A Toronto stage manager takes us “behind the curtain” of Unit 102 theatre’s upcoming production of The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine
I am a stage manager.
Most people outside the theatre community don’t really know what that means. Many of my friends have no idea what I do for a living.
Currently I’m working on a comedy called The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine, which opens next week (November 6) and plays through November 24, 2012 at Unit 102. It stars some fabulous actors, Jennifer De Lucia and Daniel Stolfi, and has an equally fabulous director, Robert Morgan, who, along with Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak, wrote the play 25 years ago. The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is a hilarious look at repressed anger in long-term relationships, because “you always hurt the ones you love”.
Stage management encompasses a wide range of duties, most directed at making things happen at the appropriate time and with the appropriate tools. This can range from triggering a spotlight for a monologue to activating gunshots when an actor pulls the trigger of a gun to providing pencils for the actors at rehearsals. We’re the first to arrive, to prep rehearsals or pre-set props, and the last to leave, cleaning up and resetting for the next day. Then we let everyone else involved with the show know how it went.
I started work a few weeks before the show, making contact lists, calendars, prop lists, and distributing them to everyone involved with the production. For The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine this is only four other people, but if I didn’t, there would be people who didn’t know what was happening when, right?
Rehearsals for The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine have been challenging, but worthwhile. I’ve worked with Jennifer and Daniel on previous shows, and I haven’t seen them quite so put to the test before. Robert is really pushing them. There’s a lot of talk of lower chakras, and of what makes people tick. The show is only funny if it comes from a “real” place – they actually have to hate each other for certain parts to make the show funny.
It’s been particularly interesting watching these two do a show about hating your partner when they’ve only just become engaged in real life. It’s going to be a great show, and I’m fortunate to get to see it every night, hidden behind a heap of mechanical equipment. I’m proud of them.
Rehearsals always raise questions. How often am I going to have to buy bananas and cornflakes? What side is the curtain on during this particular scene? What order should I use for the preshow music? How tall should the milk carton be? How many lighting cues do I have to manage? How long is the fade on sound cue 37? Is Ernest’s jacket on or off during this scene? When is the furnace in place? How often will I have to iron Ernest’s pants? All this and more must be answered by show time.
Once the show begins (November 6), I’ll be getting there about two hours before the curtain rises, with groceries in tow. I’ll mop and sweep the floor. I’ll make sure all the props are in place, that the lighting and sounds all still work, and I’ll troubleshoot any of the inevitable problems. I’ll make sure the actors are warmed up. We’ll talk about last night’s show, and any improvements we can make. We’ll do a fight call (for the unaware: a fight call is practicing any punches, kicks, hair pulls etc, so that everyone knows what they’re doing and no one actually gets hurt for real).
Daniel and Jennifer will retreat to the green room, and I’ll give the go ahead to let people in. I’ll get the show started as on-time as humanly possible. I’ll dictate when the lights and sound go. The show will end (with standing ovations every single time, obviously), and I’ll clean everything up so we can start again the next day.
Normally, a stage manager is a bit like a ninja; wears a lot of black, and if they’ve done their job correctly you haven’t noticed a thing they’ve done. My role in this show is a tad more noticeable than I’m used to, though I’m still largely invisible compared to the actors. Yet despite that, every show needs a stage manager fiddling with the lights and controlling the sound system. The show doesn’t happen without us.
I encourage you to come see what I do, and more importantly, come see what Daniel, Jennifer, and Robert have worked so hard on. I’m confident you’ll agree that the result is both funny and poignant.
- The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is playing from November 6 – November 24, 2012 at Unit 102 (376 Dufferin)
- Shows run Monday – Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm
- Tickets from $20 in advance online, $25 at the door (cash only) and $10 Monday’s and Previews (Nov.6th and 7th)