This is part of a series of Stage Manager Profiles. Please follow Prompt-Side for future profiles of excellent stage managers around the world.
Gail Pallin is a Scottish Stage Management Lecturer at Fife College. She has been in and around Stage Management for over forty years and is author of Stage Management: The Essential Handbook which is now in its’ third edition. Gail is also the co-founder of CallQ, calling simulation software, which Prompt-side wrote about here.
As a teacher of Stage Management, what do you find the hardest thing to teach students?
I work with such a variety of students, who all have their own challenges, so the most work will go into finding out what each individual needs to succeed and to support that. As our Diploma Course trains multi skilled practitioners, I am sometimes working with technicians who are not really interested in stage management, even though they need to understand all departments from a hands on point of view to be an effective theatre practitioner. So that’s quite hard – if the student doesn’t want to learn or thinks they know it all already. For some the challenges will be communication, organisation and social skills, for others it could be listening and using initiative and some find the making, sourcing and altering props more challenging. The less confident members of the group maybe don’t have the confidence to run a rehearsal room effectively – how do you teach that instinctive ability to hear 3 conversations at once, spot that the actor in the far corner has a problem with their prop, keep an eye on the director who may need support at a moments notice, prompt and block all at the same time. Rehearsal room effectiveness – that’s the hardest, and good prompting techniques!
What major changes have you seen in Stage Management over the time of your career?
In 40 years (how scary is that!) its amazing that many of our essential skills and techniques really haven’t changed at all – i.e.
- The production process for a play/musical/etc follows much the same pattern
- The paperwork we use to communicate production information hasn’t changed much – albeit most is now processed electronically.
- A friend, the first person to get a PHD in the field of Stage Management provided fantastic evidence to show that many of our techniques and processes haven’t changed much in 500 years
However, the main changes I’ve noticed are:
- There is a much greater variety of jobs Stage Management can now apply their skills to, ranging from reps to festivals, gigs to cruise ships, events to art installations, site specific to film and loads of other exciting opportunities in between.
- DSM’s or show callers are more commonly operating either LX, Sound or AV as well as cueing operators, actors, scenery etc and sometimes it’s the technician that takes over cueing and operating the show from a tablet triggering LX, Sound and AV via midi.
- The use of technology is being adopted by more and more SMs, although when I did a bit of research for the new ICT chapter in my book (eBook version only at the moment) the majority of SM’s I asked still preferred the paper copy of the prompt copy!
What do you think students find the hardest when learning to call?
It really depends on the student and their learning style. Those whose strengths are Visual, Aural & Physical seem to fare very well, as they can connect the prompt copy instructions to their vocal (headsets) and manual (cue lights) instructions effectively. Those who learn better using logical & verbal styles take longer to settle into the technique but once they have mastered it seem to be more consistent. The skills required when cueing suit both social and solitary learners!
Once all learners have mastered it (most do, and very few will never get it) the challenge then is developing stamina and focus to cope with a long quiet show.
Do you use any other apps or software to help train Stage Management students?
The most effective tool I use is our online teaching environment where I have designed lots of different exercises to support and enhance understanding in space management, time management, professional development, presentations skills, ICT skills and soft skills where the students work both independently or in groups. I have also collated a huge amount of online resources which I share, and the students can dip into at any point of their course when needed. The need to know something is the best incentive to learning!
What sort of skills, characteristics or attributes do you want to see in Stage Management students before they start their formal studies?
- Motivation and real passion for learning.
- Interest in production skills, some experience so they know it’s the right choice.
- Good communication and ability to listen and reflect back accurately.
- A willingness to take risks with problem solving.
- Organisation and a desire to communicate well on paper or online essential.
- A cheerful disposition.
To find out more about the software Gail is developing, CallQ, see our article here.