Why Stage Managers should eat more

Recently I came across an article written by Peter Crawley from the Irish Times, Calling the shots: A life in the day of a stage manager who had followed a Stage Manager for a day to find out what Stage Management entails.
As the day progressed, the journalist honed in on the fact that the Stage Manager he was following hardly ate anything. She was busy during lunchtime, grabbed a quick (unhealthy) snack and worked long hours. Towards the end of the article he stated,

‘Stage managers do not eat.’

Most of us in the theatre world know that Stage Managers work long hours and often work during breaks (rehearsal breaks are a valuable time to talk to other departments, catch up on missed phone calls and emails and paperwork). And I too have been guilty of working long days eating very little.

About four years ago, I decided to change that. I made a conscious decision to sit down to eat my lunch, and try to have a healthy snack at every break.

For the first while it was difficult. I was worried I would have to stay later to catch up on all the things I used to do during breaks, or I would miss or forget something important. I also had a feeling of guilt for sitting down when actually I was very busy and didn’t feel like I had the time for such luxury.

In fact, the opposite was true. The production didn’t come to a grinding halt because I sat down to eat my lunch. In fact, I was calmer and clearer after taking the break that my whole outlook was better.

Here’s what I have found after taking breaks and nourishing myself for four years, and why I believe Stage Managers should eat more:

  • I am healthier. Well this is a bit of a no-brainer. Running on no food is like trying to run a car with no fuel. I do have to be a bit more organised to bring lunch and snacks with me. That way I can sit down and eat for half an hour (rather than going out to find food), and then go and catch up on work for the other half an hour while the actors are still on break. Win/win!
  • My rapport with the company was better. Having time to actually sit down and chat while eating is a lovely way to get to know everyone better, especially during the rehearsal period. Although your company become your family quite quickly in theatre, I found relationships were better from an early stage because I actually had the time to really get to know people from the start. This paid off in spades further down the track.
  • My mind is fresher. After eating, if I go and do some paperwork, I am more efficient, as I am full of fuel. I can often get the same amount done as I would have otherwise.
  • I prioritise better. Because I have less time in the break, I have to focus on the important issues first. I don’t get caught up in the things that might end up solving themselves.

Some tricks and tips for making time for breaks and eating more:

  • Bring fruit. Something like an apple is easy to eat on a tea break while walking to costume to catch up about a fitting. This way you are refuelling while still getting a lot done.
  • Bring a healthy lunch. There are many ways to do this, and it seems easier than it is, especially during production week. Sometimes I prepare something big for the week on a Sunday, sometimes I bring some ingredients and some wraps and make lunch at work each day, or sometimes I pack it in the morning. It depends on the week, and where we are at.
  • During weeks where I’m working three-call days (like in Production Week), I make a giant salad on Sunday that is one for each day, then I might go and buy something different for the other meal so I’m getting outside for at least a bit of the day, and have some variety in what I’m eating.
  • Organise a shared lunch day. This is something that State Theatre SA do as a whole company and staff and I think it’s a great idea. Everyone brings something to share (usually there’s a theme), and it is a fantastic way to bring everyone together for a meal. Sometimes the best creative ideas come out of getting everyone together talking!
  • Bring some healthy snacks for the production desks. The lollies on a production desk are a real problem for me (see this post). If I eat them, I end up having a massive sugar low about an hour after and then get really tired, the best way to keep my energy up is to have some trail mix at the production desk.

The big thing to remember is that you don’t want to be a martyr (which I’ve seen a lot of Stage Managers do). Not eating because you are busy is not a badge of honour. It is the fastest way to burning out, running out energy and being less productive.

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The Ultimate Stage Management Kit

Being prepared is one of the best characteristics of a Stage Manager. When an actor runs offstage with a costume malfunction (ahem!), having a safety pin at the ready can be the difference between a quick re-entrance or a show stop.

One simple way to be prepared is to have a kit with all the things you often find yourself needing. With a set of standard items, you too can be as resourceful as MacGyver.

It’s a balance between having enough items to be able to cover most situations, but not so many that it becomes unwieldy and difficult to rummage through. When I’m calling, I keep it under the prompt desk and often end up with actors poking through it under my feet to find some much needed item.

I’ve just been tidying out my kit (a good job to do at the end of a year) and here’s my list for the Ultimate Stage Management Kit. I keep it in a toolbox, but have also used plastic tubs or roadcases. This one is my old trusty favourite. I’ve had it since my first ASM gig many moons ago. I always make sure I have my little guy (who doesn’t have a name – see if you can spot him) given to me by a friend when I got my first professional job.

The Ultimate Stage Management Kit:

You don’t need a large quantity of any of these things, mostly a couple of each will do. They are only there to grab in hurry, you can re-stock at a time when you aren’t so pushed.

Stationary:

  • Scissors
  • Post-it notes
  • Document flags
  • Blu-tak
  • Permanent markers
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Safety pins
  • Erasers
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips
  • USB drive
  • Stapler
  • Staples
  • Hole punch
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Spare leads for mechanical pencils
  • Erasers
  • Highlighters (note: blue is not good backstage under blue light.)
  • White out tape
  • Batteries (I usually have AA and AAA)
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Pegs (surprisingly handy for a lot of problems)
  • Scale ruler
  • Ruler
  • Velcro dots
  • Headphones

Personal Items:

  • Tampons
  • Business cards
  • Coins – for pay phones, parking, drink machines (trust me, I’ve needed this more than you’d expect, especially on tour.)
  • Toothpicks

First aid:

  • Band aids
  • Conforming bandage
  • Hypo-allergenic medical tape (especially on shows with radio mics)
  • Sunscreen
  • Throat lozenges
  • Paracetamol (This is controversial in Australia. But I keep some anyway.)
  • Lip balm
  • Blister pads

(always keep a fully stocked first aid kit nearby, these items are just things that get used very regularly)

Theatre gear:

  • Torch
  • Chalk
  • Prop keys (small and easy props to lose, useful to have some spares.)
  • Prop money (as above)
  • Multi-tool (or screwdrivers and a knife) – this qualifies you as a true MacGyver.
  • Tape measure (at least 8m.)
  • Cable ties

Wardrobe:

  • Bobby pins
  • Hair ties
  • Needle & thread (I usually have black and white as they can be used in most situations.)
  • Noticeboard pins
  • Glue
  • Spare buttons
  • Cloth tape measure
  • Shoe laces (these can be used for more than just shoes)
  • Clear nail polish (Good for a quick fix of ladders in stockings)

Happiness items (or morale boosters):

  • Birthday candles
  • Spoon
  • Knife
  • Fork
  • Ball (Tennis ball or hacky sack – more about this in a future post.)
  • Bottle opener
  • Phone chargers

Tape:

  • Glow tape
  • Mark up tape (If you can only fit one colour, choose white.)
  • Double sided tape
  • Electrical tape
  • Gaff (of course!)

 

 

If you’re on a tight budget, you can find some good tips to stocking it cheaply here.

I’d love to hear what you have in your SM kit, especially if it isn’t on this list. Please comment with your items below.