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.

 

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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.

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.

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.