May 2, 2015

Stage Management Blocking Sheets

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:07 pm

Hello, Google visitors!

While finishing up my blocking sheets for Sister Act, I decided to take a stroll through Google’s results for “Stage management blocking sheets” just to see if anybody had an idea I wanted to steal. While some of the results were from this site (which is generally what happens when I search for things, and always leads me to be like, “Hey that one looks like mine!”), none of them were blocking sheets, because I don’t think I’ve ever made a post about it.

So I suppose I should share what mine looks like, at least on this show.
I make different choices for nearly every show, based on how complex the set is, how big the cast is, and how much fine detail needs to be shown based on both those things.

In this case I have a cast of (damn it, I had to look it up) 22, and a stage that is essentially bare, with numerous things coming on and off on tracks. So I went with only four groundplans per sheet (which I know is a lot for some people, but low for me), and kept the stage as clean as possible. All scenic pieces are shown in their offstage positions, so I know where they are and can draw them in where they play, and a couple very significant flying pieces (basically the ones that come down to the deck) are lightly sketched in so I can see the depth and then draw them in darker for scenes where they’re there.

I also included very faint gray lines for writing blocking. I usually leave it as free-form white space so I can squeeze or expand as the situation demands, but in this case I think it might be nice, and I don’t know if I’ve ever done it. I made sure the lines are faint enough to serve as a guide, without getting in the way should I need to ignore them.

I generally try to get away with printing my blocking sheets on the back of the script pages, to reduce the thickness and weight of the script, and then with spare pages and scotch tape, cobble things together when the blocking totally changes, or we get new script pages.

On this show, I’m stealing a page from my very unconventional Mary Poppins process: I want to take blocking on the calling script so I can be looking at my cues every time we run something. Thanks to our very ahead-of-things lighting designer, and the fact that I’ve been trying to teach myself the call since January, I have a digital calling script to start with, and some idea what I’m doing with it.

One thing I noticed on Poppins, which I thought would be a little better on the summer schedule, but isn’t, is that there’s only room for one dress rehearsal. Because I’m not familiar with the backstage calling position, I highly doubt I’ll want to call that one run from the tech table, so I need to use the one chance I get as we go through each moment in tech to get my light cues exactly where I want them. Which means I need to be right on the first try as often as possible. And that means watching every time we do something in the rehearsal room with an eye to where I’m going to call things, and whether I think I would have been right, and keep making adjustments accordingly.

Or I could tech the show in a day-and-a-half, and get another run. Which is definitely something I’d like to try for, but not something I’m going to bet on.

So instead of printing a blank script for blocking, I’m going to print my calling script as it exists the day before first rehearsal. I know it’ll change a lot, and I want the freedom to easily re-print pages as they become significantly different. That means having to have actual separate blocking pages for every page. So fine! I’ll do it the way you’re “supposed to” do it, just this once.

And to answer the other potential question you have about my blocking book, I do blocking on the right-hand side, script on the left. And I forget to reverse-hole-punch my copy before doing all the other scripts about 50% of the time.

Update: here’s a page with some blocking on it.

July 8, 2011

WTF is This?

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:35 pm

I’ve been doing a lot of digging through old photos as I transition my social networking to Google+. I came across this.

What in the hell was I thinking? I don’t even know how to read this.

I will say one thing about the Joseph score, which you can see in this photo: the score is arranged like regular sheet music, where the repeating verses occupy the same line of music, and the lyrics are doubled up. Now imagine you have cues to call over these verses, and have to indicate which cue goes where. The real solution is to copy the pages twice and somehow try to cobble together a real score. And that’s generally what I did, and even that doesn’t at all explain why my cues look like some kind of demented flow chart.

Reminds me of one of the first times I called the dreaded shadow play in tech for The Comedy of Errors, when I followed my arrows and they led me back to a cue I had already called.

March 3, 2010

Stage Management Scripts

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:42 pm

I’d like to call your attention to a new page on the site, called Scripts. It can be found under the Tools / Templates pages, although I hope to restructure those pages yet again when I’ve got some more templates, which is one of the things on my short list to do now that I’ve resigned from my position of nerdly responsibility in the MMO I play.

Right now there is a very, very small section on blocking scripts (which only exists at all because I think it’s tacky to have it just say “coming soon” so I threw a little bone in the form of one somewhat blurry picture of a recent page of blocking).

Mostly I have added some info about calling scripts, which I plan to build on later. What I do think is cool so far is that since my current show (Romeo and Juliet) is in the public domain, you can download my entire calling script as a .doc file and .pdf, so you can see how it’s formatted and play with it. And if you’re really, really crazy, you can come see the show and follow along!

December 23, 2009

A Lesson in Taking Blocking

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:07 am

OK stage management students. I know you googled something like “stage manager blocking” or “professional stage manager blocking,” so before you click on that link from SMnetwork.org or something like that, I’m glad you’ve landed here.

Here’s what it’s all about.

Here’s a photo. You’ll have to click on it to see it in full size to get the full education from this.

