Theatre Green Book One Toolkit – Stage Management
28. Stage Management
(with thanks to Terry Lee Dickson and the Stage Management Association)
In this section we examine the work of stage management staff and company managers. For clarity’s sake we define stage management as those who have direct connection with the rehearsal process. Those also known as stage managers but who have a purely technical function (and are often venue-based) are considered elsewhere. Also covered are Company Managers who have a good deal of influence on work practices of the SM team and frequently act as advisors to members of the creative team.
Practice in subsidised theatre differs from what happens in commercial production. Staff in the subsidised sector often find it easier to operate in a sustainable way because a positive, green attitude is embedded and indeed funded in their organisation’s way of work. But that should not deter best efforts by people working in other circumstances, even though they are often hired show by show. When integration between commercial and subsidised sectors increases other avenues for improved sustainability will emerge.
Common to all sectors is the way that SM teams can make many changes to how things are done, day by day, show by show. Those add up to significant improvements in how green a production is.
Many, maybe all of the actions suggested are going to increase cost one way or another. It will be wise to make sure the show’s producer has taken that into account when writing the budget. Vegetable source pigments fade, ecoboards break, older timber splits, sustainable tape wears quickly and thus the maintenance budget gets squeezed.
Early planning is important for green production. But it is also common ground that appointment to SM & CM roles often happens at the last minute. Practical, sensible and most of all timely input to decisions is good for sustainable production.
Aim: appoint at least one member of the team early.
How we communicate and meet to work together has changed. We should embrace remote working. Many interactions can happen using online conference software.
How Stage Managers find items required for production has been made more effective by using internet and social media resources. We should seek out further improvements in that area.
Aim: consider whether physical presence is necessary
Aim: extend the search for more flexible and productive ways of working
Overall timetable is usually dictated by availability of theatre/cast/creative team, scenic workshop timetable, marketing or opening-night timing.
But inside that framework there are ways to promote green production methods: minimise travel by cast and creatives, confirming who is really needed for the actual work in hand; check performer calls for whether individuals are needed for the whole day or indeed, at all; establish whether personnel can use shared travel methods and whether call times can be adjusted to support those considerations.
Aim: review the detailed audition, rehearsal and costume fittings schedules.
Do we really need that?
Stage managers find it difficult to resist the urge to transform a script into want-lists as soon as it comes to hand. Inherent in that process is consultation with the production’s director and designer. It is wise to take a detached view of whether the item in question is really necessary and if so does it have to be as described. There are examples every day of things that are thought to be essential but once procured are eliminated after a few minutes of rehearsal.
A bit of common sense can go a long way here.
Although some shows employ props buyers, the common experience is that SM teams are the ones that identify items, gain approval for them and arrange purchase and transfer to rehearsal room. There are opportunities to source items that are made from sustainable materials and which can be transported in batches, thus reversing recent trends that result in many single parcels arriving throughout the day at the stage door or rehearsal room.
Aim: decide early what is needed so that supply line and timing respect green principles.
Aim: forethought will reduce last minute requests and the resulting inefficient supply line.
Getting directors to plan ahead can be difficult. Most stage managers will have heard the words “l can’t tell you until I am in the room”. What nonsense! Just like smoking in the pub, that is no longer acceptable. It is entirely practical to plan rehearsals in some detail well ahead. It is standard practice in Opera and Ballet. The benefits of prudent scheduling and purchase flow into many areas of green improvement.
A related concern lies in the difficulty arising if requirements are not defined promptly. There is a strong argument for setting a deadline for props and furniture requests. Late requests are tough to cope with in an effective manner. Late remedial actions are inefficient and affect sustainability.
Choice of rehearsal space is often limited by location, price and availability. SM and CM staff should monitor the choice to favour locations that have a net low carbon footprint also taking into account the home or temporary addresses of cast and creative teams.
In many cases small improvements add up to practical gains in green production. Elimination of PVC tape for markups can be readily achieved by using paper based coloured tapes recently introduced by several manufacturers. Printed call sheets and notices can be limited to noticeboard copies; script printing can be held back even though some authors churn out constant revisions during rehearsal with abandon. Use of re-useable drink containers, coffee filters, pencils rather than ink markers, crockery rather than paper or plastic equivalents – all these are examples of improvements to be encouraged by SM staff.
It must be routine that lighting and heating is shut off when the space is not in use.
Aim: review the use of non-recyclable materials: aim to eliminate them
Aim: turn off the heat and light and any kit in standby mode.
A show’s biggest carbon impact happens during fit-up and production rehearsals. Fortunately SM and CM teams are not alone in carrying the green production banner at this stage. A properly run venue will have staff who care about Green Book principles.
This is when energy consumption peaks, transport of large goods happens and last minute so-called ‘imperatives’ tend to crop up. There are huge opportunities to cut back on carbon footprint by monitoring power consumption, arranging fewer truck moves and organising schedules so that local staff, performers & creatives all work sensible timetables and working days do not extend into periods when tiredness leads to poor productivity.
