BWW Blog: The Glamorous Life of an ASM
The Assistant Stage Manager is a role that is often forgotten about especially in a college production. However, our job isn't to be recognized, our job is to take care of our cast and crew. Our job is made much easier when the cast and creative team are kind, positive, and punctual. However, this isn't always this case. Regardless of your cast and creatives, there are some things that you can do to make the experience as best as possible for all involved. Some things you do may seem so small and insignificant, but when they aren't done the ship may start to sink. Do what's expected of you, but also go the extra mile.
Always be prepared for anything. Have spike tape, band-aids, highlighters, extra pencils, and your flash drive with the rehearsal documents on hand at all times. This helps to make sure that no time is wasted when a piece of furniture needs to be spike or a cast member cuts their finger. You have everything you need in your rehearsal bag next to you, you don't have to go search the theatre for supplies. Having a premade ice pack in the green room freezer is also smart as you will probably need it frequently for the dancers in your show. A flashlight, safety pins, bobby pins, and mic tape are always helpful to have on hand for emergencies during tech week and dress rehearsals. I bought a $7 black fanny pack off of Amazon during my first show as a dresser for Jesus Christ Superstar, and I have used it in every crew position since then. It may not be the most attractive accessory but it is so convenient when there is a costume malfunction during that 20-second quick change under the set.
Memorize that night's rehearsal schedule. You will get asked a million times that night "What are we working on next?", so learn the schedule. Make sure you have the rehearsal props and set pieces ready for the next scene to limit wasted time when transitioning. Always be ready for what is coming next without pressuring the director or choreographer that they are running out of time.
Always keep your eye on the time. To keep on task and on schedule always know what time it is. Don't be afraid to remind your stage manager, director, choreographer, or music director when they have 5 minutes left to work on that section or until the rehearsal is over. If you are giving them the time too frequently they will tell you, but it is better to remind them more than not enough.
Breaks are not for you. Scheduled breaks are important for the endurance of the actors and directors. However, they are not for you. Use that time to prepare for the next scene/number, check-in on the needs of the actors/director, and give notes to specific individuals. It is also up to you to make sure breaks last only as long as they are scheduled. During this time your PSM is probably talking to the director and not watching the time, so make sure they are aware of when to call the break over. I know that you might have had a long day of classes and you go straight into rehearsal, but bring your own snacks and eat them when you can. You have to take care of yourself, but breaks are a valuable time for you to stay on top of things.
Divide duties. At the beginning of the rehearsal process ask if your Production Stage Manager expects anything special or different from you. Divide the duties between you are them or between you and another ASM if you are not the only one. You don't want to step on their toes, but you also don't want them to have to remind you to do things. Always be proactive. Check-in on them during rehearsals, especially tech week, ask them if there is anything you can do to make their life easier.
Make yourself available. Make sure your cast and crew have your number and that you are always available to answer any questions that they may have. Offer your help to a cast member who may be struggling. For instance, if you know that your lead doesn't have a free second to grab water during Act 2, have their water and a towel on hand. Also, know everyone's names. Including designers and your housing manager.
Take care of your crew. Know all of the possible answers to any questions your crew may ask you ahead of time. Provide them with all the tools they need to do their job efficiently. Take the extra time to make necessary documents like a scene transition list that includes costume changes, set changes, and prop exchanges. Also, pre-show, intermission, and post-show duties. Post these where they are easily accessible. Make sure they know where everything that they need is. Let them know ahead of time what you expect of them, respectfully, of course. Don't forget to thank them each night.
Take note of everything. Most directors spit out notes over there should at the PSM and move on before you can confirm. Make sure you take note of everything and if your PSM missed it make sure you catch them up on it.
Know your show. When going into rehearsals make sure you know this show inside and out. It will just make it easier on you when rehearsing scenes out of order. Also, if you are just watching, learn the choreography, lines, and music. You never know if you need to fill/stand-in for someone during a rehearsal. It makes the director's life so much easier if you already know their blocking because you paid attention than taking the time to fill you in. So know your show.
Always be on book. When you get into running the show. Never take your eye off your script. You may be taking line notes and telling the director what page we are on. But it just wastes more time and throws everyone off when an actor calls line and you have to frantically find where we are. You have to have your eye on everything at all times.
Deal with issues quietly. If issues arise between cast members or someone has a personal issue. Make sure that you deal with these issues quietly. It should only be discussed between you, that person, and your PSM. It is nobody else's business and the drama is just distracting to others.
Be patient and kind. Anticipate a lot of late nights and attitudes. However, you never know what your actors and crew members are dealing with outside of the theatre in their personal lives. So always be as patient as you can and kind to everyone.
It's not about you. Make sure you leave your personal troubles outside too. You have to be focused and put your cast and crew first. Trust me, people appreciate you and recognize the work that you put in. The job can be difficult, but if you love it as much as I do, it can also be so very rewarding.