

Gail and Iain are looking for a few more shows to film to add to the software, if you know of any professional production that would be happy to be involved, please contact gail@callq.uk.com

Prompt-side has no affiliations with CallQ other than professional interest.


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.

Blocking (n) – The actors’ moves as decided in rehearsals.

Blocking notation (n) – The written blocking in the prompt copy.

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 copy (n) – Also known as ‘the book’, this is the definitive notation of everything that happens in the show. It contains all the official script, cues, blocking, schedules, contact information, emergency information and more.

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.

 

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:

(These links are paid links, and help support the maintenance of the blog)

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.