This is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act III Sc. 3.
The notation on the page reads:

(FL) treats (R) like a little bitch DL

In the key I’m using for blocking, FL is Friar Laurence, R is Romeo, naturally.
(For more about what Friar Laurence has to do with stage management, you really should read my post on the subject.)

To cover all my bases, I have also included one of my much-beloved groundplan stickers, upon which I have indicated an area of the stage marked “region of holy pwnage.”

Now under this page is another one which contains all sorts of details like who crosses where and whatnot (which is why there are corresponding numbers on the text page), but the page you see pretty well sums up the action of the scene.

I hope you had a good chuckle, you can carry on being all serious now. Someday I swear I will do a good page on the website about how I take blocking, as well as how I do my calling script. I even have scanned a couple of pages of previous scripts, but I really want to take the time to do it right. Until then, I will take 10 minutes to be a wisegal.

December 3, 2009

Groundplan Stickers

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:43 pm

Everybody’s got their own thing when it comes to how they set up their script for blocking, especially as it pertains to having a shortcut for drawing blocking on top of a premade groundplan of the set.

I don’t generally bother with having big pages with a large groundplan on them once or twice. I have a template for that in the database, and will print some out because I know our lighting designer likes them, and in case I need to draw a really big stage picture for some reason, but the way I handle my groundplan drawing needs is with stickers.

I buy some label paper (Avery 5164 usually, although it doesn’t have to be), and print a bunch of mini groundplans on it. With the paper I use, there are six stickers per page. I fit two groundplans on each sticker and then cut them up, so I get a total of 12 per page. But that’s totally up to your preference for how big you want or need them to be. The really low-maintenance way is to pick a label size that’s exactly how big you want your picture to be, but I stick to this size because it gives me the flexibility to make bigger ones if I want.

I like to keep most of my facing page of the script free for blocking, and then have a tiny diagram only where I need it. This way I don’t have to bother printing lots of sheets with groundplans on them for every page. When I come across some complicated blocking that requires a picture, I peel off a sticker and place it exactly where in the script I want it.

Depending on what kind of show you’re doing, the amount of work and expense to make all the stickers might be worse than just printing the groundplan a couple times on all the back pages of your script, but I find it very flexible. I can have no groundplans on a page or 10, and they can be wherever I want to indicate exactly where in the text they relate to.

August 29, 2009

Tales from the Left-Hand Page: Phantom Edition

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:25 pm

UPDATED! Now featuring images of the cartoons and photos mentioned, by reader request!

Most stage managers like to jot down funny things that happen in their calling scripts — usually funny quotes or a particularly hysterical mis-reading of a line. I realized that some of these are worth sharing.
I can’t decide if this deserves to be its own page on the website or just a blog post. Maybe when I collect some more it will be upgraded.

Names changed or omitted where necessary to protect the guilty.

First, let’s start with a complete set, from my Phantom calling script:


On the title page of the script (which is I think the only script I’ve ever used where I bothered to keep the title page), I have written some wise words of wisdom, from one of Phantom’s long-time stage managers:

“‘Oh shit!’ means it’s going to cost money.”

This arose out of a discussion we were having about stage managers who have a habit of making exclamations on headset for simple things like missed light cues that tended to freak out the crew unnecessarily. I thought this was a very succinct way of summing up at what level of mistake it’s appropriate to say, “Oh shit!”


The script begins with a cartoon. ¬†Phantom has a long history of displaying a cartoon (almost always from The New Yorker) on the In/Out sheet for every performance, in the hopes that it will attract more people to actually read the callboard, and the In/Out sheet in particular. ¬†It seems to work, because the cartoon is kind of a big deal. ¬†It’s the first thing most people see when they show up at the theatre, and the relative funniness or not-funniness of the cartoon will be debated and commented on for the rest of the performance. Being the stage manager who gets to choose the cartoon for the day is an honor and a responsibility that I always take very seriously. ¬† The first cartoon in my book is on the page facing the first page of the actual script, next to all the check-in lists. ¬† It depicts a rather serious-looking gentleman sitting behind a window labled “Complaints,” holding a violin and bow, obviously ready to play for anyone who should come to him with a complaint. ¬†This cartoon holds a place of honor on the main page because I chose it for In/Out sheet sometime back in early 2004, and when the show was over, presented it to Barbara-Mae Phillips, who was at the time the ASM, and had a dry sense of humor that seemed perfect for that cartoon. ¬†When Barbara-Mae passed away later that year, I found the cartoon as we were clearing off her bulletin board in the office, and decided it deserved to be kept alive in my script, on the first page where everyone could see it. ¬†To this day it still gets a chuckle or a comment from actors waiting next to me at places.

The next entry in the book is also a cartoon. ¬†This one is located in the “Hannibal” section. ¬†It shows a fearsome army of elephant-mounted soldiers facing a decidedly less-fearsome army who appear to be riding ostriches. ¬†In between the armies, their leaders are obviously having a conference. ¬†One of the ostrich-riders in the foreground says to the other, “I sure hope the negotiations go well.” ¬†I was pleased to discover this one one day while picking out the cartoon of the day, as it’s always nice to find one that in some way references the show.

