From Tue 1st to Sat 5th December 2015, the Riley was open for the latest production of West Side Story performed by Stage Musicals Society. Being one of the most well-known musicals, with some of my favourite dances, I was determined to get involved as heavily as I could and somehow found myself in the position of Stage Manager towards the end of the summer holidays! The Stage Manager (or SM), for those who may not know, is in charge of everything that happens on stage such as scene changes, opening and closing tabs and being the first port of call for any problems by actors. The SM was also tasked with finding props for the show. Prop finding can take a while, especially if you don’t know where to begin. Thankfully, we have an extensive, and rather bizarre, Props Store within the Riley where I managed to find most of my props by the end of Sept. Among the obvious glasses, newspapers and money, I was very lucky to find a 1950s sewing machine and rather surprised at how many plastic babies we had.
In terms of finding props, the biggest challenges were finding 3 switchblades and 2 bridal shop mannequins. After being unsuccessful from a few departments across the university, I was able to find two mannequins, already on wheelable stands, from PCI. The knives were a bit more of a challenge for the simple fact that switchblades, of any type, are illegal. Our Production Manager, Kat, came up with the brilliant idea of using novelty switchblade combs and converting these into knives. By covering the combs with Plaster of Paris, filing down to size and then spray painting silver, we managed to convert the combs into knives that still flipped out of their holders. One of the SMs biggest priorities is to ensure the cast and crew’s safety on stage; usually this just means gaffing out the ends of deck and any wires so actors don’t fall and die. However, this show involved two knife fights, a live gunshot and a deathtrap of mesh surrounding the stage. Obviously this show required a little more work than the norm including; working with actors to ensure their choreography for the knife fights worked with our specially made switch-blades, having a gun that could fire very, VERY, loud blanks attached to my person for the entirety of the show and having to manually bend and tape each prong of the mesh to reduce injuries.
This was my first big SM role, my only other time being SM for LUU Dance Comp last year, and I could not have asked for a better show be a part of. My advice for any aspiring Stage Managers would be to get started as soon as you can with rehearsals and prop finding. I also found it an immense help being an ASM for two different big productions before this so I would highly recommend taking on an ASM role before an SM role. If you have any questions on Stage Management, don’t hesitate to come find me or talk to the Backstage Committee.
By Daniel Davis
Posted on 14th December 2015