Aim: reduce electrical consumption
Aim: fewer truck movements
Aim: days to be planned for better productivity
Green Book principles should form the basis of how goods and services are chosen. If the production has chosen a Green Book Standard the people involved should be informed of the implications.
SM team members make purchase decisions every day. They also influence decisions made by others. Thus they are in a position to improve a production’s sustainability credentials.
Wise selection routines follow a clear decision path:
– is the item really needed?
– is it already in stock?
– if not are there alternatives in stock that will be acceptable?
– if it has to be sourced can it be found from used stock nearby?
– if new can it be found locally?
– if new will it have an inappropriate carbon footprint from origin to vendor to show?
Aim: buy new only if necessary and consider carbon footprint if you do.
Making and modifying props and furniture
SM teams often make or modify things a show needs. It is important that deleterious materials are not used. A risk/benefit assessment should be used to evaluate materials and processes.Obvious examples of poor practice are volatile organic compounds, urethane plastics, bio-toxic paints.
Aim: monitor materials use through materials safety data sheets and user guides.
After the production period many decisions that affect the sustainability of a show are in the hands of the SM/CM team. Typically the creative team have little to do with the show on a day to day basis.
There is opportunity at this stage to hold the production to the green credentials that have become part of the show’s character.
Aim: choose sustainable supplies that minimise energy use.
Aim: reduce ineffective delivery methods.
Touring and transfer
When a show moves to a new venue it will be wise to assess the local conditions for how they affect its green planning. It may be that the venue has better or worse ways of doing things.
Open discussion with local staff will help maintain the commitment to sustainability.
Non-renewable resources such as fuel for the vehicles that move the show and the personnel from place to place are of great concern. For at least a century and half producers have wanted to book tours that minimise distance between venues but it is often simply impossible. However it is still a good plan to investigate better tour lists which save transport and related costs. SM and CM teams have limited power of decision on these matters but can look into improvements in how cast travel is achieved between venues.
Many shows will feature consumable items. Those could include batteries for a number of purposes, for example certain types of radio microphone and wireless intercom set. Rechargeable battery prices and reliability are improving. This is another small gain that helps achieve the overall aim.
How props and furniture are packed for transit can be adjusted in many ways, resulting in less bulk. Rolling transit cases (‘trundles’) are more efficient than flight cases and skips. In some cases, typically small scale theatre, prudent packing and loading can reduce the number or size of trucks needed.
Packing materials are firmly in the control of SM/CM teams. That old favourite bubblepack is easy to avoid because there is a readily available paper version and other alternatives abound. It is good practice to re-use wrappings. It will help to avoid adhesive tape that rips wraps when removed – string ties can be just as quick to use. Cutting back on plastic tape helps. Eco friendly gaffer tapes are available. As are paper backed parcel tape, again readily available. Nonetheless it is good practice to check the kind of adhesive involved: not all of them are eco-friendly. Encouraging other departments to cut back on tape use is a good thing. These are just a few of the many small details that can make as important a contribution to a green show as one-factor decisions like avoiding new plywood on the set.
Aim: talk to the people you work alongside, share successes.
Aim: small changes add up to big gains.
Disposal of production items including storage and re-use
Productions should have committed at an early date to a Green Book Standard. That situation will often date from long before SM and CM staff are engaged. SM and CM staff should be briefed on the choices made so that they can support all practical efforts to comply. It is likely that re-purposing of prop and furniture items will become more common. SM and CM team members could seek instruction from their producers about disposal of items at an early stage. Early decisions on what can have another life allow for timely contact with re-use organisations and prudent transport arrangements.
Subsidised companies usually have props, costume and furniture storage facilities. Commercial companies which typically don’t have such an advantage may be able to offer reusable items to others through their transport or storage companies. There are some re-use groups working now and the future will bring more.
SM staff can do a lot of good overall by keeping in touch with organisations that are able to take and hold re-useable stocks and making those places their first port of call for new shows.
Aim: give things another life, or two, or more
Aim: take all practical steps to comply with the chosen Green Book Standard
Stage Management personnel and Company Managers are unusually well placed to achieve sustainable production. But they will need support to do that. Unrealistic budgets, bad planning and late engagement will make the green aspect of their work hard to realise.
for rehearsal room markups and marks (spikes) on stage good paper backed tape is available from Le Mark direct and their stockists. It resembles a tough form of painters’ masking tape. Bought in reasonable bulk it is half the price of PVC (“lx”) tape. Obviously it will need to be renewed more often than PVC but even so the cost advantage remains. When something tougher is essential the same maker offers a gaffer tape that uses a bio-degradable adhesive, has no shiny plastic coating and is can be ripped into narrow strips.
see www.lemark.co.uk and look for ‘paper-tak’
for an amusing alternative search for ‘washi’ tapes on the internet
wrappings for props and furniture
the use of bubblepack is not acceptable: paper alternatives are readily available from firms that supply the house contents moving trade – they can take the form of profiled recycled heavy paper wrap or kraft paper sandwiching soft padding
also readily available is paper backed parcel tape
search for ‘paper bubble pack’, ‘paper furniture covers’ and ‘paper parcel tape’ on
With thanks to the Stage Management Association