OK, now we have a show quote. ¬†Later in the Hannibal scene, Madame Giry is talking about the Phantom’s demands for a salary, and is supposed to say, “Monsieur le Vicomte paid him twenty thousand francs a month.”

Well one night, a certain Madame Giry said:
“Monsieur le Vicomte… gave to him… twenty..five….. ¬†thousand…. dollars..a year.”

It was one of those things where every single person onstage had to turn upstage to hide their reaction.  I was very fortunate to have been out in the house with a notepad, and started writing before she was even done, so I got it down word-for-word.


Later on the same page I have a stage management quote.  This comes from a performance that was given during the Republican National Convention in August 2004.  The RNC bought out a performance of Phantom, and throughout the week we had other delegates coming to the show.  The whole thing was surrounded by increased security and other preparations that just made it a big stressful event everyone wanted to be over.  Early in the big RNC performance, the calling stage manager said,

“Warning Electrics 28 through Thursday”

It’s supposed to be 28 through 30, but clearly everybody subconsciously wanted to get to Thursday, when everything would be over! ¬†So there was a great laugh about that on headset.


At the end of the Journey (the title song), I have a quote from the PSM, Craig Jacobs:

“You call a great show. ¬†You call lousy fog.”

I don’t remember the particulars, but I think Craig was returning backstage after watching the Journey from the house, and we must have had an especially noticeable lack of dry ice coverage that night. The joke, of course, is that although there are techniques, in 22 years nobody has been able to come up with a reliable way to make the fog look good every night, so it’s the one aspect of the show nobody can really control.


On the next page, in the middle of “Music of the Night,” I have pasted a picture that used to be in the Playbill, of Howard McGillin and Rebecca Pitcher, in the traditional “Music of the Night” pose, except that Howard’s hand is a little lower than usual, over Rebecca’s nether regions. ¬†When someone of great authority came to the show and noticed it, it was promptly pulled from the Playbill. ¬†Naturally I grabbed one of the last Playbills and pasted it in my book with the word “HOO-HA!!!” written over it in bubble letters, as that was the technical term that was used when the problem was described to me.
Incidentally, this shot takes a really, really long time to take at a photo call. I suppose partially it’s due to the fact that it’s one of the more iconic images and probably most likely to be published, so extra care is given to it, but also the quality of the fog in the background is very hard to get just right, the height of the candelabras in the back can be adjusted in small increments depending on the height and exact pose of the actors, etc. I once worked a photo call where this shot alone took 2 hours and the theatre had to have all the exit doors and emergency vents in the roof opened to clear all the smoke before the show that night. In fact, it’s entirely possible it was the very photo above, as I do recall it being Howard and Rebecca. After the ordeal we went through to get the atmosphere just right, I’m not really surprised no one noticed his hand was over her hoo-ha.


Now we have a couple Manager quotes:

“A disaster beyond your exaggeration will recur.”
(instead of “a disaster beyond your imagination will occur.”)

“Miss Daae will be playing the playboy!”
(instead of pageboy)


In the section known as “Il Muto Panic” which leads from the Il Muto ballet into the rooftop scene, I have this quote, from one of our stage managers:

“The absence of disaster is a success.”

It’s dated from early on in my time calling the show, and at first I assumed I must have made a slight delay in Il Muto panic, as I struggled a bit with the timing the first couple times I called the show. ¬†Then I pulled out my handy printout from the database of all the performances I’ve called (which is really handy to have around when someone says, “I saw the show on _____” or some video turns up on YouTube with the date it was recorded). ¬†The date of that quote was my fourth performance, which is one in which we had a big automation problem earlier in the show, which looked less pretty than usual, but avoided crashing any scenery into anything or anyone. ¬† I can only imagine that quote came from a later discussion about what had happened earlier, but I have no idea why I would have written it on a page where I would normally be so busy.


This one is from just the other night, from the mausoleum scene:

“You can’t make her love by winning her your prisoner!”
(the line is, “You can’t win her love by making her your prisoner.”)


This one is written during “Point of No Return,” but is labled thusly:

Me: “Are the [reverse] tabs working?”
Bethe: “…Yes. Good luck!”

I’m sure they worked fine, as I’ve only done that sequence without them once, and we knew in advance they were broken. But clearly something was up that night that led to the less-than-certainty of an uneventful Don Juan Panic.


December 22, 2008

Random Note of the Day 2

I call this: On the Road Again — Posted by KP @ 8:03 pm

K[elley] + G[eorgia] act like horses

December 21, 2008

New Feature: Random Note of the Day

I call this: On the Road Again — Posted by KP @ 5:30 pm

I have an idea for a new feature: I will pick one note that I write every day (either in the blocking book or elsewhere) to highlight what’s going on with the show.

Today’s Note:
[Line] 2063 – Blows giant tuba