by Veronica Aglow, Stage Manager of A CHRISTMAS CAROL
As 2012 draws to a close, the Christmas Carol set, props, and costumes have been safely stored away for another year. And though Christmas Carol ran very smoothly this year, we did have a few shows where things went wrong and decisions had to be quickly made in order to solve problems. If you do not work in theatre, you may be surprised to know that very few live theatre performances go perfectly. But the thing is, it is rare that an audience would ever be able to point out or even know about these mistakes. Just yesterday, I saw a Broadway production with my mother, who does not work in theatre. Halfway through Act I, I noticed a moving light that was not hitting the correct locations onstage. I also noticed that the stage manager must have communicated to the spotlight operators to light the correct areas while the moving light was malfunctioning. When I mentioned this to my mother later, she had no idea what I was talking about. This really started me thinking about this topic – all the mistakes that happen in live theatre that the audience is unaware of.
I remembered an experience I had back in October when Mary Poppins came to town. Because I was friends with some of the technicians and performers on the tour, I was given the opportunity to watch the show from backstage and be on headset. That night, there were a few very large things that went wrong and at one point they were moments away from needing to stop the show. But I spoke with some of the audience members later and none of them noticed any of the mistakes.
As a stage manager, when things go wrong, I must quickly discuss with the crew how best to solve them. Or sometimes I must make an immediate decision if there is no time for discussion, and hope it is the correct one. In my career I have only had to stop a show twice – once because of a power outage and once because an audience member was having a seizure. But it does happen more than you might think. My friend on the Mary Poppins national tour said they have had to stop their show a few times in the middle of the production due to technical malfunctions.
Now, as I mentioned, A Christmas Carol ran very smoothly this year. It was the third year of this particular production so we had worked most of the kinks out by this year. However, there are always unforeseen complications. For example, we had one performance where one of our ensemble members got sick about halfway through Act II to the point where we had to send him home. I initially noticed when he was not onstage for one of his scenes and sent Jenny, the assisstant stage manager, to go find out where he was. When she discovered he was ill, we sent him home and immediately began figuring out how to finish the show without him. The backstage crew was instrumental in figuring out who could move some of the furniture pieces that he is supposed to move and in communicating with his scene partner what to do without him in the final scene. And the audience was none the wiser. At another performance, one of our leading actors was sick and we were unsure he would make it through the show. One of our ensemble members bravely stepped up and was on standby the entire performance to take his place immediately if needed. Luckily, he did make it through the performance. And this doesn’t even begin to mention some of the technical problems that we had, and in all of which the cast and crew acted quickly and professionally to solve or work around the problems. But this is the world of professional theatre.
So the next time you see a live production and you notice a mistake, please be forgiving. Remember how many things could be going wrong that the cast and crew are working hard to make sure you don’t notice. And after all, isn’t this what makes live theatre so exciting? The cast and crew are all right there with you, 8 to 10 times a week, making sure to deliver a quality performance to each and every patron. We look forward to seeing you all in 2013.